|Center City Philadelphia from Drexel Park in West Philadelphia|
On Tuesday, June 11 I will present a bit of my recent research into smart urbanism and the 'smart city' as applied to Philadelphia at Drexel University's Symposium on Urban Informatics: Exploring Smarter Cities. In the organizers' words, the symposium will examine how "Technologies transform city life in countless ways. The symposium on Urban Informatics will bring together designers, city planners and managers, technologists, scholars and entrepreneurs in Philadelphia, at the heart of the northeast urban corridor, to explore the frontiers of the urban environment." I am looking forward to the discussions coming out of this event; it will certainly be a productive and hopefully provocative day!
What follows is an overview of what I intend to cover in my fifteen minutes.
Philadelphia’s smart city agenda: Enabling urban change or perpetuating existing social inequalities?
This essay examines what urban informatics technologies enable: how this electromagnetic terrain of a city actively impacts the urban landscape. By examining the digital infrastructure that support the Digital On-Ramps smart city project in Philadelphia, this essay will explore the systems, policies and technological scripts that produce a disposition toward responsive intelligence in the city. The Digital On-Ramps project proposes to connect Philadelphia’s under-served citizens to Internet-based workforce education and development training via smartphones, tablets, and traditional computers as a means of providing the skills necessary for these citizens to become competitive in a 21st century, globalized and service-oriented economy. Digital On-Ramps’ project requires a re-conceptualization of the infrastructure for education and content delivery, a renewed utility of digital telecommunication systems and, possibly, a lessened need for the traditional, physical spaces of schools and other established elements of the city’s built environment. All this combines with a tighter focus on new, digital actors for content delivery and consequently social and economic exchange itself. Through a place-based case study examining the numerous local and national actors involved in this smart city project, this essay will critique the push for workforce development outcomes through digital infrastructural efficiencies.
The central question the essay will address is: Does the Digital On-Ramps project benefit Philadelphia’s under-served, poorest citizens, or is the project geared more toward maintaining and improving Philadelphia’s image as a competitive, creative, and economically-relevant city in the globalized economy? The essay concludes that, while it is too early to see if, how, and where citizens will benefit from this project, the city’s smart city agenda has brought national and global media attention to Philadelphia.