first take

Networked technologies are becoming ubiquitous in human dwellings of all scales and development phases. On the one hand authorities are increasingly incorporating information technologies in an attempt to increase efficiency of public administration. On the other hand, citizens can leverage their will to participate by using digital communication tools. These two perspectives of authorities and citizens may even work in harmony but often will be conflicting. The mainstream narrative associated with smart cities tends to champion the former and silence the latter. With my research I wish to help counterbalance this situation, by exploring some paths:

  • Understand how smart a city can be by polarizing the concept. What is the opposite of a smart city? Can populations collective shape a smart city whose focus is not only to improve efficiency of existing services but also point towards cities that are sustainable, inclusive and fair?
  • Bring into consideration how smart city strategies are being planned and deployed in contexts different from the post-industrial western city - be it in semi-developed, neo-rural, war-torn or ruined cities. In such cases, is the local population taking part in the shaping and decision-making about IT infrastructure, devices and data?
  • Expand the focus of IoT to include not only connected devices but possibly all sorts of material flows in a city. Raw materials, leftovers from industrial processes, discarded objects, waste. Can a smart city enable local agents to make the most out of scarce materials? What sort of infrastructure and facilities are needed for that - public fabrication/transformation services, object sharing platforms, community making learning centres? Does the materiality of a smart city relate to issues of circular economy?
  • Can a cooperative approach foster the creation of public services that at the same time are more adaptable than state-run ones and more fair than utilities explored by for-profit corporations? Does the smart city have anything to add to platform cooperativism?

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