This November saw the introduction of a new festival of art and technology on Dublin’s annual arts calendar: Beta Festival. The festival programme centered around a free two-and-a-half-week exhibition running from the 2nd to the 19th of November at the Digital Hub in Dublin’s Liberties. The Data Stories team were pleased to be invited to exhibit Data City Dublin for the festival’s opening and first weekend.
The purpose of Data City Dublin is to collect and present evidence regarding Dublin’s housing crisis in a public forum, and to stimulate debate. Combining a large 3D printed model with projected data overlays, the exhibit seeks to bridge the gap between official accounts of housing, planning and property issues and the individual experiences of the city’s inhabitants. While searching the surface of the model for points of interest such as schools, homes and workplaces, visitors are encouraged to share their stories and experiences with each other. In this way the model provides a tangible reference linking spatially located data to personal narrative via their association with familiar places across the city, here represented in miniature.
A new element introduced especially for Beta Festival was the incorporation of news headlines concerning housing, planning, and property stories from the past twenty years. Borrowing the concept from Jeneen Naji’s work River Poem, this stream of news headlines was projected floating down the River Liffey and out to sea. By revisiting the diverse range of opinions, reactions, and speculations represented by these headlines, visitors were prompted to reflect on the events leading to the current housing crisis and encouraged to consider alternative approaches for the future.
Accompanying the exhibit was a dedicated website which provided further information about each of the datasets being projected onto the model. Access to the website was exclusive to Beta Festival visitors who could access them by scanning QR code on their mobile phones. Data City Dublin was just one of many exhibits including photographic images, films and computer animations, installations, an interactive AI chatbot and a large central 360-degree immersive space. However, measuring 3.5 x 2 metres, the 3D printed model and vivid data overlays comprising Data City Dublin provided a strong physical and visual presence in the space.
Data City Dublin’s appearance in the festival aligned well with Beta’s overarching themes of critically engagement with emerging technologies and interrogation of their societal impact. Emphasising values of collaboration, integrity, empowerment and curiosity, Beta provided an ideal forum for a work like Data City Dublin which combines novel uses of technology with critical research. With a five-year commitment from The Digital Hub to host the festival we look forward to it becoming a key event for future explorations of the crossover between art and technology.
On November 8, 2023, to mark the occasion of the 74th World Town Planning Day, the Irish Planning Institute (IPI) hosted the themed webinar ‘Learn Globally, Apply Locally’. The theme focused on the value of learning about planning systems and cultures around the world, fostering innovative, sustainable and equitable solutions to global challenges.
The Data Stories team used this opportunity to present work carried out during the summer of 2023 on the Irish planning data ecosystem. We were joined by Claragh Mulhern, from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, with a presentation titled ‘Planning Action for a Just Transition to a Net Zero Climate Resilient World’ and Sinéad O’Donoghue, from the Land Development Agency, with a presentation titled ‘From Depots to Duplexes – Reimagining Public Land’. Over 100 people registered for the event and many represented international backgrounds.
The work presented by the Data Stories team identified and mapped the numerous data systems and flows across different planning stages and clients. These mappings were derived from analysis of documentation and system demos received from, and interviews conducted with, a sample of Local Authority planners and other stakeholders involved in producing and managing planning data in Ireland.
The presentation sought to communicate something of the complexity of the data ecosystem, as well as the extent of variation and drift between different systems, properties which make it difficult to produce reliable and comparable official statistics. The presentation concluded with a set of high-level observations and recommendations, with a hope that the improved understanding of the ecosystem provided by this project can help in working towards a greater degree of standardisation across systems, and in turn to more accurate, detailed information for informing transparent and coherent planning decisions.
On Saturday, November 4, 2023, Juliette Davret, postdoctoral researcher on Data Stories, and two of the project artists, Joan Somers Donnelly and Augustine O’Donoghue, took part in a workshop organized by the Dublin Democratic Planning Alliance (DDPA) in cooperation with Student Unions to work on the issue of student housing.
The importance of providing student accommodation in Ireland lies in meeting the growing needs associated with the increasing demand for higher education. This demand, both nationally and internationally, is putting significant pressure on the student housing market. Ensuring fair access to education and promoting student well-being are central issues, while adequate housing conditions contribute to the attraction and retention of talent. However, Ireland faces major issues such as housing shortages, high rents and precarious living conditions, requiring coordinated intervention between government, educational institutions and the private sector to develop sustainable and affordable solutions. Resolving these challenges is crucial to the continued success of the education system, the well-being of students and the country’s economic development.
The three-hour workshop brought together built environment and housing practitioners from Ireland and Europe, students and student unions representing third-level institutions in Dublin and was divided into different parts. The first part focused on gathering perspectives on housing issues from attendees. Several students gave short presentations highlighting the issues they see as key in today’s political landscape. Then, divided into working groups by table, attendees brainstormed a word to express a common feeling about the student housing situation. The working group including Data Stories team members chose the following words: grim, bad, expensive, mouldy, oversubscribed, stress, insecure, transient. Clearly, attendees did not hold positive feelings about the housing situation. Eventually they settled on ‘expensive insecurity’.
Later in the day, various experts gave presentations, each focusing on a specific theme related to the wider context of housing, data systems, investment and social protection in Ireland and Europe. Many individuals spoke, including Dara Turnbull (Housing Europe), Carole Pollard (RIAI) and László Molnárfi (TCDSU). Following the presentations, participants worked in small groups to explore one particular theme in greater depth. The working group including Data Stories team members worked specifically on the question of “Digital and Data-Driven Decision Making: Understanding the imperative for incorporating digital data-driven systems within Irish policy-making processes.”. Discussing this issue in a multi-stakeholder workshop was a way of enriching the Data Stories project team’s experience in order to understand the data generated and used to address the housing issue for students.
According to the DDPA, they will produce a report condensing the participants’ comments. The Data Stories team looks forward to reading this report.
The DDPA recommended the following material as preparation for the workshop:
We’re pleased and excited to introduce the first cohort of artists to join the Data Stories team. Joan Somers Donnelly, Mel Galley and Augustine O’Donoghue will be helpingthe team to explore arts-based methods as a means for research-creation.Typically, arts-based methods are integrated into research projects toward their conclusion to communicate findings to the public in novel ways.
What makes this method stand out is that, with the integration of our artists and their specific skill sets, we will embed creative approachesthroughout theentire research process. So rather than giving the artists our findings and asking them to share them to the public, they are working with us at the onset to change the way we approach our own work and challenge our pre-conceived understandings of Dublin’s planning, property and housing systems.
In the coming months each artist will team up with one Data Storiesresearcher to createdata storiesthat respond to issues and challenges raised during our mapping of the policy, planning and housing data ecosystem in Ireland. While working with our researchers and various external stakeholder organisations, each artist will also develop their own data story concepts that express theirunique approaches to artistic practice.
We hope you look forward to seeing the outcomes as much as we do.
Joan Somers Donnelly
I am an Irish artist based between Brussels and Dublin, with a collaborative practice that moves between performance, writing, research and organising. Previous work includes a human choir that performed for cows; a piece for swimmers in the Irish sea; an interactive fantasy about the politics of housing in Dublin; a video essay about social spaces of gig economy workers made with my father; and performances and other invitations for lamp posts, zoom calls, U-bahn stations and apartments.
My practice is primarily concerned with examining existing social rules and structures and creating not-yet-existing ones, using performance and other live situations as a testing ground for experiments in different ways of relating. Much of my recent work has focused on the creation of frameworks for playful encounter, exchange, and co-creation, such as the group improvisation practice messing, the platform for collaboration You and Me, an Anger Club, and a first manifestation of a practice-sharing space for women and non-binary multimedia artists called In practice(s): The wood and the trees. My work is currently supported by the Arts Council of Ireland and radical_house, Brussels.
I was drawn to the Data Stories project because of a long-standing engagement with the politics of space and space-making in Dublin, both in and outside of my artistic practice. I am also looking forward to working as part of an interdisciplinary research team, and to the new challenge of working with stakeholders across the public, private and civil society sectors. A practice-based research approach has become increasingly present in my work, particularly around the question of how to create conditions for collaboration between diverse actors from and in different contexts, so this residency presents an interesting next chapter in that trajectory.
Currently based in Dublin, Ireland, I grew up between the Dales and Cumbria in the UK. My closeness to these rural landscapes has heavily influenced my research; specifically how industrial or military activity exists alongside motifs of ‘wilderness’ in these areas. Growing from an early (and ongoing) love of science-fiction and anti-/utopian literature, in my practice I construct unreal places, translating ideas through mediums from contemporary technologies of CAD and CGI to laser etching and printmaking. Creating these unreal places allows me to analyse and reorder research, offering an alternative point of entry into existing discussions on place, ecology and ethics. Frequently my works are shown as multiples, such as pamphlets or handouts, which the audience can take out of the arts space with them and into the landscapes that they consider. The draw to join the Data Stories project, for me, was the focus around data and place, specifically through the lens of politics, ethics and narrative. I’m excited to be spending a year working alongside the researchers on this project to develop art works and workshops with and about the data!
I’ve shown work across Ireland and the UK, participated on artist residencies in Manchester, Cumbria and Dublin, and delivered classes and workshops at three universities. In 2021 I was awarded 2nd Place Practitioner Category in the RIBA Eye Line awards and in 2020 received the award for Young Cumbrian Artist of the Year (a real joy to be recognised by the county I’m from). Two of my works are held in the collections of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, whilst many more are on the walls and shelves of people I care about – which is equally meaningful to me.
I am asocially engaged visual artist based in Dublin. My artwork engages with a range of local and global socio-political issues.Over the last two decades my art projects have been research based and collaborative throughout their development and creation. I use an array of socially engaged and participatory approaches to develop interdisciplinary projectsand have collaborated with diverse groups of people including students, scientists, migrant workers, academics, refugees and social organisations across Ireland, Latin America and Africa.
TheData Stories project really captivated my interest as it was an opportunity to draw together many topics and strands of my art practice that I feel really passionate about. The projects original research concept of using data stories to explore the data and analytics relating to property and planning, the opportunity of using creative methodologies to work with stakeholder groups that may not traditionally work with artists and having direct access to the research team and their vast knowledge and experience will allow me to create new work in an exciting and innovative way. More importantly it will allow me to create new work with a level of criticality that would be challenging to achieve without this project.
To learn more about the use of arts-based methods in research creation, please read the project working paper ‘Arts-based methods for researching digital life.’ forthcoming as a chapter in ‘Researching Digital Life’, James Ash and Agnieszka Leszczynski’s co-authored book.
The Synthetic City conference took place at Dublin City University (DCU) on the 6th and 7th of September 2023. Hosted by the ECREA Media, Cities and Space Section, the conference attracted researchers in cities, media and the arts from across the globe to explore the impact of artificial intelligence and digital media on cities and urban living.
The Data Stories project attended in order to demonstrate the Data City Dublin exhibit as one of the conference’s several practice-based interventions. Data City Dublin is a large-scale 3D printed model of central Dublin which covers 28 sq. km of the city from Phoenix Park in the west to the Dublin Docks in the east. The model is then animated by projected data visualisations representing spatial patterns and change over time.
Excitingly this was the first public exhibition of Data City Dublin. The piece was first created as an end of project exhibition for the Building City Dashboards project. Unfortunately, this wasn’t possible due to the global coronavirus pandemic in 2020. The exhibit is now being used by the Data Stories project as one of several creative and art-based methods for exploring stories about the housing crisis in Ireland through property and planning data.
The Data City Dublin exhibit will continue to evolve as the Data Stories project progresses. On this occasion we displayed several visualisations from the earlier iteration, including eye-catching heat maps of air quality and noise pollution from Dublin’s open data archives. Focusing on our theme of planning and property data, we displayed data from the Inside Airbnb advocacy site representing the distribution of Airbnb properties across the city. This was juxtaposed with distributions of land uses across central Dublin on a building-by-building basis derived from data provided by Tailte Éireann.
New for this exhibit was a time series of orthographic imagery depicting changes in Dublin’s built environment from 1999 through to 2019. Depicting the city in photographic detail in this way enables us to contextualise the current state of the city by showing how the city changed during the period known as the Celtic Tiger and subsequent financial crash, up until the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
Supporting the exhibit our Creative Technologist Oliver Dawkins presented a talk ‘Data City Dublin: Grounding Data Through Hybrid Media and Physicalisation’ which contextualised the new work on Data City Dublin in relation to his prior research using sensing devices on the Internet of Things, gaming technologies and augmented and virtual realities to help understand how people interact with buildings and cities in real-world contexts.
New visualisations and data stories will be added to Data City Dublin as the Data Stories project continues to develop. In doing so the team hope it will provide a valuable resource for engaging both professional stakeholders and the wider public with debates in housing, property and planning in creative and exciting new ways.
On the 3rd of August, on a surprisingly sunny day amidst this year’s rainy Irish summer, Dáithí Downey, geographer and policy analyst with the National Economic and Social Council (NESC), kindly agreed to lead us on a tour of some of Dublin’s long-standing social housing communities and incoming developments.
Social housing plays a crucial role in ensuring equitable access to safe and affordable shelter for all members of society. It helps alleviate homelessness, poverty and inequality. It contributes to building inclusive communities, fostering social cohesion and offering individuals and families a foundation from which they can pursue education, employment and a better quality of life. Moreover, investing in social housing demonstrates a commitment to addressing the fundamental human right of adequate housing and promotes a more just and compassionate society.
The tour began at the Fatima Luas stop and wound around various neighbourhoods in Dublin 8. Stops included the Herberton Development (former Fatima Mansions site), Dolphin House, Donore Project (St. Teresa’s Gardens) and Margaret Kennedy Road. At each of these stops, Dáithí arranged meetings with associated architects and/or community liaison officers. Stefan Lowe (DCC Architects) and Laura O’Gorman (DCC Architects) explained to us how community life was addressed through the construction of social housing.
The Team also met, Laura Kenny (Project Estate Officer for Dublin South Central) and Katarzyna Batraniec (DCC Architects) to discuss their work overseeing “rapid-build” volumetric developments near Weaver Park. After, we managed to squeeze in a brief rest stop in Bridgefoot Street Park after spending 3.5 hours on foot, where Dáithí pointed out the completed volumetric developments facing this lively public park.
As the Data Stories team works on housing and property data, an understanding of social housing is essential for a complete analysis. Social housing data not only offers insights into the well-being of marginalised populations, but also highlights broader societal trends. By examining social housing models, it is possible to measure the effectiveness of government policies, identify housing disparities and assess the impact of urban development on vulnerable communities.
That is why we would like to thank all the individuals who made time (and handouts!) to meet with us and to educate us on the history and future projections for these evolving neighbourhoods and communities. A very special thanks to Dáithí for his bespoke tour and willingness to share his in-depth knowledge of a growing and changing Dublin.
On Wednesday the 12th of July, Professor Rob Kitchin (PI) and Dr. Samuel Mutter (Postdoctoral Researcher) from the Data Stories team attended the half-day ‘Data Journeys’ workshop at Dublin City Council’s Wood Quay Venue. The event, hosted by Angela McCourt of DCC’s Data & Analytics Unit, convened a broad range of public sector bodies from across Ireland to share experiences and knowledge garnered from attempts to improve or enhance data infrastructures and practices within their organisations.
The event featured a series of talks from representatives of bodies including several government departments and local authorities, as well as the Dublin Fire Brigade and the Gardai. The presentations made clear both that different organisations were at different stages of their data journey, and that this journey could not be reduced to a pre-determined, one-size-fits-all approach. Depending on their broader strategic aims, each organisation necessarily plotted their own route, making decisions on what kinds of data were important to them.
Prof. Kitchin presented a set of initial findings from the Data Stories project. His presentation drew on cases beyond Ireland to demonstrate how data maturity frameworks could be helpful in conceiving of data work strategically, using agreed-upon criteria for data quality whilst also allowing for bespoke journeys which enfold organisational histories, cultures, and operational priorities. In outlining the work of the project to this point, his talk also emphasised the scale of housing, planning and property data alone, within as well as beyond the State.
The Data Stories project generated significant interest among the attendees, with several expressing their desire to discuss collaboration in future work. More broadly, the appetite and enthusiasm for a permanent network to facilitate regular exchange of expertise and provide ongoing support on data-related matters across the Irish public sector was deeply evident as the day drew to a close.
We would like to thank Angela McCourt and their team at DCC for organising the event and inviting us to participate, as well as supplying the photographs for this post.
On Thursday, 26 May, the Data Stories team embarked on a boat tour of the Dublin Port. The excursion, organised by James Deery of the National Treasury Management Agency and Maynooth’s Department of History and run by the Dublin Port Company, was an on-the-water seminar discussing the Port’s environmental heritage and sustainability initiatives.
For the Data Stories team, the tour presented an opportunity to see the ongoing construction of the North Lotts and Grand Canal Docks Strategic Development Zone and to view the rapid—though at times stunted—growth of the area from a different vantage point. To get a sense of the planning and development activities that have occurred since the 1980s, when Irish neoliberalism became visible through the built environment of the city, the Data Stories team did a mini-walking tour from Connolly Station to Berth 18, the departure point for the boat tour. The walking tour highlighted key projects on the north side of the Liffey, such as the Custom House Quay building (CHQ), Mayor Square, the convention centre, and the Central Bank. The team then walked along Lower Sheriff Street to discuss the gradual displacement of the housing complexes that were home for communities who fuelled the economy of the port since as far back as the 1700s.
The day could not have been any more beautiful for a boat tour. The sun was shining on our way out and the water was still, allowing for a clear, unobstructed and unique perspective of the Dublin docklands. The team will continue to visit various developments throughout the city to gain a deeper understanding of planning and development activity across time, and to complement our growing knowledge of the role the data ecosystem plays in guiding said developments.
Last week the Data Stories team attended the 54th annual Conference of Irish Geographers (CIG) in Wexford. Members of the team presented in three sessions related to planning and housing over the course of the conference.
Dr. Samuel Mutter and Dr. Carla Maria Kayanan kicked us off with a paper that used concepts from critical data studies to query the resilience of Dublin’s housing data system, warning of the pitfalls of data being deployed without theory. This paper was part of thesession “Questioning the resilience of neoliberal urbanism: Empirical memories, plans, and glitchy urban resilience”.
Next up, Prof. Rob Kitchin presented a paper on charting the Irish housing data ecosystem and building an open knowledge hub in the session “Social movement and research: Housing”. This paper highlighted the value of looking at the data ecosystem to understand and address the housing crisis in Ireland.
Finally, Creative Technologist Oliver Dawkins presented a paper on social housing data and contested data narratives in the Dublin housing data systemfor the session “Housing for whom? The future of social housing”. Oliver’s presentation developed the theme of ‘care through data’ focusing on the growing use of data stories in the communication of housing and planning issues.
Team members Lorena Borges Dias, Dr. Jennie Day and Dr. Juliette Davret also contributed work and ideas for the papers and cheered on the presenters throughout the conference. This was the first time the entire team travelled together to present their work and meet with other geographers from across Ireland and beyond. We would like to thank our session convenors and the wider Geographical Society of Ireland for the success of the CIG conference.
Our first Data Stories working paper has been published via the university open access portal.
‘Arts-based methods for researching digital life.’ Data Stories Working Paper 1.
Abstract: This paper provides an overview of the use of arts-based methods for undertaking research on the relationship between digital technologies and society. It first details the approach of research-creation in which research is conducted using of arts-based methods. This is followed by a discussion of specific arts-based methods used in research-creation: creative writing, artistic methods, and creative data stories. Next, it sets out ways in which research undertaken using traditional social science methods can be disseminated in creative ways using creative non-fiction and fiction, film and exhibitions. It closes by noting some critiques of arts-based approaches.
The WP is a draft of a chapter forthcoming in ‘Researching Digital Life’, a book co-authored with James Ash and Agnieszka Leszczynski