The Right to the Smart City

Cover of The Right to the Smart City
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Synopsis

Table of contents

(16 chapters)

Prelims

Pages i-xiv
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Abstract

This chapter provides an introduction to the smart city and engages with its idea and ideals from a critical social science perspective. After setting out in brief the emergence of smart cities and current key debates, we note a number of practical, political, and normative questions relating to citizenship, social justice, and the public good that warrant examination. The remainder of the chapter provides an initial framing for engaging with these questions. The first section details the dominant neoliberal conception and enactment of smart cities and how this works to promote the interests of capital and state power and reshape governmentality. We then detail some of the more troubling ethical issues associated with smart city technologies and initiatives. Having set out some of the more troubling aspects of how social relations are produced within smart cities, we then examine how citizens and citizenship have been conceived and operationalized in the smart city to date. We then follow this with a discussion of social justice and the smart city. In the fifth section, we explore the notion of the “right to the smart city” and how this might be used to recast the smart city in emancipatory and empowering ways. Finally, we set out how the book seeks to answer our questions and extend our initial framing, exploring the extent to which the “right to the city” should be a fundamental principle of smart city endeavors.

Part 1 Citizenship and the Commons

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Abstract

This chapter works with Lefebvre’s “Right to the City” (1996b) to understand how a Smart City initiative was being implemented and as a consequence who benefitted. While a model of citizenship is offered in smart cities, the “actually existing” smart city in fact reconfigures models of citizenship in ways that instrumentalize technology and data that can reinforce the patterns of exclusion for marginalized groups. Therefore, this chapter aims to understand how citizens participate in smart city projects and whether they can in fact lead to the exacerbation of existing urban historical, material, and social inequalities. The chapter focuses on some of those excluded by smart city projects: the urban poor, street traders, and those who live in informal settlements and explores the way in which they access and participate in the city. In the Global South context, India is a key actor in implementing a national-level smart city program, and research was undertaken in the city of Chennai to investigate the way that the India Smart Cities Mission was being planned and implemented and the corresponding implications for marginalized communities. The chapter argues that there is a need to recognize the value of a range of everyday, small-scale ways in which citizens employ technologies and data that meet their needs in a social and spatially embedded context. In this way, marginalized people may be empowered to have what Lefebvre describes as “the right to the oeuvre, to participation and appropriation” (1996, p. 173) in urban space.

Abstract

One of the key normative questions that critical smart city scholars pose is if, and how, politically meaningful agency of citizens in the neoliberal smart city is possible? The Lefebvrian concept of the “right to the city” proves particularly fruitful in this endeavor, as it allows for imaging ways and possibilities in which citizens can assert the use value of the city over the exchange value, and thus affirm the social “urban” over the economic “city.” This chapter seeks to contribute to this quest for and imaginations of politically meaningful agency in the neoliberal smart city. First, it does so by arguing that what smart city scholarship typically considers as politically meaningful interventions into the neoliberal smart city are too often initiatives that are strongly influenced by peoples’ and cities’ access to specific and unevenly distributed resources, like technological or political literacies and economic (infra-) structures. Therefore, and second, the chapter proposes that we look for critical interventions into the neoliberal smart city by “ordinary citizens” elsewhere, namely, in urban inhabitants’ everyday readings of the promotional and performative narrative of the neoliberal smart city.

Abstract

Over the last few years, technological developments have allowed new possibilities for fostering civic participation and engagement, as testified by various smart city experiments. In this framework, game elements are diffusely mobilized in order to develop responsible and active citizens with the aim of tackling urban problems. Gamification may be effective in nudging citizens and promoting various forms of participation, but fundamental ethical and political questions have to be addressed. This chapter develops the argument by interpreting gamification in light of the classic conceptualization of social justice proposed by David Harvey, arguing that participation through gamification potentially implies critical elements of injustice.

Abstract

The current datafication of cities raises questions about what Lefebvre and many after him have called “the right to the city.” In this contribution, I investigate how the use of data for civic purposes may strengthen the “right to the datafied city,” that is, the degree to which different people engage and participate in shaping urban life and culture, and experience a sense of ownership. The notion of the commons acts as the prism to see how data may serve to foster this participatory “smart citizenship” around collective issues. This contribution critically engages with recent attempts to theorize the city as a commons. Instead of seeing the city as a whole as a commons, it proposes a more fine-grained perspective of the “commons-as-interface.” The “commons-as-interface,” it is argued, productively connects urban data to the human-level political agency implied by “the right to the city” through processes of translation and collectivization. The term is applied to three short case studies, to analyze how these processes engender a “right to the datafied city.” The contribution ends by considering the connections between two seemingly opposed discourses about the role of data in the smart city – the cybernetic view versus a humanist view. It is suggested that the commons-as-interface allows for more detailed investigations of mediation processes between data, human actors, and urban issues.

Abstract

The chapter advances some critical reflections around commons and commoning in the smart city. It suggests that so-called smart commons – that is, forms of ownership of data and digital infrastructure increasingly central to the discourse around appropriation and co-production of smart technologies – tends to focus more on the outcome (open data or free software) rather than the process which maintains and reproduces such commons. Thus, the chapter makes a positional argument for a “smart approach” to the commons, advocating for a central role for the public as a stakeholder in advancing, nurturing, and maintaining urban commons in the smart city. The argument is illustrated through three brief case studies which reflect on instances of commons and commoning in relation to the implementation of public Internet infrastructure.

Abstract

In this chapter, I unpack the idea of “smart community” conceived in relation to the first “smart district” in Italy, Milano 4 You, that will be realized in Segrate, one of the wealthiest municipalities of Italy located in the Milanese metropolitan area. Through the lenses of critical political economy, notably the work of Miranda Joseph and David Harvey, the chapter focuses on the economic rationality behind the “smart community,” that is, a community of production and consumption. In fact, the new residents are envisaged as self-entrepreneurs willing to re-appropriate their data and sell them for profit, while sharing a “smart” lifestyle. However, the chapter avoids a reductionist and negative reading, highlighting the potential for contestation and alternative rationalities to emerge.

Part 2 Civic Engagement, Participation and the Right to the Smart City

Abstract

The ability to gather, store, and make meaning from large amounts of sensor data is becoming a technological and financial reality for cities. Many of these initiatives are happening through deals brokered between vendors, developers, and cities. They are made manifest in the environment as infrastructure – invisible to citizens and communities. We assert that in order to have community-centered smart cities, we need to transform sensor data collection and usage from invisible infrastructure into visible and legible interface. In this chapter, we compare two different urban sensing initiatives and examine the methods used for feedback between sensors and people. We question how value gets produced and communicated to citizens in urban sensing projects and what kind of oversight and ethical considerations are necessary. Finally, we make a case for “seamful” interfaces between communities, sensors, and cities that reveal their inner workings for the purposes of civic pedagogy and dialogue.

Abstract

Over the last decade, engineers, designers, community organizers, and government employees have rallied around “civic tech.” What exactly does this term mean for urban technologists and “smart cities”? In formulating a definition, after describing the relationship of this term to the city, I examine how civic tech has been defined by practitioners. They have typically defined civic tech using umbrella definitions based on broad values and bucket definitions based on technologies. Although helpful, these definitions tend to obfuscate the political nature of civic tech’s practices and organizational techniques. In response, I suggest civic tech is a form of “technical pluralism” – iterative technology design and implementation among organized actors working toward predominantly administrative reforms. Because practitioners are inspired by redesigning systems of governance and redistributing power, civic tech’s most important provocations are organizational and political, rather than purely technological. Civic tech, as a form of technical pluralism, presents a route to bridging community and government in the pursuit of more equitable ways to achieve sustainable technology design in urban contexts.

Abstract

Smart city developments have been subjected to technocratic envisioning and neoliberal urban developments. However, there have been attempts to reclaim the right to the city through organizing civic initiatives to widen the access to the making of future technologies and cities. This chapter draws on Mouffe’s concept of agonistic relations to explore the diversifying ideals, rhetoric, and practices of hackathon organization to consider how they might cooperate with or contest one another and provide alternative means to technology and city making. The chapter analyzes different ways of organizing hackathons and discusses the opportunities for participants with diverse social backgrounds, knowledges and technical competences to join and work together. By examining the conflictual positions, articulations, and arrangements to widen participation, the chapter suggests that more open, inclusive, and collaborative city-making events might be possible. Further work is needed to examine conflictual hackathon participation practices and other civic initiatives to pursue a more egalitarian smart city.

Abstract

Citizen participation in urban governance has established itself as a paradigm, promising greater democracy, empowerment, and more cost-effective public service delivery against the backdrop of increased urban conflicts. The dominant focus on the “citizen” or even “smart citizen” in the context of smart cities and urban innovation is however a relatively recent phenomenon. A growing number of initiatives seek to revamp the smart city as a human smart city. Therein, design thinking and human-centered design have become the buzzwords of choice to describe “putting people first” approaches that promise to develop solutions tailored to citizens’ needs. What was previously known as user-centered design in the context of information and communication technology (ICT) product and service development now proliferates the urban through innovation labs or civic hackathons. But what are the implications of using design thinking in a smart city context? And moreover, how to unpack human-centered design and design thinking within urban scholarship? This chapter contextualizes the phenomenon of design thinking in cities and renders implicit design thinking processes more explicit. Drawing upon ongoing research in Manchester and Amsterdam since 2014, my work-in-progress suggests that governing through design thinking results in a designing of the social rather than for the social. This trend requires historically informed political analysis and alternative ways to govern if the “right to the smart city” is not to become yet another iteration of shape-shifting neoliberal strategies.

Abstract

The smart city strategies of municipalities in South Africa have been grounded in developmentalism, seeking to harness the power of technology to enable improved governance. Cities such as Durban and Cape Town have embraced infrastructure-led approaches that seek to use state-mediated broadband “backbone” development to enable last-mile ICT access to marginalized communities. With the advent of big data, the range of actors in the ICT-local government terrain has broadened to include partnerships with IT-multinationals and management consultants to streamline municipal bureaucratic procedures, enable data processing, and contribute to greater efficiency. An important driver is the increasingly urgent need to accelerate the delivery of essential services while also encouraging investment and development through greater efficacy (e.g., in processing development applications). A “dashboard urbanism” is becoming evident that fits well with the system of indicators and performance monitoring that is embedded in the managerial South Africa’s local government system. The danger of an overreliance on these quantitative aspects is that it may perpetuate divides in what is considered to be one of the most unequal cities in the world. Based on exploratory research, this chapter explores strategies used by civil society organizations to challenge the assumptions of “dashboard urbanism” and contribute a more rounded appropriation of big data and a deepened and contextualized urban experience.

Abstract

This chapter explores if alternative participatory co-creation approaches have the potential for deploying an emancipatory urbanism that is able to contest the urban dynamics of (digital) capitalism. It does so by focusing on the Barcelona case. Barcelona fully embraced a “smart citizen” approach in 2011 to become a European referent in smart urban strategies. However, in 2015, with the arrival of a new municipal government, Barcelona has situated itself contesting the “smart city” and at the forefront of alternative possibilities with its “technological sovereignty” strategy. This shift aims to remake the smart city agenda for citizens through the advancement of the right to information and guarantees to open, transparent, and participatory decision-making through new digital and platform technologies. The chapter argues, first, that “technological sovereignty” has been instrumental in re-politicizing the notions of (smart) citizenship and technology, deploying initiatives aimed at regaining public control on data and citizens participating in policy-making. Second, Barcelona’s technological sovereignty strategy, though framed as locally and bottom-up, is based on a global comprehension and diagnosis of the global dynamics of digital capitalism. However, sometimes, there still remains an over-optimistic stance concerning digital technology. Thus, for any alternative to the neoliberal smart city, it is necessary to decenter the debate from the technologies themselves or the local, and recognize that any emancipatory strategy is also about acknowledging that technology-led solutions are not autonomous of broader relations of production and complex political economy geographies.

Abstract

This chapter considers how to, following David Harvey (1973), produce a genuinely humanizing smart urbanism. It does so through utilizing a future-orientated lens to sketch out the kinds of work required to reimagine, reframe, and remake smart cities. I argue that, on the one hand, there is a need to produce an alternative “future present” that shifts the anticipatory logics of smart cities to that of addressing persistent inequalities, prejudice, and discrimination and is rooted in notions of fairness, equity, ethics, and democracy. On the other hand, there is a need to disrupt the “present future” of neoliberal smart urbanism, moving beyond minimal politics to enact sustained strategic, public-led interventions designed to create more-inclusive smart city initiatives. Both tactics require producing a deeply normative vision for smart cities that is rooted in ideas of citizenship, social justice, the public good, and the right to the city that needs to be developed in conjunction with citizens.

Index

Pages 205-216
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Cover of The Right to the Smart City
DOI
10.1108/9781787691391
Publication date
2019-06-07
Editors
ISBN
978-1-78769-140-7
eISBN
978-1-78769-139-1