Urban Operating Systems

From Infrastructures

Urban Operating Systems

Producing the Computational City

By Andrés Luque-Ayala and Simon Marvin




Open Access


A new wave of enthusiasm for smart cities, urban data, and the Internet of Things has created the impression that computation can solve almost any urban problem. Subjecting this claim to critical scrutiny, in this book, Andrés Luque-Ayala and Simon Marvin examine the cultural, historical, and contemporary contexts in which urban computational logics have emerged. They consider the rationalities and techniques that constitute emerging computational forms of urbanization, including work on digital urbanism, smart cities, and, more recently, platform urbanism. They explore the modest potentials and serious contradictions of reconfiguring urban life, city services, and urban-networked infrastructure through computational operating systems—an urban OS.

Luque-Ayala and Marvin argue that in order to understand how digital technologies transform and shape the city, it is necessary to analyze the underlying computational logics themselves. Drawing on fieldwork that stretches across eleven cities in American, European, and Asian contexts, they investigate how digital products, services, and ecosystems are reshaping the ways in which the city is imagined, known, and governed. They discuss the reconstitution of the contemporary city through digital technologies, practices, and techniques, including data-driven governance, predictive analytics, digital mapping, urban sensing, digitally enabled control rooms, civic hacking, and open data narratives. Focusing on the relationship between the emerging operating systems of the city and their traditional infrastructures, they shed light on the political implications of using computer technologies to understand and generate new urban spaces and flows.

The open access edition of this book was made possible by generous funding from Arcadia – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.


$40.00 X ISBN: 9780262539814 296 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 58 b&w illus.


  • Urban Operating Systems offers the essential synthesis that so many analyses have missed. It combines a history of modern digital utopias with a contemporary field guide to messier collisions between computational ecosystems in urban space.

    Keller Easterling

    Professor, Yale School of Architecture

  • Luque-Ayala and Marvin bring alive the concept of urban operating systems through their expansive and in-depth research. From hacking and sensing to datafication and prediction, their work makes a crucial contribution to understanding—and transforming—computational cities.

    Jennifer Gabrys

    Chair in Media, Culture, and Environment, University of Cambridge

  • A theoretically nuanced, empirically rich, historically grounded, and accessible account of the development of the computational city. Urban Operating Systems provides an essential guide to how digital technologies have reshaped urban imaginations, infrastructure, governance, and governmentality.

    Rob Kitchin

    National University of Ireland, Maynooth

  • Through this incisive study, Luque-Ayala and Marvin allow us to revisit our cities through the functional logics of their operating systems, and to consider how our own human means of sensing and processing and circulating map onto the ways intelligent machines accomplish similar tasks.

    Shannon Mattern

    Professor of Anthropology, The New School; author of Code and Clay, Data and Dirt?

Funding provided by:
Arcadia Fund


$40.00 X ISBN: 9780262539814 296 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 58 b&w illus.