2 February 2013

Dan Hill’s critique of the smart cities movement

Be the first to share

Dan Hill (of CityofSound, ARUP, Sitra and now Fabrica fame) is not only extremely prolific, but his writing is also very much to the point.

His latest Smart City (or better “Smart Citizen”) manifesto is a case in point. Weighing in at 10,000 words, it is a “cleaned up” and “stitched together” version of two separate pieces he wrote for the London School of Economics and Volume magazine, which he is now sharing on his CityofSound blog as “one single critique of the smart cities movement”.

The goal, he says, is entirely constructive, and to shift the debate in a more meaningful direction, oriented towards the raison d’etre of our cities: citizens, and the way that they can create urban culture with technology.

The essay surveys three types of activities, and scenarios, demonstrating active citizens, noting some issues along the way, and then critiques the opposite—the production of passive citizens—before asking a couple of questions and suggesting some key shifts in attitude required to positively work with the grain of today’s cultures, rather than misinterpret it.

“The promise of smart sustainable cities is predicated on the dynamics of social media alloyed to the Big Data generated by an urban infrastructure strewn with sensors. Feedback loops are supposed to engage citizens and enable behaviour change, just as real-time control systems tune infrastructure to become more energy efficient. Social media dynamics enable both self-organisation and efficient ecosystems, and reduce the need for traditional governance, and its associated costs.

Yet is there a tension between the emergent urbanism of social media and the centralising tendencies of urban control systems? Between the individualist biases inherent within social media and the need for a broader civic empathy to address urban sustainability? Between the primary drivers of urban life and the secondary drivers of infrastructural efficiency?

And in terms of engaging citizens, we can certainly see evidence of increased interest in using social media for urban activism, from crowdfunding platforms to Occupy Everywhere and the Arab Spring. Yet does it produce any more coherence or direction for the new cultures of decision-making required in our cities, or simply side-step the question of urban governance altogether? And what if the smart city vision actually means that governance becomes ever more passive, as it outsources operations to algorithms or is side-stepped by social media, whilst citizens also become passive in response to their infrastructure becoming active? Or might they be too distracted to notice as they’re all trying to crowd-fund a park bench?”

Bruce Sterling’s reaction:

“*After reading this I feel that I understand myself better: I like *other people’s* cities. I like cities where I’m not an eager, engaged, canny urban participant, where I’m not “smart” and certainly not a “citizen,” and where the infrastructures and the policies are mysterious to me. Preferably, even the explanations should be in a language I can’t read.

*So I’m maximizing my “inefficiency.” I do it because it’s so enlivening and stimulating, and I can’t be the only one with that approach to urbanism. Presumably there’s some kind of class of us: flaneuring, deriving, situationist smart-city dropouts. A really “smart city” would probably build zones of some kind for us: the maximum-inefficiency anti-smart bohemias.”

Be the first to share
3 October 2017
Don’t miss Experientia at Torino Design of the City
Torino Design of the City is nearly here! Experientia will of course be part of this exciting week (10-16 October) of events, meetings, workshops, exhibitions and guided tours about design, and we warmly invite you …
1 October 2017
Financial Times special report on citizen empowerment through technology
The Financial Times has published People's Technology, an excellent special report on how grassroots communities across Europe are using technologies in new ways to solve problems and empower citizens. People and communities are putting new …
1 October 2017
Thinking about the social cost of technology
The frustration and stress caused by complex technologies that can seem unknowable — not to mention the time and mindshare that gets wasted trying to make systems work as people want them to work — …
10 September 2017
[Book] Everyday Schooling in the Digital Age
Everyday Schooling in the Digital Age: High School, High Tech? By Neil Selwyn, Selena Nemorin, Scott Bulfin, Nicola F. Johnson Routledge 2018 – 224 pages [Amazon link] Today’s high schools are increasingly based around the use of digital technologies. Students …
29 July 2017
Data ethnographer: the most crucial design job of the future
Data inside of algorithms is incredibly symbiotic with the algorithm itself. In product design, the data fed to algorithms determines the characteristics of a product. This implies radical transparency and giving consumers access to an …
29 July 2017
Nesta as an innovation move for Turin, Italy
A few months back we wrote about the ongoing negotiations between Nesta, the UK's innovation foundation, and the [Italian Foundation] Compagnia di San Paolo to set up a Nesta Italia in Turin. These negotiations have …
2 July 2017
To improve people’s health, listen to social scientists
With an ageing population, a rise in long-term conditions, growing health inequalities and a lack of political will to ensure that funding is increased in line with demand, the UK's National Health Service has been …
6 June 2017
First issue of Behavioural Public Policy now available for free online
Behavioural Public Policy is an interdisciplinary and international peer-reviewed journal devoted to behavioural research and its relevance to public policy. The study of human behaviour has recently taken on growing importance within many disciplinary specialties …

We are an international experience design consultancy helping companies and organisations to innovate their products, services and processes by putting people and their experiences first.

3 October 2017
Don’t miss Experientia at Torino Design of the City

Torino Design of the City is nearly here! Experientia will of course be part of this exciting week (10-16 October) of events, meetings, workshops, exhibitions and guided tours about design, and we warmly invite you to join us. The event is organised by the City of Turin and will take place in strategic city locations […]

1 October 2017
Half-day event on service design innovation in Turin

(This page will be regularly updated to reflect minor programme changes) To Innovate through Service Design – Conference for Torino Design of the City From 10 to 16 October, the City of Turin will host Torino Design of the City. This week of events, meetings, workshops, exhibitions and guided tours about design will take place in […]

4 August 2017
The human side of autonomous cars — with Nissan Research’s Melissa Cefkin

Reposted from Medium Beyond the engineering challenge of creating cars that drive themselves lies the social challenge. Before autonomous cars are ready to navigate our roads, they must be able to navigate the vastly more complicated nuances of human behaviors and interactions — from that friendly nod that says “You first” at a four-way stop, to the […]

31 May 2017
 Intervista a Todd Harple di Intel sul tech-fashion

Ripostato da Medium – English version Il mondo del fashion sta diventando sempre di più digitale — e non si tratta solo di dispositivi da indossare, ma anche e soprattutto di abbigliamento, realizzato con tessuti in cui sono effettivamente integrati dei sensori in grado di misurare e monitorare il corpo di chi li veste. Dato che la […]

8 May 2017
Why service design is the new black — Intel’s Todd Harple on fashion tech

Reposted from Medium – Versione italiana The world of fashion is becoming increasingly digital — and not just wearable devices, but with clothing made from fabrics that actually integrate sensors and technology that can monitor and measure the wearer. As fashion starts to go beyond outward appearance, fashion designers need to broaden their skillsets, to make sure […]

31 March 2017
Experientia guide to Milan Design Week 2017

It’s that time of year again – Milan’s don’t-miss event for the design community is here. If you’re looking to get inspired at Milan Design Week, then check out our top picks for the latest edition, from Experientia’s designers, strategists and partners. Milan might be best known for its busy streets, traditional cafés and world […]

See all articles