Karen Mossberger, Arizona State University
Caroline Tolbert, University of Iowa
For both policymakers and researchers interested in the nexus between technology use and sustainability at the local level, new data on city and county Internet use in the United States will be available in January 2016. A repository on local Internet use data supported by the National Science Foundation will be located at Arizona State University’s Center for Policy Informatics, through a partnership with researchers at the University of Iowa.
Such data is especially relevant for the many Smart Cities initiatives undertaken by local governments in recent years, and for new efforts by the White House to promote the development of Smart Cities solutions for energy, climate change, transportation, and other policy areas. The $55 million in proposed investments and $105 million in research and new federal spending for Smart Cities includes programs to “accelerate deployment of innovative technologies that tackle energy, water, waste, and air challenges.” (White House, 2015)
Is the “smart cities” movement delivering on its aspirations of creating environmentally sustainable cities? One of the pillars of smart urbanism has been the claim that smart cities can also be radically more sustainably. New urban digital technologies, data-driven governance, and digitally-enabled citizenship are celebrated for their ability to increase resource efficiency and enable innovative shifts towards more deeply sustainable cities. But no sustained critical attention has been paid to the potential and pitfalls of this digitally-enabled green urbanism.
This session provides a critical overview of the successes and challenges of creating cities that are both smart and sustainable. It looks at how digital processes—and the urban embedding of computational logics—affect the environmental capabilities of cities and citizens. It also explores the broader socio-political implications of creating an interface between sustainability and digital narratives as a driving force behind current approaches to urban issues. Continue reading →
Chiara Certoma and Francesco Rizzi
Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Italy.
Recently, the term smart city has rapidly turned into a buzzword used with reference to almost any technology-driven urban initiative, encompassing a broad range of aspects of urban life (e.g., quality of life and welfare, sustainability, social cohesion, economic growth, etc.) This makes operationalization of the concept ambiguous and difficult. While there is no commonly agreed upon definition of thesmart city, mainstream discourses present it as “a semantic synthesis and a conventional wisdom evoking efficiency, accountability, self-reliance” (Spaces & Flows: Fifth International Conference on Urban and Extra-Urban Studies, Bangkok 7-8 Nov 2014). Despite relevant differences, an invariant in almost all definitions is the idea that “technologies will play a huge role in urban life in the near future […], including for example the idea that technologies will solve our current (environmental) problems without meaningfully changing our way of life” (Santangelo, Ribera-Fumaz, & March, 2015). The pervasiveness and often the vacuity of smart city initiatives – ranging from the construction of new cities characterised by the ubiquitous presence of technologies of control and organisation, up to single and often disconnected initiatives in existing urban contexts – exposes it to a broad variety of critiques. Wishful thinking more than evidence depicts smart cities as places where a significant integration of technology into daily life allows the creation of more attractive, healthier, sustainable and innovation-orientated environments.
On a path of accelerated urbanization, India is going through substantial changes in its land cover and land use. In 1950, shortly after Indian independence, only 17% of the country’s population lived in cities. Today, India’s urban population stands at 33%. India contains three of the world’s ten largest cities, Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata; as well as three of the world’s ten fastest growing cities, Ghaziabad, Surat, and Faridabad. In the past two decades, the area covered by Indian cities has expanded by a staggering 250%, covering an additional 5000 square kilometers of India’s surface with concrete, asphalt and glass (Nagendra et al., 2013). Projections indicate that more than 50% of India’s people will be living in cities by 2050 (United Nations, 2014). This massive urbanization will pose large scale challenges for urban resilience and sustainability, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable: the urban poor, migrant workers, traditional village residents.
The latest UGEC Viewpoints article was written by Alex Aylett of INRS, Canada.
Since its early days, the discourse around “smart cities” has included environmental sustainability as one of its core principles. The application of new digital technologies to urban spaces and processes is celebrated for its ability to increase the well-being of citizens while reducing their environmental impacts. But this engagement with sustainability has been limited to a technocratic focus on energy systems, building efficiency, and transportation. It has also privileged top-down interventions by local government actors. For all its novelty, the smart cities discussion is operating with a vision of urban sustainability that dates from the 1990s, and an approach to planning from the 1950s.
This definition of “urban sustainability” overlooks key facets of a city’s ecological footprint (such as food systems, resource consumption, production related greenhouse gas emissions, air quality, and the urban heat island effect). It also ignores the ability of non-state actors to contribute meaningfully to the design and implementation of urban policies and programs. But that doesn’t need not be the case. In fact, if employed properly, new information technologies seem like ideal tools to address some of urban sustainability’s most persistent challenges.