ONTOLOGY AND DEFINITIONS
“Almost every discussion of smart cities begins with an effort to define the term or to assert that no definition is possible or necessary” (Clark, 2019, p.2).
Has the ‘smart city’ become an empty signifier? What is the role of such cloudy concept in municipal work? Where does the smart city sit in time and space? This introductory module provides an overview of debates in the Social Sciences on conflicting definitions, critiques and alternatives to dominant smart city discourses.
DATA AND THE SOCIAL
“Technology is the answer…but what was the question?” (Price, 1966).
Smart city technologies, big data and algorithms help us knowing our cities in new and powerful ways. Yet, paradoxically, the risk is that with such focus on the solution, cities might forget what the real questions were. In this module we dissect, question, and enrich our understanding of the questions and of the answers of smart cities. What counts as data in smart cities? Are big data enough? Who understands and produces knowledge about the smart city? And with what consequences? How do we ask data smarter questions, to provide smarter solutions?
FEMINIST SMART CITY
“The narratives around big data and data science are overwhelmingly white, male, and techno-heroic.” (D’Ignazio & Klein, 2020).
Feminist scholars and activists have provided us with an immensely rich array of theories and methodologies for thinking about and challenging power structures in place. In this module we discuss feminist critiques and feminist urban planning practices in connection to smart cities. What would a feminist smart city look and feel like?
BIG DATA, PRIVACY AND SECURITY
“Some of the most progressive work in terms of using data and technology in cities, is going to be about reverting, reducing and taking back public power of systems that are already highly privatized and highly problematic” (Bianca Wiley).
In this module we discuss some of the most controversial and most complicated questions that smart city projects can possibly raise: the collection and use of data, data privacy, data security, data ethics as part of broader government accountability.
PARTICIPATION AND DEMOCRACY
“The systems are set up in a way that you don’t have the time and the space to really, meaningfully, make citizens co-creators. And that has to change.” (Rob Kitchin).
Smart cities have added a new chapter to the half-a-century old question of participation and democracy in urban planning. This module discusses how, instead of reproducing existing patterns of exclusion, smart city technologies could empower citizens in decision making: “Citizens should not only have a say about how things are designed, but also what things are designed” (Germaine Halegoua).
THE ROLE OF CITIES AND PUBLIC OFFICIALS
“It’s a ‘snake eating its tail’ problem, with governments continually conflate growing the tech sector with being consumed by it”. (Bianca Wylie).
In this module we discuss how the smart cities projects impacts the role of local governments, raising new questions of democracy, accountability, and legitimacy. Who is making the decisions? Who will be held accountable if a project has sour consequences? What are the challenges in the municipal organisation and structures? What are the longstanding implications of the change in leadership, with authorities seen more and more as enablers for innovation?
SUGGESTIONS FOR MOVING FORWARD
In this module we build on the critical thinking and debates from the previous modules and seek to offer applied, constructive suggestions on how to make more inclusive, just and equal smart cities. We asked our smart city scholars: ‘what recommendations would you like to give to Smart City officials?’
In this last module, we discuss the future of smart cities. What will the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic on our cities be? Will governments leave smart city projects aside and shift their priorities towards economic recovery? Or will smart city projects be fast-tracked by the accelerated digitalisation wave? With social inequalities coming even more to the fore in the crisis, are cities learning how to become more inclusive and just? And what will the role of technology be in all of this?