Monetizing connected cities and/or "smart cities"?

Hi everyone!

I need to prepare a short presentation or set a thought-provoking conversation for the International Observatory on Participatory Democracy (OIPD) conference: Direct Democracy and Citizen Initiative.Towards an Ecosystem of Inclusive Democracy in Barcelona in 2 weeks - on the theme of the economic dimensions of connected cities / smart cities.

I welcome any and all recommendations (of reports/articles to read of videos to watch, or people to talk to) on the subject from the community (@nadia).

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Well since you’re asking this community it means you’re welcoming off-the-beaten-path recommendations on that theme :smile: and if that’s the case, I have one on offer:

That’s a very experimental paper of myself from a few days ago, exploring the ways how cities can become economically self-sufficient, in part or in full. So that’s the economic aspect. The aspect touching on connected / smart cities comes from the tools needed for that self-sufficiency, called an “information system” in my paper. Maybe a nice “reverse” way to approach smart cities, as they are often looking like a concept / tool without a purpose so far.

The discussion in the linked topic also include references to Vicente Guallart, an architect who did extensive work on self-sufficient cities. Conincidentally, he lives in Barcelona, so maybe count that under “peopl to meet” as well.

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Brilliant ideas and timing @matthias, thank you for the recommendations, I will be commenting d’ici demain.

@clairedvn Just a few scattered things on the fly in case you’re not already familiar with them …

  • Digidem (digital democracy in Madrid by Swedish lab)
  • Dicidem (open source participatory democracy in Barcelona)
  • all the things the Vice Mayor of Innovation at the City of Eindhoven is up to
  • the Urban Informatics Lab at QUT
  • the City of Montreal’s Smart City office and their strategies
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@clairedvn, it very much depends on how much you think the audience will know about the topic.

But here’s one thing you need to know: this concept has had a tormented evolution. You can be much more effective if you signal you are privy to it, and therefore “a knowledgeable player”, rather than “a civilian”.

A short history of the topic:

  • Circa 1990s: “smart city” is rolled out as a concept by corporate actors (the most important are IBM, Siemens and Cisco) and their reference universities (spearheaded by MIT). The construction of some (three) actual prototype smart cities begins.
  • Early 2010s: the prototypes have all failed. Meanwhile, there is a growing recognition that cities do indeed exhibit “smart” behavior, but not because of the technology, but because of a new way of connecting citizens to each other. I myself wrote a short blog post that gives you a good argument if you want to make that case: What we mean by “smart” in “smart cities”.
  • 2014, Adam Greenfield writes a pamphlet called Against the smart city (Kindle edition), that tears the concept apart. The smart city, he argues, is basically the new version of the modernist city dreamed by Le Corbusier: rational, simple, authoritarian, and wrong. It never, ever worked in practice. It cannot work, because it operates with a flawed model of people and their sociality. An embarrassed silence follows. He is simply right. From this point on, the academic debate on smart cities is over. The concept has no longer any credibility.
  • Late 2010s. “Smart cities” starts quietly falling off policy agendas. Meanwhile, a municipalist agenda emerges globally. This movement has a radical idea: cities are better candidates to run the world than nation states, or supernational organizations. Barcelona, where you will be, claims the mantle of leader of this movement: for example, they created a conference called Fearless cities, that is now being taken up by activists that can count on sympathetic support from city authorities. In particular, Barcelona wants to do data protection policy, with the ambition to “re-decentralize the internet”. The main player here is Francesca Bria, an Italian ex-Nesta who got hired as the city’s Chief Innovation Officer. Her life partner happens to be high-powered techno-critic Evgeny Mozorov. Just weeks ago, they jointly published a book called Rethinking smart cities. I have not had the chance to read it yet, but if you google “bria mozorov smart cities” you can find plenty of conferences, videos etc. I recommend you spend one hour doing so, as that will allow you to come smoothly into the debate.

Please, know this. I am personally interested in cities, and plan to take the Edgeryders Research Network in that direction. Academically, I am forming partnership with people in the Santa Fe Institute, including someone who was involved in the very famous scaling laws in cities result by Bettencourt-West (which, incidentally, results, from a European Commission research grant).

What Edgeryders can bring to the table is a rigorous approach to communities and their collective intelligence (which, after the downfall of the technocratic- and corporate approach to “smart cities” is more or less acknowledged as the source of the “smart”). If you want to lead an Edgeryders foray in this direction, we (and I personally) stand ready to support you in this.

Also ping @hugi.


Thank you so much Alberto! I have a lot to read and digest but I am very grateful for what you shared.

Also, sounds fascinating, your work in Santa Fe, I’d love to hear more about it.

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