Within the last twenty years the concept of the “smart city” has emerged and re-emerged, focusing on various ways that technology layers new capacities over existing urban infrastructures. These “smart cities” are changing. The “smart city” of the early 2000s was a communicative city, while the smart city of the 2010s is a data city. The dynamics of these are different: a communicative city promises representation through voice – the ability to speak and listen - while a data city promises representation through information – information collected about individuals is fed back to civic decision makers who enact decisions based upon it. Data is thus a product flowing from citizen to government. In data cities governance is also different: both communicative and data cities could be the result of top-down governance decisions or subject to bottom-up reconfigurations, the ways that those decisions are enacted are quite different. A communicative city promises a democratic value to citizens of greater access to information, while a data city promises a value to governments of greater access to data about citizens. This structural inequity is particularly evident when we consider what must happen to data in a data city – it must be calculated.
Within a macro-political perspective, centralized calculation of data gathered from citizens is essential for developing visions of responsive, data-rich, centrally controlled smart cities. This seems to close off the potential for an alternative mode of governance for the contemporary data city. However, the expansion of participatory culture has created efforts to democratize collection of data about cities, through citizen science projects including air quality and noise mapping. In these projects, the legitimacy of the hierarchical city is challenged by the oppositional data collected by citizens, taken as evidence of an opposition between the “constituted knowledge” of institutions like city governance and the “adaptive knowledge” of loosely organized communities of practice (see Mansell, 2013). This contest of knowledge contrasts the two modes of combining citizenship, technology and space, the ‘hierarchical city’ and the ‘peer to peer’ city. Participatory data collection does seem to enact an alternative to centralized authority, but it is not clear whether data – without calculation – is really shifting governance.
Building upon the central contrast between hierarchical and peer to peer cities, this paper considers how the “micro politics” of cities are altered as calculation is integrated into civic participation. Drawing on historical and contemporary examples of peer to peer cities including community networks, citizen science, it argues that peer to peer calculation is the most significant yet most difficult activation of alternative governance of urban space.