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Questions on “Smart Cities”

April 29, 2013

kian goh_smart cities urban logo

In the 1960s and 70s, technology companies took flight from the cities and set up in suburban corporate parks, dreaming up the information systems that would enable further decentralization, prompting Melvin Webber to proclaim the “post-city age” in 1968. Now, global cities threaded by optical fiber and lit up by sensors, hotspots, and RFID tags herald the techno-urban revolution. “Smart cities” are lauded as emancipatory, a new “urban age” in which intelligent systems increase quality of life and alleviate ecological damage. But “smart cities” also imply new spaces of control and ownership, new frontiers in the privatization of urban space, a “virtual enclosures.” The ultimate potential, it appears, is the control of urban practice itself. What, then, will become of the “right to urban life,” as exhorted by Henri Lefebvre?

What are the real-world impacts of real-time intelligent urban systems? To what extent do “smart city” projects constitute new “virtual” and physical enclosures of urban public space in the globalized, capitalist city? And, as we increasingly submit to real-time information gathering and our means of decision-making become more and more intertwined with the networks of urban systems, how is urban “public” experience transformed?

Logo: “urban” with the “u” enclosed like an @.

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