City as Software

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City as Software is the idea that a city is a malleable, writable system capable of being edited and changed by its citizens. Adam Greenfield wrote that seeing a city as software would allow "people a fundamentally new way to engage and co-author the environment they inhabit."[1] Examples include cities that have open data sets that allow citizens to interface with a city's data. Some cities release data and encourage developers to build applications on top of it.

Designing a read/write city can speed up error correction, detection and understanding in a city. It also provides government officials and city workers a way to utilize data from citizens without hiring additional workers or stretching themselves too thin. The idea behind a City as Software is that the city becomes a site of evolution, of error detection and improvement that is detected and corrected by everyday citizens instead of a handful of people employed on behalf of the city.

Open Government advocate Max Ogden points out that governments are good at providing data, but they are not close enough to the problems of the city and community to understand how to create the best interface for that data. Thus, a government's job should be to provide open data, and a citizen's job should be to build on top of that data and make it useable to the city.[2]

Ogden created a map of the various smells in Portland, Oregon that allowed citizens to geotag and report smells around the city. The data that came back provided insights not only into the particular regions of the city, but environmental hazards as well. When the city understood the power of placing data reporting into the hands of citizens, they commissioned Ogden to build another version of the app that allowed citizens to report toxic smells. This helped the city to isolate and identify toxic spills and environmental issues that individual city inspectors didn't have the ability or resources to measure.[3] Ogden also created an API for the City of Portland called PDXAPI[4]. The API took data in awkward-to-use formats and parsed it out so that it could be easily read in a browser and used in a number of citizen-oriented applications.


  1. Comment on Greenfield, Adam. Frameworks for Citizen Responsiveness: Towards a Read/Write Urbanism July 7th, 2010. by Adam Greenfield in response to Fred Scharmen - July 7, 2010 at 1:02 pm. Accessed Jul 2010.
  2. Ogden, Max. Why middleware is the key to a successful gov 2.0. IgniteGov GOSCON 2011. Oct 2011. Portland, Oregon. Accessed Jul 2011.
  3. Ogden, Max. Portland Smells. Accessed Jul 2010.
  4. Ogden, Max. PDXAPI