Despite a growing body of work that informs a more nuanced reading of the relationship between technology and cities, current iterations of smart city debates tend to either celebrate the utopian and super-efficient urbanism that is taken with the sparkly newness of it all – a certain techno-romance – or – the anxiety that anticipates private sector take-over of city administrations and continued neoliberalisation. The former is often presented as a set of ideas and technological interventions to be applied to the city, and used by citizens, with the desired net effect of improving quality of life – as well as the city’s own competitiveness – through a more optimised, technology-assisted use of resources. The latter dystopian versions offer a welcome critical analysis of the operationalisation of the smart city, but in doing so, may mask the emancipatory potential of innovative appropriation of technologies.
When it comes to its practical applications, the smart city package tends to represent itself as portable proposition made up of easily transferable products and ‘solutions’. And this add-on character is not just proper of smart corporate approaches, where things such as urban operating systems, large control rooms and standardised applications are envisaged. Many more bottom-up, art installation-based smart projects, despite being in many ways smaller scale, different – and divergent – from mainstream corporate smart, can still characterise themselves as portable add-ons, which appear in places to simply add a specific performative dimension to them. These have often a temporary character and offer new, maybe exciting but also fairly un-grounded ways to use or play in an urban space, doing things which were not possible before. Whilst both these versions and scales of smart can offer valuable additions to the city, it is worth reflecting on a limit they might have in common: lack of grounding. Smart as an add-on is almost by definition something that rather than generating, stemming from specific places, is applied to them as an external product and logic.
Urban environments are deeply inscribed with the physical, social as well as the experiential effects of history and contemporary intervention. We argue that a consideration of smart that really values the city and makes it central, needs to overcome deterministic one-way approaches and go back to a more holistic and contextual understanding of technology-endowed urbanities. For urban space to become more resilient and robust, we need to understand, embrace and actively engage with the complex interrelations and cross-agency of physical design, cultural and socio-political context, and the everyday that embeds these and is present now in the ways city dwellers deeply relate to urban space and inhabit it.
This book will challenge scholars, practitioners and thinkers to look at smart from the point of view of the inhabitable, and inhabited, culturally-informed, digitally-enhanced place. We propose a contextually grounded approach that examines the notion of the ongoing (co)production of the localized smart city: innovative, emergent and situated initiatives that substantively connect to the specifics of place.
As such, the book aims at the difficult but necessary target of allowing a joined-up approach on smart, with the permanent improvement of place in mind. This means informing the present and future shaping of smart place by architects, designers and urban planners.
We believe that such an approach fills a gap in the knowledge and practice arena, as it proposes a collection of texts with an applied and design ethos. Yet it picks up on the critique to smart urbanism stemming from human geography and urban studies. Its most powerful characteristic is therefore to put together the critical thinking proper to more social science oriented approaches and the power of design thinking and approaches to place-making and urban design
As a consequence, this is neither exclusively an architecture or planning book, nor a geography or computing one. It will fit into these canons comfortably but it is essentially about a contemporary trend that claims to remake our perception of the urban, and the challenges associated with it in the real world. It tries to address these by looking at issues and aiming at the production of original knowledge in the field, yet foregrounding questions whose answers can and should be applied to the design and improvement of our urban places.