Smart cities, urban big data, digital twins and other buzz terms

Emmanouil Tranos

University of Bristol, Alan Turing Institute, @EmmanouilTranos,


  • Big data vs. just data

  • Smart city

  • Urban dashboards

  • Digital twins

Big data vs. just data

  • Digital traces human activities leave behind

  • Accidental (Arribas-Bel 2014)

  • Why?

  • Computing power

  • Digital turn

  • Geospatial technologies [important for urban researchers]

Big data vs. just data

  • Volume [how big is big?]

  • Velocity, being created in or near real time

  • Variety, being structured and unstructured in nature

  • Exhaustive in scope, capture entire populations or systems

  • Fine-grained in resolution

  • Relational in nature, common fields that enable the merging of different data sets

  • Flexible, extensionable (can add new fields easily) and scalable (can expand in size rapidly) (Kitchin 2013).

Or, whatever doesn’t fit in an excel spreadsheet (Batty, anecdotal)

Big data vs. just data

  • Biases

  • Need for new methods

  • Accidental

  • Big data can speak for themselves. Not really (Kitchin 2013)

Smart cities, different approaces

The digital technologies approach

  • Urban infrastructure and services are managed computationally

  • Networked digital instrumentation embedded into the urban fabric

  • Continuous streams of data that dynamically feed into management systems and control rooms

  • New forms of governmentality

Smart cities, different approaches

The outputs approach

  • Strategic use of information and communications technology (ICT)

  • ➔ smarter citizens, workers, policy, and programs

  • ➔ innovation, economic development, and entrepreneurship

  • ➔ urban resilience and sustainability

Smart cities, different approaches

The just approach

  • ICT-led, citizen-centric model of development

  • ➔ social innovation and social justice, civic engagement and activism

  • ➔ transparent and accountable governance

Smart cities, different approaches

In reality…

… a blend of all these approached

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: The first smart city

Source: Centro De Operacoes Prefeitura Do Rio

Smart cities and data

  • (Smart) cities generate much more data nowadays

    • e-government systems, city operating systems, centralized control rooms, digital surveillance, predictive policing, intelligent transport systems, smart grids, sensor networks, building management systems, civic apps … (Kitchin and Moore-Cherry 2021)

Smart cities and data

  • Local authorities are under pressure to release open data for:

    • public scrutiny

    • civic apps

  • Data reuse:

    • internally facing

    • externally facing


A visual display of the most important information needed to achieve one or more objectives; a consolidated and arranged on a single screen so the information can be monitored at a glance (Few and Edge 2007)


  • Transparency, open government philosophy, accountability (Young, Kitchin, and Naji 2022)

  • Improve user’s ’span of control of large and complex data

  • Share outputs


  • Not just neutral, technical tools

  • Translators and engines rather than mirrors

  • Reductive in nature (vs. the complex nature of cities)

  • Decontextualize cities (Kitchin, Maalsen, and McArdle 2016)

London dashboard


NYC Dashboard


Digital twins

A mirror image of a physical process that is articulated alongside the process in question, usually matching exactly the operation of the physical process which takes place in real time

A variety of digital simulation models that run alongside real-time processes that pertain to social and economic systems as well as physical systems

Models are simplifications not replications of the real thing

Digital twins

Source: (Bolton et al. 2018)


Arribas-Bel, Daniel. 2014. “Accidental, Open and Everywhere: Emerging Data Sources for the Understanding of Cities.” Applied Geography 49: 45–53.
Batty, Michael. 2018. “Digital Twins.” Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science. SAGE Publications Sage UK: London, England.
Bolton, Alexandra, Lorraine Butler, Ian Dabson, Mark Enzer, Matthew Evans, Tim Fenemore, Fergus Harradence, et al. 2018. “Gemini Principles.”
Few, Stephen, and Perceptual Edge. 2007. “Dashboard Confusion Revisited.” Perceptual Edge, 1–6.
Kitchin, Rob. 2013. “Big Data and Human Geography: Opportunities, Challenges and Risks.” Dialogues in Human Geography 3 (3): 262–67.
———. 2019. “The Timescape of Smart Cities.” Annals of the American Association of Geographers 109 (3): 775–90.
Kitchin, Rob, Sophia Maalsen, and Gavin McArdle. 2016. “The Praxis and Politics of Building Urban Dashboards.” Geoforum 77: 93–101.
Kitchin, Rob, and Niamh Moore-Cherry. 2021. “Fragmented Governance, the Urban Data Ecosystem and Smart City-Regions: The Case of Metropolitan Boston.” Regional Studies 55 (12): 1913–23.
Young, Gareth W, Rob Kitchin, and Jeneen Naji. 2022. “Building City Dashboards for Different Types of Users.” In Sustainable Smart City Transitions, 259–79. Routledge.