My first research trip

travel cities lifelog Rotterdam Berlin

I believe it was on one of my first supervisory meetings with Nick Taylor and Mel Woods somewhere in August that Mel mentioned a conference being organised in Rotterdam. The title was promising: Beyond Smart Cities Today, which to me echoed of this 2011 blog post by Adam Greenfield. Adam's critical take on the smart city has been a reference to my own work since I first read it (for instance, one of my blog posts on the matter, in Portuguese). Even if Greenfield is not that interested in smart cities anymore (which I understand and for reasons I tend to agree with), it was interesting to see that construction reenacted, so to say. The event in Rotterdam was connected to a Centre for Bold Cities, which sounded somewhat corny but still invigorating.

When I heard about the conference, it was already too late to send any contributions. And being in such an early stage of my research I wouldn't have much to share, anyway. On the other hand, I felt I needed an immersion on a wider but still critical perspective about urbanism and city planning, and the conference would later prove to be just the right place for that. I wrote to the organisers asking to attend the conference, and found a welcome response. By coincidence (or rather benign synchronicity), there would be another interesting event in Berlin just a couple days later, and that started to look like solid plans for my first research trip.

Just before setting off to continental Europe, I spent a couple hours in a smart cities seminar organised by the Dundee City Council. Even with inspiring moments, that event felt a bit like reading an industry brochure on Smart Cities. All the usual suspects were there: cameras, sensors, waste bins, electric mobility. It's interesting to see a medium-sized city joining the bandwagon, but I missed a more critical perspective. Particularly in what is becoming my main topic of interest, waste. I saw no connection being made between how the city sees waste management and the potential of community oriented (even less community run) initiatives. To be honest, I felt some critique starting to emerge at some points, but still quite shy. Concerns over the public interest, but not that well articulated. Perhaps a little afraid to be considered a luddite take, or to rather outdated. There were 27 people sitting there. Only 5 were women. Almost all the rest of them wore suits. Unfortunately I could not stay for the Q&As, as I was on my way to Edinburgh Airport.

I spent less than three days in the Netherlands, always with my jotbook and a pen, then about the same time in Berlim. Selected impressions, notes from sessions, and further reflections while attending events and walking around Rotterdam and Berlin can be found on other posts:

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