Barcelona Smart City Expo 2014

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Visitors at the ‘Futurama’ exhibition at the New York World’s Fair in 1939-40

The Ubicity project is kicking off by spending 4 days at the world Smart City Expo and Congress in Barcelona. It’s an enormous event, and even on the way in we were pitched a crowd modelling and anticipatory security control system (by AGT / Cisco)… and there are hundreds of exhibitors, talks from promoters, developers, government ministers, academics and more. We’ll largely be here to listen, collect marketing materials and make contacts for future interviews, and scope out possibilities for the case studies that we will be conducting over the next three years.

There’s clearly an attempt to portray this as building the future of cities. But while there is indeed a sense of the future, it is also a not entirely unfamiliar future. The future is in many ways the same future as it has been in many previous portrayals – and the ghost of the New York Worlds Fair of 1939-40 hovers over this event as it hovers over almost all such events, and a lot of the rhetoric is essentially the same as previous waves of urban utopianism. ‘Smart’ seems to mean, or incorporate, almost all of those previous ‘urban solutions’ from efficiency, through sustainability and resilience. And democracy and human rights of course. Smart cities are in many ways the ultimate kind of urban ‘solutionism’, a magic wand to be waved at all problems, magically transforming problems into solutions.

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