24 February 2015

Upcoming talk: The smart city is a techno-utopian fantasy

Philadelphia City Hall, 2013. Photo by Alan Wiig.
This coming Thursday 26 February I've been invited by Cities@Manchester to speak. My talk will critique the smart city through a case study of Philadelphia's recent work with IBM.

The smart city is a techno-utopian fantasy: A case study of IBM in Philadelphia

Smart city initiatives have been adopted worldwide, proposing techno-utopian solutions to urban problems big and small. These policies are indicative of the digitization of urban life, where social and economic exchange rely on globalized telecommunications networks and digitally-focused governance strategies. Propelled through events such as IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge, the smart city offers a data-driven logic of widespread benefit to a city and its residents that masks the underlying advancement of entrepreneurial development objectives. The rhetoric of intelligent, transformative digital change works much more to “sell” a city in the global economy than to actually improve urban conditions. Through a case study of IBM’s policy consultation in Philadelphia, I argue that the promotional capacity of the smart city worked to drive economic growth in specific, already-well-off areas of globally-oriented enterprise. Philadelphia proposed an online application (app) for training up to 600,000 low-literacy residents for jobs in the information and knowledge economy, while at the same time highlighting as “smart” everything from the city’s relative location in the megalopolitan Northeast United States to the ready potential for creating new industries in the region. By tracing the smart city initiative into the fabric of the city itself, this presentation highlights the inconsistencies of a policy aimed at reducing inequalities through enterprise that cannot support the individuals in need. The spatial consequences of the smart city in Philadelphia reinforced a zone-based urbanism more-typically found in Asia or the Middle East. In its supposed efforts at civic engagement, the smart city instead furthered the splintering of the urban landscape.

Further details can be found here.

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