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Smart cities: A sceptic's view

Offering a critical response to the dominant vision of the smart city, this talk seeks to look beyond the seductive imagery and hype that surrounds emerging smart city paradigms. In their place, it explores arrange of critical perspectives to smart city planning that are emerging across the social sciences and activist communities, in various places across the world. These critiques centre, broadly, on ways in which smart city paradigms radically deepen urban  surveillance ; the way they embed power into corporate urban operating systems;  the way the glossy hype and marketing hides tendencies toward authoritarianism and centralized power ; and the way in which ‘smart’ city labels are used to camouflage the construction of highly elitist urban enclaves. The talk will finish by exploring efforts to mobilise digital media to more democratic and egalitarian urban vision.

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Smart cities: A sceptic's view

  1. 1. Smart Cities: A Skeptic’s View Stephen Graham, Newcastle University
  2. 2. The Seduction of “Enacted Environments” (Dana Cuff)... •  High modernist dreams of perfect, real-time, remote control, anticipation, clarity •  Ubiquitous computing/Internet of Things/social media •  ‘Big Data’ and ‘Data Fusion’ •  Geodata •  Optimisation •  Anticipation •  Robotisation •  Blurs into discourses surrounding “sustainable cities’, ‘resilient cities’, ‘creative cities’ etc etc. Figure 1: the cyberne0c city Rela%onship between smart ci%es and IT (Hitachi 2013:14) Hitachi, 2013: 14)
  3. 3. Those Damned Silos! Panoptic Dreams? Configuring urban crises as requiring, of necessity, ‘smart city’ OS cures “Today’s cities are based on separate domains with no real ability to be managed as an entire entity. City managers have no single place to get real-time status or historical reports of city events. Older systems are domain-specific and are not concerned with the consequences on other domains. Daily operations of cities generate vast amounts of data from many different sources but cities often lack the ability to visualize and extract meaningful information” IBM 2012.
  4. 4. “If you believe the marke0ng hype, though, we’re on the cusp of an urban future in which embedded sensors, ubiquitous cameras and beacons, networked smartphones, and the opera0ng systems that link them all together, will produce unprecedented efficiency, connec0vity, and social harmony. We’re transforming the idealized topology of the open web and Internet of Things into urban form” Shannon MaPern
  5. 5. Deterministic. Self-Evident and Messianic Discourses... ‘Smart city’ concepts “tend.. to be discussed casually, as if it were self-evident that all one need do to finally “solve” the city is to weave sensors into the urban fabric by the million, trawl the relevant social networks for geotagged utterances, and apply just the right analytic algorithms to the ever-mounting tally of terabytes captured this way” Adam Greenfield
  6. 6. Surveillant-Simula0on: Data Feeds and Visualiza0on Socie0es of Control
  7. 7. Four Areas of Critique: (1) We’ve Been Here Before (Many Times!) “As technical solu0ons to social problems, informa0on and communica0ons technologies encapsulate the promise of order over disarray … as a path to an emancipatory poli0cs of modernity” Hannah Knox
  8. 8. Michael Benedikt (1991): ‘Cyberspace’ would work by: "decontaminating the natural and urban landscapes, redeeming them, saving them from the chain-dragging bulldozers of the paper industry, from the diesel smoke of courier and post-office trucks, from jet fuel flames and clogged airports, from billboards, trashy and pretentious architecture, hour-long freeway communities, ticket lines, choked subways... from all the inefficiencies, pollution (chemical and informational), and corruptions attendant to moving information attached to things across, over and under the vast and bumpy surface of the earth rather than letting it fly free in the soft hail of electrons that is cyberspace."
  9. 9. •  Hitachi, MicrosoY, IBM, Cisco, Siemens etc. Ava Kofman (2014) “the assump0on that the collec0on of residents’ data is a useful and immensely profitable enterprise” •  “’City OS’ spin-offs promise that we can know the city in its en0rety: scaled down to the size of a microchip, dematerialized into data clouds, predictable and itera0ve •  As top-down city design becomes a market commodity, we will soon be forced to choose between the urban opera0ng systems we want to inhabit”. (2) Corporate Push into Urban Opera0ng Systems (UOSs)
  10. 10. And yet “the systems currently being sold to municipali0es, and the public, under the rubric of “smart ci0es” have nothing to do with ci0es at all. They are, by and large, repurposings of exis0ng, off- the-shelf technology, force fit into contexts in which they may or may not make any sense and may or may not prove useful, dressed with the most superficial mantle of metropolitan glamour” Adam Greenfield
  11. 11. (3) Glitzy and Troubling Exemplars: Elite, Privatised Capsules “In marketing materials and press releases for smart city initiatives, we hear about idyllic dashboards, switchboards, and control rooms, artifices that enable government decision makers to interface with data streams being produced by the city and simultaneously obscure the process from those people who inhabit it” Lily Bui (2014) Sensor Journalism Lab
  12. 12. Foster’s Masdar City, Abu Dhabi; Songdo, South Korea; Eko Atlantic, Lagos “Songdo is as much a protocol as it is a city: other territories can ‘download’ its plans. Its technology was bought by other cities before it had even been built in Songdo itself. Its master plan is being exported to Ecuador; meanwhile, China has purchased kits from similar companies to make its cities more closely resemble Singapore. Nations dissolve into transnational, portable, cities in a box. With simulation emerging as the dominant paradigm, material and lived histories are rendered obsolete” Ava Kofman (2014)
  13. 13. Moreover, key ICT entrepreneurs are pivotal members of the so-called alt-right movement, and are pushing elite island city utopias run in authoritarian ways as future urban panaceas
  14. 14. “Americas way of thinking about conflicts is changing, accommoda0ng reluctantly a complicated world of distributed, highly variable threats both in civilian and baPlefield environments where the front lines are no longer brightly lit.” Mark P. Mills, ICX Technologies, Inc. (4) Blurring With the ‘New Military Urbanism”
  15. 15. “Airport surveillance, internet filters, passport tracking devices, legal deten0on without criminal charges, security internment camps, secret trials, “free speech zones”, DNA profiles, border walls and fences, erosion of the line between internal security and external military ac0on – these security ac0vi0es resonate together, engendering a na0onal security machine that pushes numerous issues outside the range of legi0mate dissent and mobilizes the populace to support new security and surveillance prac0ces against underspecified enemies.” William Connolly .
  16. 16. Jordan Crandall: Biometrics, tracking, ‘armed vision’ and the ‘coloniza:on of the now’ Jordan Crandall: a militarisa0on through ‘Armed Vision’: “Tracking is an an0cipatory form of seeing” ”Iden0fying targets becomes the role of sta0s0cal algorithms which siY the mass and flux of registered and sensed data searching for [Mark Seltzer’s]”‘sta0s0cal persons’” “A gradual coloniza0on of the now, a now always slightly ahead of itself” “While civilian images are embedded in processes of iden0fica0on based on reflec0on, militarised perspec0ves collapse iden0fica0on processes into “Id-ing” - a one-way channel of iden0fica0on in which a conduit, a database, and a body are aligned and calibrated” (Crandall 1999)
  17. 17. Premediation, Norms and Anticipatory Surveillance
  18. 18. The homeland security and emergency management market was valued at USD 526.10 Billion in 2017 and is projected to reach USD 742.06 Billion by 2023, at a rate of 5.90% during the forecast period (marketsandmarkets.com).
  19. 19. ‘Fusion’ and the ‘Surveillance-Security-Military- Industrial Complex’
  20. 20. Links to a Wider Authoritarian Shift: “What we are handing the administrators of a smart city is a suite of all the tools they would need to isolate, quash or even prevent whatever conduct they defined as undesirable” Adam Greenfield (2013) .
  21. 21. Regional Caracas Havana Tegucigalpa Panama Cir5 Geneva Boguia. Attens MeNien Rome Brasilia Quith Managua 1-Fague. an _1 nsie KinRhaca Sufis - Lusaka Bangkok New Dull Berlin r'Flinn Guatemala rana RESC Phnom. Pr nh Frankfurt SaTaievn dam IL Paz 111-11114t7 Zagreh Vienna Annex. Reston Fluclaput Prague Paris lienna. Rang pun oFORNSAT STELLAR SOUNDER SNACK MOONPEN NV LADYLOVE INDRA IRON SAND JACKKNIFE CARBOY TIMBERLIN High Spood Optical Gable Covent,. Clandestine r Coorperative Lar Accesses 20 Amen Proirems Worldwide -1 Classes of Accesses • 3rd PARTY/LIAISON :3C. GE) untriW • REGIONAL 9D SCS ONE 50.000 World-wide Implants LARGE CABLE 20 MaJor Accesses • FORNSAT 12+40 Regional TOP SECHET//COMINTI/REL TO USA, ALPS, CAN, GBR, NZL TOP SECRET/ICON/INT/MEL TiO USA, ALPS, CAN, GEM, NZL I- TO Pin' Driver 1: Worldwide SIGINT/Defense Cryptologic Platform
  22. 22. NSA “Dagger Complex” Griesheim, Germany, 2014
  23. 23. Oakland ‘Domain Awareness Center’ as C4ISR (Command, Control, Communica0ons, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) “Oakland is one of the most diverse ci0es in the country. It’s also home to a violent, oYen unaccountable police department” Yasha Levine
  24. 24. Conclusion: Danger that urbanism is being depoli0cised, it’s poli0cs obfuscated, through a totalising and fe0shis0c obsession with computable data! “Were he alive today, [Lewis] Mumford would reject the creeping no0on that the city is simply the internet writ large. He would remind us that the processes of city-making are more complicated than wri0ng parameters for rapid spa0al op0miza0on. He would inject history and happenstance. The city is not a computer. This seems an obvious truth, but it is being challenged now (again) by technologists (and poli0cal actors) who speak as if they could reduce urban planning to algorithms.” Shannon MaPern
  25. 25. Conven0onal smart city paradigms tend to: •  Be realist: Uncri0cally assume objec0vity of data •  Be presented as self-evident •  Be generic: assume applicability to all ci0es, everywhere •  Privilege quan0ta0ve over qualita0ve and space over place in truth claims •  Assert that ICTs per se are solu0ons to urban problems, not part of the problems themselves •  Depoli0cise or postpoli0cise: Neglect wider social, environmental and poli0cal crises •  Neglect ques0ons of jus0ce, ci0zenship and the right to the city •  Deny knowledges that are uncomputable •  Be top-down and not grassroots-led •  Inscribe ethical, social, cultural and poli0cal judgements and inequali0es into the secret agencies of code; and •  Overlap worryingly with wider processes of urban securi0sa0on whilst camouflaging such processes
  26. 26. Thank you! Steve.graham@ncl.ac.uk
  27. 27. Place not space: Must match scepticism with critical and democratic insurgent practices •  Data democratisation; hacktivism; open code; challenging depoliticizing discourses of techno-rationality •  Expose creeping power of surveillance-security-military- industrial complexes •  Undermine anti democratic control logics of top-down ‘smart city’ paradigms and securitisation/criminalisation of ICT-based activism