The City is not the costumer : Confronting Uneven Innovation.
After a decade of pilot projects and flashy demonstrations, it’s still not clear whether smart city technologies can actually solve or even mitigate the challenges cities face. A lot of progress on our most pressing urban issues—such as broadband access, affordable housing, or public transport—could come from better policies and more funding. These problems don’t necessarily require new technology.
What is clear is that technology companies are increasingly taking on administrative and infrastructure responsibilities that governments have long fulfilled. If smart cities are to avoid exacerbating urban inequalities, we must understand where these projects will create new opportunities and problems, and who may lose out as a result. And that starts by taking a hard look at how cities have fared so far.
Computing Urbanity: How Politics Change as We Move from Digitally Knowing to Digitally Making the City
This presentation points to the need to question the ontological and epistemological implications of what is now a pervasive computational urbanism. It argues that in order to understand how digital technologies transform the city it is necessary to look at the underlying computational logics involved. By looking at digital processes of operationalization, datafication, sensing, mapping, and prediction, this work subjects the contemporary computational city to critical scrutiny. We argue that these computational logics aren’t simply ways of knowing the city, but rather the making of a particular—and politically charged—urbanity.
The presentation discusses how technical forms of urban knowledge, control, and calculation are never ideologically neutral, foregrounding the profound political, epistemological, and ontological consequences attached to the adoption of computational systems as a privileged template for future urbanism. In such computational city, through the close coupling of crises and the everyday, political debates take a backseat to an operational rebundling aimed at guaranteeing urban flows. With constant information as the new nature of the city, the ontological push of the computational city is so strong that it risks becoming both the ends as well as the means for governing the city. Forcing this emerging digital city to remake itself in the image of its own narrow epistemology, the computational city gives precedence to efficiency and circulatory management over agonistic politics.
Data Feminism in Action
What is feminist data science? How is feminist thinking being incorporated into smart cities research and other data-driven work? And how are scholars in the humanities and social sciences bringing together data science and feminist theory in their research more broadly?
Drawing from her recent book, Data Feminism, co-authored with Catherine D’Ignazio, Klein will present a set of principles for doing data science that are informed by decades of intersectional feminist activism and critical thought. To illustrate these principles, Klein will discuss a range of recent research projects, including some of her own. Taken together, these examples will demonstrate how feminist thinking can be operationalized into more ethical, more intentional, and more capacious data practices, in smart cities research and beyond.
Hacking as a minor approach that prefigures future cities: feminist approaches beyond the hegemony of the smart city
Inspired by recent work that has advanced minor approaches to smart urbanism (Leszczynski 2020; Katz 1996) this paper positions “urban hacks” (Maalsen 2021) as fruitful counter-narratives to hegemonic smart city discourses. Situated in a context of discomfort towards the limitations of major theories to account for the different experiences of the actually existing smart city, mixed with an overwhelming feeling that significant structural change has not arrived yet (and may not in the near future) despite major critiques, the hack is positioned as an “imperfect but better than” intervention to urban problems. Specifically, this paper addresses how housing affordability crises are prompting both public and private sectors to “hack” housing. I advance hacking as a form of prefigurative politics, whose ruptures show us alternative possibilities for smart cities, and whose speculative nature can become a mechanism for change.
If we are to move “beyond the smart city”, as the conference title suggests, then it is necessary to open ourselves (both academics and policy makers) to other ways of understanding the smart city, ways which, in their difference, show us alternative possibilities for the city.
Katz, C (1996) Towards minor theory. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 14(4): 487–499.
Leszczynski, A. (2020) ‘Glitchy vignettes of platform urbanism’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 38(2), pp. 189–208.
Maalsen, S. (2021) ‘The hack: What it is and why it matters to urban studies’, Urban Studies
‘Moving at the speed of trust’ - Data strategies of two Civil Society Organisations in Cape Town, South Africa
Whilst the social and spatial divides within South African cities cannot be denied, the country’s Constitution nevertheless enables free speech and popular protest aimed at addressing inequalities. Two civil society organisations, Ndifuna Ukwazi and Cape Town Together (CTT), use a range of digital media to mobilise and connect marginalized communities. The former focuses mainly on shelter whilst CTT emerged as a response to extreme lockdown measures during the first months of Covid-19. The presentation will focus on the use of storytelling as a form of activism, harnessing technology to represent experiential and qualitative aspects of urban life, to alter dominant urban discourses. Part of this sensibility is captured by CTT in their approach to ‘move at the speed of trust’ in enabling neighbourhood mobilisation in addressing livelihoods, through community action networks. An emphasis on trust building, connection and co-creation of livelihood solutions to livelihood issues, runs contrary to the state’s emphasis on evidence-based decision making and a temporally linear and centralized approach to service delivery.
“State-as-a-Platform” – Sovereignty and Capital in Smart Governance.
I offer a critical analyse of the political economic dynamics still unfolding through different combinations of power, technology and capital in cities and states. Rather than simply spreading via one static model, the practices and purposes of smart governance continue to evolve in important ways. I outline three concurrent phases in this development over the last 15 years, each one based on technology companies seeking to claim further power and authority over public services: managerial oversight, functional operation, and sovereign ownership. I don’t use the term “sovereign” lightly. But rather as a way of provoking crucial questions about the shifting nature of state sovereignty, and the intensification of corporate sovereignty, in an era of smart governance. The model gaining influence now goes beyond the public-private partnerships that have become standard fare in the last half-century of neoliberal austerity and privatisation. It is, instead, explicitly about reconfiguring the public into the private, the state into a platform. It is a techno-political philosophy that seems to take seriously the premise: “What if instead of a government we had Amazon Web Services?”
The Smartness Mandate: Theorizing our Nervous Present
The COVID 19 pandemic has seemingly naturalized the relationship between computation and human survival. Digital systems sustain our supply chains, labor, vaccine development, public health, and virtually every manner of social life. Nowhere has this link become more powerful then at the intersection of statistics, ecology, artificial intelligence and finance. This paper links a genealogy of neural nets and ubiquitous computing arising from histories of ecology, psychology, and finance to contemporary efforts to model and gamify markets, populations, and networks. I argue that the idea of a networked, population based, ecological cognition unifies neo-liberal governance and conceptions of cognition and intelligence through the figure of the neuron; what I label the “smartness mandate”. This imaginary has political and ethical implications for our present underpinning contemporary reactionary politics and increased volatility and precarity (for many) in the economy.
Re-placeing the Smart City
Smart cities project particular imaginaries and aspirations of urban transformation. The most prevalent visions of “smart” urban futures are selective in who they serve, how they are generated, and what types of data, knowledge, and expertise are consulted to interpret and reproduce the city. Too often, these visions lose sight of the work people do to make sense of their environments, their agency in producing a sense of belonging and equity, their experiences of difference and power, and how the urban futures promised in smart city development may conflict with the futures strived for and desired on the ground. Shared conceptions across “actually existing” and emerging smart cities reveal limited understandings of the city as an inhabited place as well as several missed opportunities to become more critically attuned to the urban places we create. The smart city, as it currently stands, needs to be re-placed. What methods do we already have, or can we forge, to move beyond the smart city or see it anew?
Making a difference beyond the academy: critical interventions into smart city making.
Professor Rob Kitchin gave the opening keynote “Making a difference beyond the academy: critical interventions into smart city making” for the panel Smart Cities for City Officials.