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
12 November 2015
Open call for social impact business ideas and start-ups in Italy
Rinascimenti Sociali ["Social Renaissances"], the first accelerator of social knowledge and entrepreneurship in Italy, launches Foundamenta, a call exclusively dedicated to new business ideas and start-ups generating social impact. Our call is aimed at selecting …
12 November 2015
Interview with John Thackara: how to thrive in the next economy
On the occasion of the U.S. launch of his new book, How to Thrive in the Next Economy: Designing Tomorrow's World Today, John Thackara sat down with Core77's Allan Chochinov to talk about the book, …
5 November 2015
[Conference] Design & The City, Amsterdam, April 2016
Design & The City explores citizen-centered design approaches for the smart city. Central theme is the role of design(ers) to create opportunities and practices for citizens, (social) entrepreneurs and policy makers towards more liveable, sustainable and …
3 November 2015
Another book entitled “The Quantified Self”
The Quantified Self By Gina Neff and Dawn Nafus MIT Press, 264 pp. April 2016 Oops, that is confusing: two books by sociologists on the quantified self movement, both entitled "The Quantified Self" and both appearing in April 2016. …
1 November 2015
Analogue people in a digital age – short documentary
Following the lead of the United States and the United Kingdom, Ireland switched over from analogue to digital television transmission on 24 October 2012. Using the occasion as a jumping-off point, Analogue People in a …
26 October 2015
Madrid, the non-neoliberal smart city
Paul Mason, economics editor at Channel 4 News and occasional columnist at The Guardian, writes about an alternative smart city vision: the "non-neoliberal smart city" that is currently being developed in Madrid: Instead of seeing the …
23 October 2015
White paper: Design for aging
Designing the Second Half of Life: Innovation for Aging A visual white paper by Karten Design September 2015 The next 30 years will be a defining era for the American healthcare system, as the number of adults aged …
23 October 2015
Imagining a future IKEA catalogue [design fiction]
On August 31st Julian Bleecker and Nicolas Nova from the Near Future Laboratory organised a full day design fiction workshop in Sweden focused on the consumer-oriented Internet of Things. The goal for the day was …

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.

13 October 2015
Experientia report: Design for ageing gracefully

Design for Ageing Gracefully Rethinking Health and Wellness for the Elderly: Public Services Asian Insights & Design Innovation, DesignSingapore Council October 2015

29 September 2015
[Experientia book] Ethnography on elderly health and wellness

As we age, we increasingly depend on public services and the community for support. Well-designed public services can greatly affect the lives of the elderly and their experiences of healthcare. Experientia collaborated with DesignSingapore Council on understanding how the elderly interact with public services and how we can look towards improving their lives with design. […]

2 July 2015
Getting citizens involved in protecting fragile energy environments

A new project funded under the FP7 European Commission framework is getting citizens involved in testing new tools for reducing energy consumption during peak loads, in the hope that its pilot program will set the new state of the art for protecting locations with fragile electricity supplies. One of France’s most fragile regions The Provence-Alpes-Côte […]

5 May 2015
Experientia designer Dohun YuLuck Jang 유록 in Design 4 Disaster

Design 4 Disaster features an engaging illustrated safety manual for ship passengers, a personal project by Experientia designer Dohun YuLuck Jang 유록. After the Korean ferry accident last year, Yuluck (who is Korean) wanted to find a way to make safety manuals more interesting to read. He spent one year designing an interactive safety guide […]

16 March 2015
Better Health and Wellbeing: Giving the elderly in Singapore sparkling golden years

Invitation: sharing session, Singapore, 30 March 2015   What are the hopes and fears of the elderly in Singapore? How can designers offer solutions that support the elderly in managing their health and wellness? What can healthcare professionals do to help them keep active? What role can technology play in the elderly’s daily lives? Design consultants […]

1 January 2015
Happy Playful New Year
See all articles