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(Not So) Smart Cities?: the Drivers, Impact and Risks of Surveillance-Enabled Smart Environments

DOI: 10.1093/scipol/sct070

Galdon-Clavell, G. “(Not So) Smart Cities?: the Drivers, Impact and Risks of Surveillance-Enabled Smart Environments.” Science and Public Policy 40.6 (2013): 717–723. Print.

p.717: The possibility of so-called ‘smart’ technologies to improve city life has filled both pages of concern and PR leaflets. While the corporations driving these developments have emphasized how smart technologies can improve efficiency, critics have warned against the risks associated with the proliferation of smart surveillance. However, a critical discourse about the potential, limits and risks of the proliferation of smart technologies has not yet emerged, and in most instances public officials and decision-makers are ill-equipped to judge both the value and the externalities of the technologies being sold under the label ‘smart cities’. This paper presents a summary of smart solutions and definitions, and draws on the surveillance literature to address issues and risks related to the global drive to outsmart competing cities in a context of global governance. Using a multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary approach, it aims to provide a starting point for a public debate that involves policy-makers, developers and academics. -- Highlighted jul 5, 2014

p.718: There are several points worth highlighting about these denitions. First, the apparent lack of sophistication in the approaches as time passes—surprisingly, no new elements seem to have been added to the definitions between 2000 and 2012. Secondly, that ‘quality of life’ and information and communication technologies (ICT) always lay at the center of all approaches to the smart paradigm. But while in some instances there is a certain level of detail when listing smart technologies, quality of life remains an elusive concept and the links between the two are not made explicit. And thirdly, there is a high level of vagueness in all of them. -- Highlighted jul 5, 2014

p.718: As Hernández-Muñoz et al. (2011) mention, there is:

... an unmanageable and unsustainable sea of systems and market islands


...market fragmentation [...] prevents solutions from becoming more efcient, scalable and suitable for supporting new generations of services.

Theirs is a market-driven perspective, but since smart city solutions are more based on vendor push than city government pull, as Belissent (2010) notes, such shortcomings have a direct impact on the ability of the actors involved to develop a strategic, coherent understanding of how smart technologies and smart environments could lead to better cities. -- Highlighted jul 5, 2014

p.718: So while the official smart city discourse seems to have fallen for the superciality of city marketing and profitmaking, most critiques of such an approach, while exposing its fallacies (lack of evaluation, fragmentation, hype, etc.) do nothing to balance the claim that technology can save us, that the technological x can work or that there are no risks associated with the widespread use of datagathering and data-sharing mechanisms and platforms. -- Highlighted jul 5, 2014

p.721: In its final White Paper, the FIREBALL project concluded that there is a need to ‘share more and develop less’, and to escape ‘easy Smart City common off the shell solutions’ and escape ‘technology-driven visions’ (Schaffers et al. 2012: 55, 57). But an analysis based on supply-side economics would fail to take into account broader trends in the historical relationship between political power and private service providers, and the economic and political culture in general, specially when technology is involved. -- Highlighted jul 5, 2014

p.721: This belief in the technological x endures despite a wealth of academic evidence that questions the ability of technological solutions to manage urban spaces, administrative processes or knowledge and information (Nedovic Budic 1999). However, analysis attempting to tone down the ‘cyberbole’ (Woolgar 2002) have seldom gone beyond academic walls, and so the ‘technological imperative’ is dominant in public discourse and management practices. Nor, despite the emergence of science and technology studies aimed at understanding how values and social practices affect the development of technological tools and their impact on society, politics and culture, have these perspectives had a significant impact on government practices. Policies therefore continue to be based on an instrumental understanding of the capabilities of technological solutions with politicians hoping (sometimes blindly) that they can and will ‘x’ social problems. Technological determinism, thus, reinforces the tendency to look for shortcuts, and smart solutions seem to provide elected officials with a theatrical and effective resource (Schneier 2003), a physical tool that allows them to communicate an image of dynamism and response-capacity that they usually lack. -- Highlighted jul 5, 2014

p.721: As Lyon (2003b: 666) remarked:

... technological fixes are the common currency of crisis in late modern societies. They take precedence over other, more people-centered, policy solutions. -- Highlighted jul 5, 2014