An article by Hug March that was recently published at the Journal of Cleaner Production.
Find the full article here.
- Smart City is a technology-led urban response to global environmental challenges.
- Smart City may imply technological determinism, privatisation and depoliticisation.
- ICT may open the prospect of alternative, non-capitalist urban transformations.
- Degrowth should establish a critical dialogue with ICT-led urban transformations.
“The 21st century has been hailed as the urban century and one in which ICT-led transformations will shape urban responses to global environmental change. The Smart City encapsulates all the desires and prospects on the transformative and disruptive role technology will have in solving urban issues both in Global North and Global South cities. Critical scholarship has pointed out that private capital, with the blessing of technocratic elites, has found a techno-environmental fix to both reshuffle economic growth and prevent other alternative politico-ecological transitions to take root in urban systems. Against this bleak outlook, the paper argues that these technological assemblages might be compatible with alternative post-capitalist urban transformations aligned with Degrowth. Through a cross-reading of research on Smart Cities with theoretical perspectives drawn from the literature on Degrowth, I suggest that Degrowth should not refrain from engaging with urban technological imaginaries in a critical and selective way. As the paper shows through alternative uses of Smart technologies and digital open-source fabrication, the question is not so much around technology per se but around the wider politico-economic context into which these technological assemblages are embedded.”
“The 21st century will be marked by the critical role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in shaping urban responses to global environmental change. Cities will be both the locus of global environmental problems but also the places where many solutions to these challenges may emerge. The Smart City paradigm has become one of the most important urban strategies to foster green growth and to improve urban sustainability against the backdrop of climate change, austerity politics, inter-urban competition, aging population, rampant social inequality, rapid urbanization, aging infrastructures, high unemployment and stagnant economic growth (Glasmeier and Christopherson, 2015, Luque-Ayala and Marvin, 2015, White, 2016). The Smart City articulates a “fantasy city” and utopian vision based on the emancipatory role of technological progress that aims to be the “common sense” of how 21st century cities should look (Gibbs et al., 2013, Hollands, 2008, March and Ribera-Fumaz, 2014). In that sense, it “consists of a general but flexible narrative and a common set of logics” for anticipating uncertain global future crisis (White, 2016:574). Cities across the world have embarked on a “quest for technologically enhanced urban management” (Taylor Buck and While, 2015:3) to enable “a more efficient use and organization of urban systems” (Wiig, 2016:538). The global urban scene observes an inter-local competition to attract Smart City investments (Shelton et al., 2015), either to retrofit the existing built environment or to develop neighbourhoods or even to build new cities from scratch.
Since the past few years, the Smart City techno-utopian imaginary is strongly influencing urban debates and shaping contemporary urbanism. Concepts such as ICT, Big Data, sensors, Smart grids, Smart meters, Internet of Things, 3D printers, digital open-source fabrication, circulate not only among large private corporations, start-ups, urban planners, architects and policy makers but are also progressively making headway into the imaginaries of civic organisations, grassroots and social movements.
From a critical viewpoint, one may say that hegemonic corporate notions of the Smart City and cognate concepts built upon entrenched promises of capitalist technological solutionism, ecological modernization and depoliticized environmental improvement, leave small room for post-capitalist alternatives such as Degrowth. However, behind these urban techno-imaginaries and its fetishism of Smart City technologies, there may lay a set of spaces of intersection with non- or post-capitalist projects, which may open up new opportunities for alternative and emancipatory socio-environmental transitions. If cities are said to be both the locus of environmental problems but also the place where solutions may develop, and if techno-modernizing narratives such as the Smart City dominate this debate, how does Degrowth need to position itself in front of these technologically-led urban futures?
This paper aims to open up a critical reflection and dialogue on whether and how ICT and paradigms such as the Smart City may be compatible with an urban Degrowth transition. Through a cross-reading of research on Smart Cities and digital open-source fabrication with theoretical perspectives drawn from the literature on Degrowth, the contribution of this paper is double. First, it argues that Degrowth has paid insufficient attention to the question of technology on the one hand, and to the urban question, on the other hand. Second, it suggests that despite all the problems of urban techno-modernizing imaginaries such as the Smart City (which are identified) there are latent technological possibilities that could inform a Degrowth transition. Beyond presenting a comprehensive review of critical social sciences scholarship on the perils of the Smart City, this article reviews how Smart City technology could be appropriated by grassroots for a progressive urban politics. The example of digital open-source fabrication demonstrates that these technological assemblages could not only be seized to produce data, make visible hidden urban problems and organize contestation, but also to impact upon the way we design, produce and consume at the urban scale. Degrowth should not be a passive observer of this process but may help to inform a process of critical scrutiny, reworking and appropriation of those technologies to enable alternative urban transitions not dictated by the pursuit of economic growth but of socio-environmental justice. In short, this paper argues that a progressive, bottom-up and emancipatory appropriation (or subversion) of ICT and Smart City technologies is possible. However, the paper also shows that this engagement should not solely focus on the technological artefact alone but also on the broader urban political economic context it is inserted in.
After this introduction, the paper is structured as follows. In Section 2 I briefly review the main tenets of Degrowth, and I underscore the lack of engagement of Degrowth with the technological and the urban questions. Section 3 documents the emergence of the Smart City concept and shows how it is orchestrating urban transformations in the 21st century. After that, in Section 4 I carry out a comprehensive review of perils associated with current hegemonic understandings of technology-led urban transformations for a transformative and emancipatory socio-environmental Degrowth transition. In Section 5 I discuss how, within this heterogeneous, nebulous and ambiguous techno-utopian urban imaginary, we can find space for subversive, bottom-up strategies that could potentially be aligned with Degrowth. I end up with a concluding section where I argue for a selective and reflexive use of Smart City technology and ICT by Degrowth.”
Find the full article here.