martes, 1 de octubre de 2013

Dissecting some underlying assumptions of the smart city discourse


I have just finished a two-months period writing two articles that will appear soon. One will be a short article in English for a book focused on the role of citizens in the smart city and I am glad to be part of the list of authors (most of them have been so inspiring to me in the last years). Wait until the first days of December.

The other one is more exhaustive, with more details, references and quotations. More academic, let´s say. It will be part of a collective book in Spanish on new discourses on the city and I was commissioned to write about smart cities. I took it as a chance to put some order on my writings and clarify some of the topics I have been sharing about why the idea of smart cities that has become mainstream is not meaningful for citizens. It will be published in December, I guess.

It covers a state of the art, but, particularly, a dissection of some underlying myths in that vision (in a few words) and how these risks and misconceptions can lead to disillusionment: 
  • Operational efficiency of local governments as the main objective, confusing the city council with the whole city.
  • Weak use of sustainability claims, without an overall understanding of environmental implications and with poor attention on some background knowledge from urban ecology.
  • Useless simplification of urban complexity.
  • Pretended neutrality of data.
  • Depolitization of urban debates and social conflicts.
  • Technological smugness and over-representation of technology means to address non-technological issues.
The article concludes with some notes suggesting practices and concepts to be favoured in the search of a citizen-centered smart city. It tries to address a new reading of what is already happening out of the spotlight to acknowledge projects, practices and actors exploring how to make the smart city something meaningful and relevant. I feel this is the part that still lacks a deeper elaboration, but I am quite happy with the three sections. As you can see, it´s not a technology analysis, nor an assessment of implementation projects, but a discursive review of the assumptions behind a certain vision of the intersection of cities and digital technologies. The title, "The disappointment of the smart city" -I am so bad with titles and it is actually a slight reminiscence of Urban computing and its discontents- refers to the frustrating distance between the celebrated theoretical promises and the reality of urban living and certain practices and alternative approaches that do not find their place in the more established version of smart cities. It does not mean destructive skepticism, but a balanced contribution to build a broader understanding on the implication of all these technologies we are already living with for the sake of our cities and their citizens. If not, failed promises will arise unless these misconceptions are tackled in the way projects are designed.

It took me a lot of time and, in fact, I ended up with a three times longer version than the threshold of words I was asked. So, I will probably find some more time in the next weeks for a refined and extended version that could constitute a book (whatever a book is nowadays, but at least an extensive and structured writing). In the meantime, I will try to find a way to translate this article into English. It´s been such an effort to put all those paragraphs and chapters together in a logical way, and after submitting the article I realized it turned out to be a detailed writing I am comfortable enough with, and an invitation to go a little bit further in the next weeks to close the circle. I will try to wait for the three books I am eager to read this year that will be published soon, as I am sure all of them will be an inspiration and a great contribution for a wider perspective on what smart cities imply from a citizen perspective. I would also like to contrast and refine some ideas in workshops and public talks (at Re·Work Cities in London, December 13th, for instance), in the coming weeks to have a more accurate book version.

(Note: I regret to say I am not really sure if I can give more details about both books until they are published, but keep posted here for updates).

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2 comentarios :

  1. Privatization of public sphere in the way of Big Companies "Can Do" / Civil Servants (Can't Do),

    Controlling People, cameras and more cameras.RFID everywhere, Mobile Apss. But the same problems of years ago: Housing, Working, Living.

  2. I am not sure what you mean in all of this. There are 'Myths' based around some people's professional experiences and try to share it, but you have a different truth?

    It is perfectly possible you and the 'myth makers' want the same thing, your just looking at different scales or time frames or for dynamic - not nostalgic- outcomes.

    I have seen and heard and felt deeply for Human Scale in city building, unfortunately it has been co-opted by a right wing Nativist agenda - not Pluralist- so I am no longer sure that Human Scale is progressive Humanist or not.


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