Video: Right to the Smart City Session 5: Shared City Making

Catch up with the video of previous sessions: Session 1, Session 2, Session 3 and Session 4.



Toward an Actual Theory of the City: “Civic Tech” as a Mid-Level, Organic Model of Urban Change
Andrew Schrock (Chapman, USA)

“We don’t simply want to take a predictive analytics view of the world,” Nigel Jacobs told me, “because that means that we will never have an actual theory of the city.” Nigel co-founded the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM), the most long-lived innovation team in the country and among the most respected. MONUM took an omnivorous, experimental approach to urban improvement. They tried everything from using iPhones to detect potholes and retrofitting a food truck as a “city hall to go.” The office is relatively autonomous, insulating collaborators from risk while running small-scale experiments to tangibly improve life for residents. Nigel’s grounded, iterative approach with MONUM aligned with my conversations and collaborations over the last several years with other civic technologists who used similar language to describe their goals and practices.
The benefits and drawbacks of “civic tech” are hotly debated. Policy makers see civic tech as a helpful way to balance competing demands in government for external participation and internal efficiency. Critical scholars regard it as Silicon Valley style tech “solutionism,” while political scientists believe it stretches thin a model of the informed citizen. Civic technologists themselves embrace such a variety of practices – participatory design, agile development, and open government – that they struggle to articulate shared convictions characteristic of social movements. As a result, they are often misunderstood as yet another elitist model of technocratic change. In this paper I explore a more nuanced alternative: civic technologists like Nigel Jacobs are engaging in theorizing about how to change notoriously obdurate systems (e.g. Weberian bureaucracy and built urban environment).
My intention in this paper – to situate civic tech as a mid-level, organic model of urban change – is far from armchair theorizing. We need shared models to collaborate, not just platforms and data. In this paper I follow how theories of Tocqueville, Robert E. Park, and Jane Jacobs arose from in situ interventions and reflexive interpretation. Second, I map how an organic model of change in “civic tech” contrasts with a dominant “smart cities” vision. Civic tech is a politically left effort that embraces small, scalable interventions and collaborations that change systems, tangibly improving lives of residents. Civic technologists use technology in tandem with infrastructure, policy, and process change. Behind a veneer of politically neutral liberalism lies a more radical approach that seeks to re-configure the very building blocks of democracy.


Participatory Urban Sensing: a Blueprint for a Community-led Smart City
Catherine D’Ignazio, Eric Gordon & Elizabeth Christoforetti (Emerson, USA)

The ability to gather, store and make meaning from large amounts of sensor data is becoming a technological and financial reality for cities. Many of these initiatives are happening through deals brokered between vendors, developers and cities. They are made manifest in the environment as infrastructure – invisible to citizens and communities. We assert that in order to have community-centered smart cities, we need to transform sensor data collection and usage from invisible infrastructure into visible and legible interface. In this paper, we compare two different urban sensing initiatives and examine the methods used for feedback between sensors and people. We question how value gets produced and communicated to citizens in urban sensing projects and what kind of oversight and ethical considerations are necessary. Finally, we make a case for “seamful” interfaces between communities, sensors and cities that reveal their inner workings for the purposes of civic pedagogy and dialogue. We conclude with five preliminary design principles for a community-centered smart city.


Programming rights to shared technology making
Sung-Yueh Perng (Maynooth)

Shared technology making refers to the practices, spaces and events that bear the hope and belief that collaborative and open ways of designing, making and modifying technology can improve our ways of living. Shared technology making in the context of the smart city, where a majority of such events, initiatives and spaces are organised, reinvigorates explorations of the possibility of free, open and collaborative ways of engineering urban spaces, infrastructures and public life. Open innovation events and civic hacking initiatives often encourage members of local communities, residents or city administrations to participate, so that the problems they face and the knowledge they obtain can be leveraged to develop innovations from the working (and failure) of urban everyday life and (non-)expert knowledges. However, the incorporation of shared technology making into urban contexts and processes engender problems and concerns around the rights to participate in shared technology- and city-making. This paper addresses the issue by suggesting ways to consider both the neoliberal patterning of shared technology making and the patches and gaps that show the future possibility of shared technology- and city-making.

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