The Smart City Bubble?

The Guardian recently published an article that offers critiques on a range of smart city visions. The article opens with a claim that the smart city concept is already passé and a question as to what the next big thing will be. Smart city rhetoric is framed in the article as an attempt by global tech firms to provide city managers with digital keys that unlock the potential of urban society. The article goes on to raise questions about ubiquitous surveillance, discount privacy concerns and democracy. While most of the quotes are taken from professional planners and consultants, stuff the issues raised are also being debated in the academic community.

Although the article opens with a question as to what the next big trend will be in urban planning, salve no clear answer is provided. There are, however, ‘promotional links’ to the Resilient Cities project, which, like the Cities section of the Guardian, is sponsored by the Rockefeller Institute. The article concludes with a quote from Shakespeare: “What is the city but the people?” This is all very fitting given the Resilient Cities Framework (published in April) emphasizes vulnerable populations in urban planning and makes scarce reference to ‘data’ or ‘information’ as is common in smart city materials.

The Guardian article provides readers with a tour of several possible critiques of smart city rhetoric. It accurately points to the hubris with which global tech executives and city managers claim to solve all urban plight with digital upgrades. Does this mean the smart city movement is headed for collapse? It seems unlikely that cities will become less entrepreneurial, less interested in developing research and innovation centers, less eager to use information communication technology or less concerned about environmental sustainability. Perhaps it is more likely that the smart city label could be replaced with a new, more fashionable term. However, that would not signal a change in direction for urban governance. It would simply be the next big label to describe recurrent tropes of urban development.

Posted in Musings.

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