sirodoht blog

City state as code


In computing, state is a set of properties that define an entity.

City state

People live in cities. People might want to improve their cities. To improve something, one ought to know what is wrong with it in the first place. And quite possible, to identify faults, one should be aware of large parts of the whole, rather than a small part, i.e. the neighbourhood one lives.

Thinking in terms of the functional programming paradigm, the current city state is the input, the desirable state the output, and the work we need to do to get there is the function.

If one wants to improve a city, they would need to know the city state. This implies storing the city state, and communicating the city state.

Cities have massive amounts of different entities. Sorting by generality descending, a city includes boroughs, neighbourhoods, houses, blocks of flats, parks, trains, buses, cars, roads, and of course people, families, companies, offices, industries; the list goes on. Thus, to represent or express city state, a need for a structured representation of all this data becomes apparent.


What if we could somehow structure, model, and store all these entities of a city? Then we could also model the future desired state, and calculate the diff.

We could have a board with CIPs, City Improvement Proposals. Anybody could draft proposals and submit them for review by the city council. Some would get accepted and implemented.

Fellow citizens could prioritize and judge others' CIPs, implementing the CIP peer review process.

Council and mayor performance assessment would be easier. Metrics on how many proposals were submitted, considered, accepted, and implemented would be easily attainable. Elections would be more efficient, vote decisions more straightforward.

It could lead to a democratization of mayor canditateships. It is common for candidates to build their career based on nepotism and reputable schools. By having a transparent system like this, we could identify and judge potential new candidates based on their prior CIP work, an actual portrayal of pragmatic work for the public. Whether they were born in poor areas or only 16 years ago would be irrelevant; what would matter: the actual —evident— achievements, the contribution into the seen-by-everybody board of proposals that, hopefully, represents the truth.

That would be fun. If only we could model city state. The only obstacle towards a more efficient city-governance mechanism!



No, not at all. A multitude of problems would appear before us. Even if we exclude the challenge of the systematic process of capturing the city state entities, many issues remain.

Most probably, people (unless Swiss [1]) will not be interested in submitting any proposals. Hard work will be required to inspire them. Likewise, for instilling in them the idea of an objective evaluation for the peer effort. Of course, all those, in the context of society-centered interest, rather than individual.

Onwards to the administrators' front, bureaucracy would embrace the idea with its embalmed arms. And after navigating through that, the genuineness of a CIP's outcome report would be impossible to confirm, or improve. Not to mention the complicated, yet completely unexplored, merit-based system for approving CIPs. Appropriate motivation, lack of bribery, honesty of the CIP approving commitee — all hard fights.

And then nepotism. The processes that helped it crystallize are not visible even in the current system. These shadow structures will take new forms and shapes, and will continue to exist unless directly addressed. Separate, additional effort required.

Finally, age, gender, wealth and all other stereotypes and isms will not die that easilly.


It's hopeless, one could say. So much for painting a utopia — it has now been destroyed. There is no point talking about any of these, much less implementing them.

Nevertheless, I hope the point of the above is now visible: the juxtaposition of these two (categories of) outcomes is the truth, and will continue to be the truth. What is more important is whether this function approaches the limit of plus infinity rather than minus infinity. Because, if it's not heading towards plus, it's heading towards minus. What I mean is, if we are not making it head towards plus, it's heading towards minus.

And that's all there is to it. So much, that one could even say this article is not about cities, but rather, all humanity's activities.



[1] An assumption, only via a brief encounter of the Swiss capital and its citizens.