A new publication in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, which I wrote with Federico Caprotti – now available on open access.  You can read it/download the pdf here.

I think of the paper as having two main roots. First, an earlier comment piece by Federico and me, which laid out a series of underexplored aspects of ‘urban experiments’ (the tendency for contemporary projects in cities to be conceptualised and promoted as ‘test beds’, ‘living labs’ etc etc).  Second, an interest which I’ve had since my PhD in the tensions between the long-term goals of sustainable development, and the short-termism of new forms of dispersed governance.

In the new article, ‘smart city’ ideas and practices are positioned as exemplifying the tendency towards experimental urban governance. However, if we accept Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer’s (2011) well-known thesis, experiments are rarely innocent: here, we argue that the smart city poses a disruptive challenge to the idea that we can ‘plan’ the future.

The article draws on some of the (UK) findings from our ‘smart eco-cities‘ research project, and is part of a rolling special issue of Environment and Planning D, edited by Ayona Datta and Nancy Odendaal.

Details…

Cowley, R. and Caprotti, F. (2018). Smart City as Anti-Planning in the UK. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. Advance online publication. DOI: 10.1177/0263775818787506.

Abstract

Critical commentaries have often treated the smart city as a potentially problematic ‘top down’ tendency within policy-making and urban planning, which appears to serve the interests of already powerful corporate and political actors. This article, however, positions the smart city as significant in its implicit rejection of the strong normativity of traditional technologies of planning, in favour of an ontology of efficiency and emergence. It explores a series of prominent UK smart city initiatives (in Bristol, Manchester and Milton Keynes) as bundles of experimental local practices, drawing on the literature pointing to a growing valorisation of the ‘experimental’ over strong policy commitments in urban governance. It departs from this literature, however, by reading contemporary ‘smart experiments’ through Shapin and Schafer’s work on the emergence of 17th-century science, to advance a transhistorical understanding of experimentation as oriented towards societal reordering. From this perspective, the UK smart city merits attention primarily as an indicator of a wider set of shifts in approaches to governance. Its pragmatic orientation sits uneasily alongside ambitions to ‘standardise’ smart and sustainable urban development; and raises questions about the conscious overlap between the stated practical ambitions of smart city initiatives and pre-existing environmental and social policies.

 

London, 20 July 2018

 

References:

Shapin, S. and Schaffer, S. (2011). Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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