Archives for category: Urban futures

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

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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

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

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

____________________________________________

London, 3 December 2016

2000 Ton City

“2,000 Ton City, composed of cells each containing an individual whose brain impulses are continuously transmitted to an analyser which compares, selects and interprets the desires of each individual, programming the life of the entire city moment by moment. Each inhabitant lives eternally, but if he formulates thoughts of rebellion against this perfect life twice consecutively, the ceiling descends to crush him with its 2,000 ton force.”

 

City of the Splendid Houses

“City of the Splendid Houses, in which each citizen’s goal is the possession of the most beautiful house, to which end they spend all their leisure hours and spare wage coupons in decoration and embellishment.”

 

I came across these two images/text in Robert Sheckley’s (1978) Impossible Cities of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Futuropolis. Both visions were created by Italian conceptual architecture firm Superstudio.  I’ve been pulling together my paper for the Society of the History of Technology’s annual meeting in Singapore (22-26 June 2016), in the panel on ‘Technology for City, City for Technology’.

 

 

London, 30 April 2016

defetishing the city

You’d be welcome to come along to a workshop which I’ve organised, during the afternoon on 28 April 2016. It’s the final workshop in a series on ‘Living in the Anthropocene: Rethinking the Nature/Culture Divide’ which began in June last year.  To see details of the previous events, see here.

Defetishising the City

Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster
32-38 Wells Street, London, W1T 3UW (5 minutes walk from Oxford Circus tube station)
3:30-6:00 pm, Thursday 28 April 2016

The discursive rise of the anthropocene has been accompanied by the normalisation of the idea of the ‘urban age’. The city has come to constitute a powerful imaginary, simultaneously the locus of all manner of contemporary crises – ecological and otherwise – and the focus for our hopes of their resolution. While earlier visions of urban sustainability disrupted the nature/culture divide, the goal remained one of ‘balance’, to be achieved through intentional agency.  Such aspirations are increasingly augmented, or framed, by notions of ‘resilience’ and ‘smartness’, in which human agency becomes at best reactive, or even dissolves within a process of recursive co-adaptation.

But where does this leave our ability to ‘plan’ our (urban) future? And is this imagined ‘city’ in fact a multiple construct? Might its rhetorical singularity across different discourses be holding us back from reimagining the future in more productive ways?

With:

Clive Barnett (University of Exeter)
Federico Caprotti (King’s College London)
Simon Joss (University of Westminster)

This event is free and open to all, but registration is essential. Click here to register for a free ticket.

London, 13 March 2016

Design after planning

Might it be possible to go beyond the limitations of liberal-modernist policy-making and urban planning if we start thinking of governance at different scales as a process of design?

If you find this sort of question interesting, you may want to consider submitting an abstract for a one-day interdisciplinary conference we’re holding at the University of Westminster on Friday 5 February, 2016.

We have three confirmed keynote speakers – Filip De Boeck (KU Leuven), Nathaniel Tkacz (University of Warwick) and Erik Swyngedouw (University of Manchester), and plan to have three panels on:

  • disaster and risk design
  • designing with emergent urban systems
  • resilience versus sustainability

To find out more, or to sign up for updates, please visit the event website.

We have not yet released tickets for the event, but there will be no charge for attending (or registration fee for speakers).

London, 5 November 2015

UPDATE 5 APRIL 2016:  videos from this event are now online: https://designafterplanning.wordpress.com/videos/

 

Tomorrow's City Today

If you’re interested in urban sustainability, I’d like to invite you to a conference I’m co-organising.  We have a superb line-up of international speakers (academics, policy-makers and practitioners) as well a report launch to tempt you along.

Date: Friday 12 June 2015

Time: 10:00 am – 4:30 pm

Venue: Fyvie Hall, University of Westminster, 309 Regent Street, London W1B 2HW

Although sustainability principles are now firmly entrenched in urban policy making around the world, no clear agreement has ever emerged about what precisely the idea means or how it might be put into practice – and we seem to be further than ever away from the goal of building a sustainable future. Some critics argue that its lack of agreed definition leaves it open to abuse and encourages a ‘business as usual’ approach. So might some form of ‘standardisation’ lead to greater accountability and more substantive progress in future?

In fact, the evidence suggests that a process of standardisation may currently be taking place. Recent years seeing a global proliferation of different types of eco-city ‘frameworks’, which serve to define urban sustainability in particular ways. Many of these, crucially, aim to be replicable – and are implemented – in different locations internationally.

But, looking forwards, how might a process of standardisation work? How should these urban sustainability standards be defined and audited (and by who)? What critical questions need to be asked? And should we welcome this trend as a basis for future policy and practice development? Some would argue that any form of standardisation serves to stifle innovation in what should ideally be an open-ended process of real-world experimentation and ongoing critical reflection.

The report, which will be launched in the morning, draws on three years of cross-comparative research conducted by our Leverhulme Trust-funded international research network.

The provisional programme is shown below.  You can download a full version here, and book tickets on Eventbrite here (there’s no charge for attendance).

FINAL PROGRAMME:

Tomorrow's City Today FINAL PROGRAMME (19 May 2015)

3 March 2015, London

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