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Frictionless Futures: The Vision of Smartness and the Occlusion of Alternatives

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter

Published
Publication date8/11/2019
Host publicationArchitecture and the Smart City
EditorsSergio M. Figueiredo, Sukanya Krishnamurthy, Torsten Schroeder
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherRoutledge
Pages17-28
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9780429324468
ISBN (Print)9780367342074, 9780367342067
Original languageEnglish

Publication series

NameCritiques
PublisherRoutledge

Abstract

The ubiquity of ‘smartness’ in contemporary discourse suggests an advancement of some kind, albeit predicated on various technologies. Smart cities offer an optimistic view on what can be achieved by using data to address and improve the operation of various urban management systems (Ratti and Claudel, 2016; Townsend, 2013). While some of the ambitions and goals behind smart cities are positive and beneficial for collective life, the over-reliance on software that features in their concept has led to their visions largely being promoted by major ICT corporations interested in the deployment of technical solutions for city development and management. Rose (2017) has observed that such visions present a pleasurable albeit smooth and untethered view, and it is here that we may detect some problematic issues. Despite their apparent diversity, the vision of most smart cities is one of conspicuously bland, generic, ahistorical, apolitical spaces whose identity is characterized by information technologies that could be applied anywhere. Issues of mobility are intrinsic to many visions for future cities, often illustrated by walkable, green-orientated depictions that promote wellbeing and active travel, efficiency and light, sci-fi-style renderings to communicate degrees of ‘smartness’ through integrated transport infrastructure and information communication technologies. Indeed, a considerable number of speculations for future cities seek to demonstrate a world free from grime, pollution and debris. These seemingly frictionless, clean futures are utopian wherein technology is often portrayed as providing the capability toward such seamlessness and cleanliness. Yet the future is unlikely to unfold in this way. Instead, the reality of patchwork infrastructures, piecemeal development, brittle and hackable urban systems, and the incoherence and inefficiency that typifies the vibrancy of cities suggest very different futures for collective life. This chapter examines what visions for smart cities promote as a means of examining the latent alternatives they hide or discredit.