Archives for category: publications

A quick post to announce two new publications.

First, a chapter on ‘Eco-Cities’ in the Handbook of Urban Geography published by Edward Elgar, edited by Tim Schwamen and the late Ronald van Kempen. This outlines the various ways that this term is used, the history of the practices associated with it, and an overview of critical perspectives on it. I haven’t got hold of a copy of the whole handbook yet, but it looks like a fine compendium. Detailed contents can be seen on the publisher’s website.

Second, a short position piece on the question of whether we should colonise Mars. I think about this question through the lens of ‘Martian Rights’, including the rights of Mars itself. This forms part of a collection of themed articles entitled ‘To Mars, the Milky Way and Beyond: Science, Theology and Ethics Look at Space Exploration’, in the journal Theology and Science. You can find it here.

Full references and the abstract for the Mars article are shown below. If you want to read either, but can’t access them, get in touch and I can send you a pdf of the relevant ‘accepted manuscript’ (ie almost final version).

Cowley, R. (2019). Eco-Cities. In Schwanen, T. & van Kempen, R. (eds.) Handbook of Urban Geography. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, pp.725-750. ISBN: 978-1785364594

Cowley, R. (2019). Yes, We Earthlings Should Colonize Mars if ‘Martian Rights’ Can Be Upheld. Theology and Science. Advance online publication. DOI: 10.1080/14746700.2019.1632521

Abstract:

I argue that programmes of Mars colonization might usefully be guided by a consideration of “Martian Rights”. I outline four categories of possible rights which would need to be guaranteed, depending on the precise nature of the colonization: those directly transferable from existing human rights, new rights, rights in need of modification, and the rights of Mars itself. Debates over Martian Rights should not be deferred until the technological challenges of supporting human life on Mars have been resolved. Rather, they have the potential to usefully inform the development of relevant space technologies.

London, 5 July 2019

There’s no explicit connection between these three new publications bearing my name (except for the fact that they bear my name), but you can make one if you like.

The first is a Manifesto for Governing Life on Mars. This is the preliminary fruit of a six-month project funded by the Dubai Future Foundation, which ended with a workshop in December 2018. I and a couple of colleagues plan to follow up with a couple of academic publications.

Why think about this topic? Well, space exploration (and Mars settlement specifically) is in the news a lot at the moment, and large amounts of resources are being allocated towards it. The aim of this research was to draw attention to draw attention to some of the problematic political and social dimensions of settling Mars. Most current public discussion about settling Mars either proceeds in a highly technical way, or is entirely speculative/science-fictional. One initial aim here was to try to learn instead from experiments in setting up alternative communities on Earth.

The second is an article which I co-authored with Federico Caprotti (University of Exeter), and was recently published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. We were thinking about the difficulty of understanding the way that ‘big ideas’ in urban policy-making – and the ‘smart city’ in particular – land on the ground. If you start from the perspective of the vision, from on high, only part of what actually happens on the ground is visible.  But if you start on the ground, it’s difficult to see what ties it all together.  In this paper, we suggest that the idea of a ‘cultural economy’ of smart urbanism helpfully accounts for both the shaping effects of policy discourse and its varied concrete manifestations in real urban space.

Caprotti, F. and Cowley, R. (2019). Varieties of smart urbanism in the UK: discursive logics, the state, and local urban context. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. Advance online publication. DOI: 10.1111/tran.12284

tibg

The third is a short chapter in a new book, Digital Objects, Digital Subjects, published by the University of Westminster Press.  It responds to a chapter in which Paul Rekret critiques the supposed ‘innocence’ of posthuman thinking. I propose that posthumanism (as a broad body of thinking) has a rather uneven appeal, and that it doesn’t exclude the possibility of other forms of thinking about ‘hybridity’ to emerge in future.

Cowley, R. (2019). Posthumanism as a Spectrum. In
Chandler, D. & Fuchs, C. (eds) Digital Objects, Digital Subjects: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Capitalism, Labour and Politics in the Age of Big Data. London: University of Westminster Press. ISBN: 978-1-912656-20-2.

digital objects digital subjects

London, 30 January 2019

Inside Smart Cities cover

Lots of research has been conducted into the way that ‘big ideas’ in policy-making seem to travel around the world increasingly rapidly, but also undergo processes of ‘translation’ as they are implemented in different places.  (Perhaps the fullest treatment of this phenomenon is provided in Jamie Peck and Nik Theodore’s 2015 book on ‘Fast Policy’.) It’s possible to interpret the ‘smart city’ concept through this lens – and I’m interested in the ways that it has come to land in China specifically.

I visited the city of Wuhan last year. Wuhan is one of China’s rising economic stars (and also one of the case studies in our smart eco-cities research project), but not yet part of the premier ‘Tier I’ league. My original hope was to set up some research looking into its longstanding and ongoing ‘twinning’ arrangement with the city of Manchester.  In the end, that particular line of enquiry didn’t go too far, but my visit did form the basis of a co-authored chapter in a book published by Routledge today.

The book as a whole explores the varied ways that ‘smart city’ technology is being implemented in real-world urban space around the world.  Our chapter on Wuhan explores the need to understand this process as part of a broader digitisation of everyday life – it suggests that analyses focused on policy-making or entrepreneurial governance arrangements are missing the big picture. Sticking with the ‘official’ version of the smart city, though, we try to identify what might be distinctive about the Chinese approach to all this, using the example of Wuhan as a relatively ‘ordinary’ city in the Chinese context (commentators usually tend to focus on more wealthy showcase cities on the East coast).

You can download a pdf of the ‘accepted manuscript’ here. (Accepted manuscript = the version before production, copy-editing and proof reading.)

Final Published Version:

Cowley, R., Caprotti, F., Ferretti, M. and Zhong, C. (2018). Ordinary Chinese Smart Cities: The Case of Wuhan.  In Karvonen, A., Cugurullo, F. and Caprotti, F. (eds) Inside Smart Cities: Place, Politics and Urban Innovation. London: Routledge, pp.45-64. ISBN: 978-0815348689.

Abstract

Commentaries on future-oriented Chinese urban development tend to focus on showcase projects underway in wealthy coastal cities. This chapter instead sheds light on the way that the smart has been integrated into more ‘ordinary’ Chinese urban life, using the case of Wuhan, a ‘Tier II’ city in Central China. It explores the conditions of the emergence of Wuhan’s smart city activities from three perspectives. First, it outlines a series of ‘vertical’ enabling factors, whereby an international body of discourse and practice has been ‘translated’ into national Chinese urban policies. Second, it considers the simultaneous significance of ‘horizontal’ links between Wuhan’s local government, city governments abroad, local private enterprises, and foreign firms. Third, it relates Wuhan’s smart credentials to a broader process of digitalisation of everyday life in the city. It concludes by reflecting on the distinctive characteristics of Chinese smart urbanism, as exemplified by Wuhan, and finally draws out some implications for future research into smart cities elsewhere. Specifically, it proposes that the smart city is most usefully approached as a shifting and locally inflected concept which not only channels multiple policy agendas, but also reflects broader changes to urban space and governance in particular contexts.

London, 12 September 2018

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.

Mars landscape

I’m just getting the paperwork signed off on a new research project: Lessons from the Eco-City: A Manifesto for Governing Life on Mars. It’s being funded by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Settlement Challenge (set up by the Dubai Future Foundation), and will run until the end of the year.

The governance of future colonies on other planets is a topic which has long fascinated science fiction writers and film-makers.  But I intend instead to begin by drawing lessons from innovative governance experiments on earth. The work will involve an extended piece of desk research, followed by a workshop in December, leading to the publication of a preliminary ‘manifesto’ summarising key principles for the practical governance of space settlements.

More details to come once the project gets off the ground.

London, 12 June 2018

 

Image: NASA Mars Space Exploration Gallery

 

Palgrave Communications

I had a short piece published yesterday in the ‘Politics of an Urban Age’ collection in Palgrave Communications.  It’s a commentary on certain tendencies within urban governance, which point away from strong ambitions to solve ‘big’ social and environmental challenges.  You can read it here on open access.

In fact, it’s part of a trio of comment papers – the other two by Federico Caprotti (on bringing human needs back to the centre of planning), and Simon Joss (on the need to reinvigorate public institutions and public debate).  All three can be found together on the collection webpage.

Future Cities: Renarrating Human Agency

Abstract

The media coverage of Hurricane Harvey’s impact on the city of Houston in August 2017 reveals an ‘Anthropocenic’ sensibility, which tends to deny our ability to solve pressing environmental and social problems through strong and direct human action. This sensibility is reflected at city level in new forms of governance, exemplified here with reference to resilience, smart urbanism, and design-thinking. These have in common a cautious, inductive logic of change; their limited imaginations of space and time imply a dispersed sense of human agency. But if these new rationalities are unlikely to yield convincing solutions to problems such as Hurricane Harvey, perhaps there is a need to rethink the dominant framing of the Anthropocene, which underpins them.

Cowley, R. (2018). Future Cities: Renarrating Human AgencyPalgrave Communications, 4, article 41. DOI: 10.1057/s41599-018-0103-y

Retrofitting Cities for Tomorrow's World

The newly published book Retrofitting Cities for Tomorrow’s World includes a chapter by Simon Joss and me, exploring the role of national policies in shaping local urban sustainability. We compare the aims, processes, and outcomes of four national initiatives launched since the millennium (India’s Ecocity programme, France’s EcoQuartiers and Japan’s Eco-Model City schemes, and the UK’s Future Cities Demonstrator competition).

Why look at these?  Well, one of our points is that the role of national policies is often underdiscussed in studies of local urban sustainability initiatives. Of course, there are exceptions – but these tend to focus on large-scale, top-down ‘exemplar’ projects which are explicitly driven by central government – for example, Federico Cugurullo’s (2016) analysis of Masdar City in the UAE, or Catherine Chang’s (2013; 2017) work on Chinese eco-cities.  Elsewhere, though, more celebratory accounts of local initiatives may draw too unquestioningly on contemporary discourses around the ability of cities and city regions to take charge of various progressive agendas.  And even scathing commentaries may unwittingly reproduce this discursive framing, by setting up unrealistic expectations of local actors.

I think that keeping the national picture in mind may provide some useful critical perspective. National policies and frameworks do remain rather important – not just as blocks to innovation but also as enabling factors in what emerges at local level. Dismissing this part of the analytical jigsaw may mean that we’re not vindicating the ‘rise of the city’ in the face of the ‘dysfunctional nation’ (Barber, 2014), so much as failing to hold national policy-makers to account.

 

Joss, S. & Cowley, R. (2017). National policies for local urban sustainability: a new governance approach? In Eames, M., Dixon, T., Hunt, M., and Lannon, S. (eds.) Retrofitting Cities for Tomorrow’s World. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, pp.227-246.  ISBN: 978-1119007210.

 

References

Barber, B.B. (2014). If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Chang, I.-C.C. (2017). Failure matters: Reassembling eco-urbanism in a globalizing China. Environment and Planning A, 49(8): 1719–1742.

Chang, I.-C.C. & Sheppard, E. (2013). China’s Eco-Cities as Variegated Urban Sustainability: Dongtan Eco-City and Chongming Eco-Island. Journal of Urban Technology, 20(1): 57–75.

Cugurullo, F. (2016). Urban eco-modernisation and the policy context of new eco-city projects: Where Masdar City fails and why. Urban Studies, 53(11): 2417–2433.

 

London, 26 November 2017

Journal of resilience

A new publication to announce.  But first, some background…

A while ago, I started noticing that the word ‘design’ and the concept of ‘design thinking’ seemed to be everywhere. I wondered if it was just me – but I was particularly struck that I so often seemed to hear the word ‘design’ used in contexts where I expect to hear about ‘plans’ and ‘planning’. I slowly got the sense that we seem collectively unwilling to assert our ability to shape the future – but, at the same time, I wasn’t sure quite why we are so keen to be ‘designing’ things instead. Why now? I realised in any case that I didn’t really understand what ‘design’ meant.

Problematically, there seemed to be no widely accepted overall theory of design to turn to. Or, rather, there were lots of individual perspectives on the subject, often related to particular areas of design practice. And most of these seemed to claim that theorising design as a whole is not possible.

Following on from that, I and some colleagues organised an exploratory conference on the topic of ‘Design after Planning’ last year  It went rather well overall (and you can watch some of the videos here), but it threw up more questions than it answered.  So, I started slowly reading up on design theory, and have now pulled together some of my thoughts in the introduction of a ‘forum’ on Resilience and Design, published today in the journal Resilience.

The introduction is followed by four short essays, by Clive Barnett, Tania Katzschner, Nate Tkacz, and Filip De Boeck, each touching on design-related issues in different ways. The abstract and table of contents are shown below.

The forum as a whole is rather like a collection of papers in a conference panel: loosely connected rather than prepared in close collaboration.  But we hope this approach will be generative of new thinking and connections, rather than seem incoherent. An experiment, at least.

If you’d like to read the publication, but can’t access it, please get in touch so that I can send you a copy.  50 free eprints (first come, first served) are also available from this link: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/aIX3rSjGWTeEdr3gjG29/full

 

Cowley, R., Barnett, C., Katzschner, T., Tkacz, N. & De Boeck, F. (2017). Forum: Resilience & Design.  Resilience: International Policies, Practices and Discourses. Advance online version, DOI: 10.1080/21693293.2017.1348506

 

Abstract:

This forum aims to encourage theorists of resilience to engage more closely with different aspects of design theory and practice. The introduction outlines a series of largely unacknowledged parallels between resilience and design, relating to the valorisation of processes over states, the loss of faith in ‘planning’, the ambivalent status of boundaries and interfaces, and open-ended political possibilities. Four short reflections then follow on various design-related topics: the significance of the ‘wicked problem’ in contemporary urban planning and design, and the urbanisation of responsibility; design’s potential to repoliticise and engender new forms of responsibility; the significance of the digital interface; and the condition of everyday life in the ‘unplanned’ post-colonial city. Readers are invited to build on or refute the explicit and implicit links made between resilience and design in the various forum contributions.

 

Contents:

 

Resilience and design: an introduction

Robert Cowley (Department of Geography, King’s College London)

 

Planning as design in the Wicked City

Clive Barnett (Department of Geography, University of Exeter)

 

Design, responsibility and ‘Staying with the Trouble’: rethinking urban conservation in Cape Town

Tania Katzschner (School of Architecture, Planning & Geomatics, University of Cape Town)

 

In a world of data signals, resilience is subsumed into a design paradigm

Nathaniel Tkacz (Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies, University of Warwick)

 

‘The Hole of the World’: designing possibility through topography in Congo’s urban settings

Filip de Boeck (Institute for Anthropological Research in Africa, KU Leuven)

 

London, 14 July 2017

Downtown Parcel Coded

Our new article, published today in Urban Research & Practice, and available on open access….

The smart city and its publics: insights from across six UK cities

Abstract

In response to policy-makers’ increasing claims to prioritise ‘people’ in smart city development, we explore the publicness of emerging practices across six UK cities: Bristol, Glasgow, London, Manchester, Milton Keynes, and Peterborough. Local smart city programmes are analysed as techno-public assemblages invoking variegated modalities of publicness. Our findings challenge the dystopian speculative critiques of the smart city, while nevertheless indicating the dominance of ‘entrepreneurial’ and ‘service user’ modes of the public. We highlight the risk of bifurcation within smart city assemblages, such that the ‘civic’ and ‘political’ roles of the public become siloed into less obdurate strands of programmatic activity.

Cowley, R., Joss, S., & Dayot, Y. (2017). The smart city and its publics: insights from across six UK cities. Urban Research & Practice. https://doi.org/10.1080/17535069.2017.1293150

interrogating-urban-experiments

I’ve co-authored a short paper on the idea of ‘urban experimentation’ with Federico Caprotti, which has been accepted for publication in Urban Geography.

Some writers have observed and commented on a trend for policy-making and practices in the urban setting to be infused with a rhetoric of experimentation. Our article suggests some ways in which the critical dimensions of such commentary might be usefully broadened out.

It’s available here – or get in touch with me if you want a copy.

Caprotti, F. & Cowley R. (2016). Interrogating Urban Experiments. Urban Geography. Advance online version, DOI: 10.1080/02723638.2016.1265870.

Abstract

The notion of the ‘urban experiment’ has become increasingly prevalent and popular as a guiding concept and trope used by both scholars and policymakers, as well as by corporate actors with a stake in the future of the city. In this paper, we critically engage with this emerging focus on ‘urban experiments’, and with its articulation through the associated concepts of ‘living labs’, ‘future labs’, ‘urban labs’ and the like. A critical engagement with the notion of urban experimentation is now not only useful, but a necessity: we introduce seven specific areas that need critical attention when considering urban experiments: these are focused on normativity, crisis discourses, the definition of ‘experimental subjects’, boundaries and boundedness, historical precedents, ‘dark’ experiments, and non-human experimental agency

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London, 3 December 2016

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