18 May, 2019

Registration for the Master in Architecture at UniLu is still open for EU candidates


We are still accepting applications from EU citizens interested in pursuing a Master degree in Architecture. Find our more about this exciting opportunity at: masterarchitecture.lu

16 May, 2019

Digital Urbanism and the Challenge of Urban Governance (DIG_URBGOV) – Short Research Summary


Downtown Toronto (photo by Carr 2019)
The aim of DIG_URBGOV is to explore the broad question of how technology is unfolding in societal contexts and what the related impacts or implications are in urban space. As new modes of accumulation are invented, and as we are witnessing a revolution in digital devices, services or economies, some urgent questions are surfacing: What is the role of big tech in urban development? What kinds of societal impacts might we expect? How are these impacts and interrelations understood, negotiated, and governed? What will our urban future look like (digital or not)?

Inspired by scholarly and qualitative takes on the digital turn in urban geography, DIG_URBGOV research will zero in on Alphabet Inc.'s involvement in urban development along the Toronto's lakeshore. This case potentially poses a minefield of lessons that can speak both to the international scholarly debates in urban studies and to practitioners everywhere. The research will thus bridge two worlds, that of tech-driven economic development on the one hand, and urban studies scholarship on urban planning and policy on the other.

In so doing, our research aims to help to establish what is meant when speaking about digital and/or smart cities in broader contexts as well as in certain detail. It seems quite evident that as of now there is no consensus on this, just as the case was decade (or more) ago: 

"Despite numerous examples of this ‘urban labelling’ phenomenon, we know surprisingly little about … smart cities, particularly in terms of what the label ideologically reveals," (Hollands 2008). 

Recently, ‘Smart Rebel Cities’ circulated an overview of tech-cities and their various permutations and development paths over the years. Their examples span Masdar to Songdo to Sidewalk (Smart Rebel City 2019). Or, consider a recent overview of over 50 German smart cities published by Bitkom e.V. & Fraunhofer IESE (2019). Just about any city that had implemented any kind of digital device or system (traffic lights, or driverless cars) was a smart city. 

While developing an awareness of the diverse understandings of digital cities seems necessary, this project is particularly interested in the urban constellations of digital producers and how they intersect with other modes of city governance, planning and development.

Urban studies, technological development and society
Clearly, digitization and technology have revolutionized geography in many ways. This is, however, nothing new. Decades ago, with the rise of the Internet, some (e.g. Mitchell 1995) speculated that the web and other ITs would eradicate space into the ‘City of Bits’. Such statements didn't go uncriticised, however, as onlookers pointed at the technological determinism that often underpinned such positions, and emphasised that there is a complex relationship between urban development, urban planning, and technological innovation. 

Yet, urban geography has experienced a ‘digital turn’ (Ash et al. 2016; Ash et al. 2019), even if the concrete terms under which this digital turn is materializing remain obscure. 

While the digitalization of urban spaces has, of course, provided benefits, it has also come sidelong a number of unsolved problems, which reveal that there are a number of unanswered questions with regards to digital or smart cities (these are summarised in a conference paper by Carr & Hesse, 2019). 

DIG_URBGOV aims to explore some of these in greater detail by focussing on one digital/smart city that is currently in the spotlight: Alphabet Inc.’s project in Toronto. In 2017, Sidewalk Labs, won the international competition to develop Quayside, a derelict piece of land in downtown Toronto in the Port Lands district.

The announcement ignited not only a massive media storm, but also perked the interest of urban scholars both locally and around the world who wondered what it meant when one of the world's largest tech companies was suddenly investing in the real estate, housing, and construction industries. How will this change or challenge the usual modes of urban development? How will this change our understanding of cities and urban spaces?

DIG_URBGOV aims to explore these questions. In this context, the research is structured around overlapping research streams as follows.

First research stream What are the institutional arrangement of digital cities? How do tech-firms situate themselves in urban development? How do pre-existing institutions react to new players in the field of urban development?

Kitchin (2015) noted that the smart-city agenda is heavily pushed by tech companies. Yet, even if tech products are destined to change cities, practices of urban development and planning are not generally the domain of expertise belong to most tech firms. There is thus a need to understand how it is that tech companies understand urban space and what their intentions are. 

InTactical Urbanism, Lyndon and Garcia (2015) referred to a kind of urban transition process that was driven by extra small scale urban initiatives that, in their aggregate and over time, changed the spaces and flows that constituted urban spaces. Such initiatives were usually experimental in character and relatively easy to implement (in terms of investments or permissions required). And, while the strategic objectives may be have been obscure, the effects could be rapidly assessed, and appropriate measures were easily undertaken. 

One could interrogate what tactical urbanism looks like when driven by big tech: What would be the implications of such experimental, uncertain, urban interventions? This line of reasoning could be extended into an institutional analysis of big tech urban development, with the aim of understanding the kinds of institutional arrangements that are ignited when big-tech enters the field of land use development and urban planning.

Second research stream What new kinds of socio-political implications are there when big tech enters the field of urban development? Are there new social divisions associated with tech firms pursuing land use and real estate development?

A useful reference point in addressing this question is that of Zuboff's (2019) “two texts.” The first text is most easily understood as the user interface. These are the texts that users read and engage with – the clicking, liking, typing, inputting, etc. This is the text that technologists often refer to as when trying to design their products as user friendly and/or fit-for-purpose. The second text refers to all the texts in operation behind the screen – the algorithms, scripts, cookies, bots, and codes etc. that execute the commands. 

However, Zuboff's (2019) two texts are not solely about the different sides of the screen. The two texts also demarcate the material and embodied spaces and flows that constitute them. On the first text, this could be conceived as the everyday life and its multitude of user demands for technological development. On the second text, one could refer to the chips, wires, metals and all the value chains implicated in the production of hardware, plus all the political economies that produce them, run them. The two texts can thus also indicate social spheres: 1) distributions of knowledge; 2) increasing asymmetries in the economies of scale; 3) encroaching “economies of scope” (Zuboff 2019) as more and more spheres of tech innovation intervene in the non-quantified spheres of social life. 

The first and second texts could also be understood as the front end and back ends of the new tech-drive urban space. DIG_URBGOV aims to explore this divide, aiming to understand how is it discursively reproduced, how it is understood by various actors and institutions, what kinds of efforts exist to bridge it, and how it affects the planning process.

Methods
DIG_URBGOV is a qualitative research project. Our aims are to understand the discourses surrounding the Quayside project, to reconstruct the role that these discourses play for planning, politics, and governance, and the various ways the governance of Quayside is actually executed, in the contested field between private and public stakeholders and the general public.

We are already keeping a close eye on discursive practices in media (newspapers, websites, public documents). Against the background of written discourse, Carr has also already met with a number of knowledgeable persons active in the field. These were planners, community activists, or local scholars who had researched in the area for many years. Exploratory and informal discussions with these enabled an initial understanding of the various dimensions surrounding the Quayside project. They were also helpful in naming further interview partners. The goal is to achieve a diversity of viewpoints.

DIG_URBGOV researchers are thus keen on interviewing further governing officials, architects, real estate agents, developers, and smart city technologists. 

Concluding remarks
So, it is clear that technological change has always gone hand in hand with transitions in urban and regional space; that is, technological change as such is not new. This research project is thus not a zero sum analysis of whether or not tech is bad or good. It is not about positioning urban scholarship as for or against technological innovation. That would be missing the point. 

Rather, the object of the research is to understand the new institutional networks and structures of governance that arise alongside the new modes of production concerning digital urban space. The research thus targets the intersection of four domains of research on this issue: the practices of technological development and innovation, urban political economy, sustainability, and urban spatial planning.

In carrying out this research, the aim is to uncover what it means when big tech enters the field of urban development. While technological innovation is not new, the character of big tech is. For example, the differential scales of economy, or the new modes of production could potentially revolutionize the ways how, why, and for whom, modern cities and regions are planned and organized. Such changes have implications on society and space, and can challenge pre-existing and habitual modes of governance and urban development. And, these can have wide-reaching ramifications and perhaps unforeseen consequences. With a qualitative lens on this issue, DIG_URBGOV aims to shed light on this.

Digital Urbanism and the Challenge of Urban Governance (DIG_URBGOV) is a research project led by Constance Carr and Markus Hesse and supported by Prof. Gene Desfor and Prof. Roger Keil, CITY Institute, York University, Toronto


References

Ash, J, Kitchin, R, Leszczynski, A (2016) Digital turn, digital geographies? Progress in Human Geography, 42(1) 25-43.
Ash, J, Kitchin, R, Leszczynski, A (2019) Digital geographies. London: Sage.
Bitkom e.V. and Fraunhofer IESE (2019) Smart City Atlas. Berlin: Bitkom e.V.
Carr, C, Hesse M (2019) Some notes on smart cities and the corporatization of urban governance. Available at: http://orbilu.uni.lu/handle/10993/38978
Hollands, RG (2008) Will the real smart city please stand up? Intelligent, progressive or entrepreneurial? City12(3) 303-319.
Kitchin, R (2015) Making sense of smart cities: addressing present shortcomings. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society8, 131-136.
Mitchell, W (1995) City of Bits. Cambridge: MIT-Press.
Smart Rebel City (2018) http://www.smartrebelcity.org/kapitel/kapitel-1
Zuboff, S (2019) The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. London: Profile Books.

02 May, 2019

Digital and city development and urban governance in Toronto


Looking over the property of the future Quayside project (photo by Carr 2019)




So I just completed an amazing research trip to look at digital and city development and urban governance in Toronto (a project description of DIG_URBGOV will be uploaded soon). Specifically, the objective was to get some impressions of Alphabet Inc.'s plans on the Toronto waterfront, and suss out the social political context in which it is embedded. There is actually so much to report that I am still unsure how best to sort and present it all. So, in this first entry I will simply review the various activities and call out a big thank you to everyone who spent time with me. 

First, I learned so much from Gene Desfor, Thorben Wieditz‏, John Lorinc, Nehal El-Hadi,  and Mariana Valverde. It was also great to hear Joe Cressy, Paula Fletcher, Canadian Civil Liberties Association representative Michael Bryant, Bianca Wylie, representatives from Waterfront Toronto, Saadia Muzaffar, Sam Burton, Nicole Swerhun, Julie Beddoes, and Melissa Goldstein speak on issues spanning digitization and urbanization in downtown Toronto. 

It was also a great pleasure to attend the CITY Annual General Meeting and then participate in the inaugural meeting of the newly formed Smart Cities Cluster @CITY_at_YorkU with Teresa Abbruzzese, Natascha Tusikov, Negin Minaei, and ‏Frederick Peters. This is a powerful group. I hope the public engages you as a valuable resource.

Two fluke highlights were: 1) attending the book event at the Four Season Hotel, where author of Zucked, Roger McNamee, explained facebook's business of data collection; and 2) an impromptu and quasi INURA meeting with Roger Keil, Stephan Kipfer, Ute Lehrer, Kate Shaw and Karen Wirsig.‏ 

And, also many thanks to the tour guides the Sidewalk Toronto headquarters at the 307 for showing me around. 

There are clearly so many dimensions to this issue. I want to know more.

Carr is a Visiting Scholar at the CITY Institute. See here for a full list .


06 March, 2019

Some notes on smart cities and the corporatization of urban governance

This was a paper Carr and Hesse presented at the International Symposium on the Emergence of the Smart City, Luxembourg, March 6, 2019.

Photo taken by Constance Carr, 2017

We want to address a discrepancy; that is, the discrepancy between processes and practices of technological development on one hand and the production processes of urban change and urban problems on the other. There’s a gap here, and we can illustrate it with the case of the so called "Google City"(1).

The scholarly literature on digital cities is quite clear that there are externalities, uncertainties and risks associated with the hype around, and the rash introduction of, 'smartness'. To us, an old saying comes to mind: Don't put the wagon before the horse.

Obviously, digitization and technology have revolutionized geography in many ways. This is nothing new. Roughly twenty years ago, after the rise of the Internet, some, such as MIT's Bill Mitchell (1995), speculated that it and other ITs would eradicate space into the ‘City of Bits’. However, even back then statements like these didn't go uncriticised by those who pointed at the inherent technological determinism in such statements, and/or exposed that there is a complex relationship between urban development, urban planning, and technological innovation. And further, that this relationship was neither new, nor trivial such that tech, itself, would automatically and necessarily be productive, beneficial, and central to cities.

What has changed is the proliferation of digital technologies and their applications. We agree with Ash et al. (2016) that geography has experienced a ‘digital turn’ where urban geography now produced by, through and of digitization. And, while digitalization of urbanity has provided benefits, it has also come sidelong a number of unsolved problems. 

First, behind the production of big data, algorithms, and digital design, there are certain epistemologies – ways of knowing. Data is not value-free. Rather, data is an end product of political and associated methods of framing that structure the production of data. So, now that we "live in a present characterized by a […] diverse array of spatially-enabled digital devices, platforms, applications and services," (Ash et al. 2016: 28), we can interrogate how these processes and algorithms are informed by socio-economic inequalities, because the risk is that new technologies will simply reproduce them.

Second, the circulation of data around the globe invokes questions about who owns and regulates them when stored and processed in remote geographic locations. This uncertainty, is also not new. But scholars are more and more concerned about the implications of data-driven markets, algorithmic capitalism, and algorithmic governance (Bilić 2018; Fuchs 2017; Larsson 2018; Zuboff 2019). There is the risk that end-users, citizens, or residents, will lose ownership, sovereignty and democratic control of data that is produced. Or worse, that they will form an underclass, whose behavioural data is simply a low-priced resource to be extracted in the interests of '#SurveillanceCapitalism' – referring here to the revolution in capital accumulation that Google, itself, invented (Zuboff, 2019).

Third, the smart-city agenda is heavily pushed by tech companies who see digitizing urban environments as a burgeoning market for their products. Kitchin (2015) sees a number of undesirable externalities on this point alone: a) the commodification of public services, as they are administered by and for private profit; b) technological lock-in effects that can render the city less resilient against bugs, viruses, crashes, and hacks, which can also be difficult to reverse; and (c) digitalization endorses certain processes of standardization that overlook the specificities of places, fixing municipal administrations to narrowly defined technocratic modes of digital governance. Question: Are tech companies are aware of these downsides, because they are certainly never featured in marketing campaigns. We also wonder if this is something society, in fact, needs or even wants. How will the outcomes be managed, and by who?

Fourth, urban policies and practices are not one-size-fits-all, ready-for-wear, templates that can simply be transferred from one place to another. It is not reasonable to expect that a practice developed in one context will be successful in another. This is the message from the urban policy mobilities literature (Baker and Temenos 2015; Carr 2014): Local context does matter.

One smart city that is receiving widespread attention at the moment is Alphabet Inc.’s (formerly known as Google) project in Toronto. In 2017, Sidewalk Labs – a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc. – won the international competition to develop Quayside, a derelict piece of land on Lake Ontario. This grabbed media attention far and wide. The tech community drooled (see Marshall, 2017): "Alphabet joins the grand tradition of master-planned cities, places built from near-nothing with big social goals in mind," WIRED magazine announced. But others wondered why an advertising company running annual revenues of 110 billion USD (Alphabet, 2017: 5) was getting into urban development.  It's weird. And in fact, our research has found that there is a clear discrepancy between the optimism delivered by Sidewalk and the uncertainties raised by a rather diverse set of actors from the general public.

While the exact plan is yet to be revealed; Sidewalk maintains that jointly with the government owned, Waterfront Toronto, it will develop Quayside into the best smart city ever (see Sidewalk Toronto, 2019). Through its widely advertised but hardly explained “single digital platform” (SDP), Sidewalk will deliver on the three 'E's of sustainability. Quayside will be environmental with climate positive passive buildings, which will be flexible and multi-purpose. Garbage will be automatically removed, smart cars will ferry people about, and sensors will monitor air pollution. Quayside will be social as development will be participatory, harnessing diverse inputs. To this end, Sidewalk Labs invested 50 million USD (think about that) in public outreach, orchestrating Public Roundtables, Public Talks, Neighbourhood Meetings, Workshops, Design Jams, Civic Labs, Kids Camps: This is termed interacting with the neighbourhood. Quayside will aid in urban economic development, by reducing the costs of government and ensuring that housing is affordable, reversing the trend of gentrification that is otherwise sweeping the city. That's the hype.

However, a number of critical voices have surfaced particularly in regards to that mysterious SDP. And some are hard to ignore because they reveal that this smart city is really problematic. To name a few who might be most important in this respect:

1) Jim Balsillie, founder of Blackberry, and Balsillie School of International Affairs at U Waterloo & Laurier U. He published a scathing piece in a Canadian national daily, where the title said it all, "Sidewalk Toronto has only one beneficiary, and it is not Toronto;"

2) Prof. Ann Cavoukian, Privacy by Design Centre of Excellence at Ryerson U and Former Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario. She was long touted as Sidewalk's on-board, Canadian-bred, privacy specialist, but she resigned after she discovered that privacy would not, could not, be guaranteed.

3) Prof. Mariana Valverde and Alexandra Flynn Sociolegal Studies at University of Toronto. They unpacked the exact legal, institutional and geo-spatial arrangement of Alphabet Inc., Google LLC, Sidewalk Labs and Sidewalk Toronto, revealing suspicious international financial circuits.

4) Saadia Muzaffar, Her resignation letter to the Digital Strategy Advisory Panel of Waterfront Toronto is a must read, but here is a quote: "There is nothing innovative about city-building that disenfranchises its residents … and robs valuable earnings out of public budgets, or commits scarce public funds to ... technology that city leadership has not even declared a need for."

5) Bonnie Lysyk, Ontario Auditor General. She has already fired a number of officials at Waterfront Toronto for apparent mismanagement.

These are just a handfull of the region's most talented experts in the field, who have raised serious reservations, about which Sidewalk remains silent. So, it's political now. But, it also reveals the central risk: that no one has any idea how to regulate or manage this development. Rest assured, too, the story is not over. The Auditor General's 'blow' might simply be indicative of partisan politics – between the Trudeau government that is said to have had a direct hand in the development and the Conservatives who control the provincial and city governments.

Quayside is being sold to the world as the next generation digital city. But what can it offer to scholarly debates and to local Luxembourgish policy? First, Quayside brings into focus that Alphabet Inc. is entering urban policy as another developer on the field: Alphabet Inc. is getting into territory, and that so far the neoliberal logics of market-driven land use, speculation and investment are unchanged. However, gaps in the discourse – the silence – related to urban and data governance suggest that there are some hidden dimensions, underlying logics, 'immense asymmetries of knowledge' (Zuboff on Talking Politics 2019)  and quite likely even new dimensions of geography produced for the digital, and not the other way around.

Second, as Kitchin (2015) argued, smart city agendas entail a certain international circulation of knowledge followed by the application of standardized instruments that don't match the specificity of place. Sidewalk, with its palate or ready-made solutions to problems that haven't been identified yet, is an example of this. This lesson of policy mobility is particularly relevant for Luxembourg, which is demonstrably a rather specific context. 

So, in order to avoid a discussion of products before clarifying what the actual demand or need or problem is, one must ask the following question: What are, in fact, the real urban problems here, in Luxembourg? In a nutshell, the most pressing issues are (Carr 2011, 2014, 2018; Hesse 2015; Krueger et al. 2018)
  • extreme pressure of economic and population growth, a related imbalance between jobs and housing and a lack of affordable housing; 
  • increasing dysfunctional mobility infrastructure;
  • underdeveloped governance competencies to steer these phenomena; and
  • the vast political majority in this country believes that things should continue to grow … The ramifications of this pathway are viewed second order problems, simply in need of a technical fix. 
The question is: How the smart city be beneficial in this situation, with this set of problems. What will smart city development add, beyond simply opening up a new field of business? 

Thus, we argue: Let’s be careful not to put the cart in front of the horse and start with an open discussion about cities first, and smartness second. After an awareness of the critical elements of Luxembourg local development is developed, one could then explore the nexus of cities and smartness, how they could be brought into productive conversation, what the cost and benefits would be, and so forth. …because smartness isn't a free lunch (!); It won't automatically be good, and it won’t automatically improve cities and urban life.

-- Constance Carr, Markus Hesse


Note:
(1) Harvard Professor Shoshana Zuboff (2019), on Talking Politics, makes the point that Google City is not the correct name: "...So now what we see is: Google replaces government; computation replaces politics; no one is asking the citizens what they want. This is the citizen's city. This is the people of Toronto's city. This is not the Google City." And she went on to say that "there are people in Toronto right now fighting this fight, saying these things, and their  public officials are not listening to them, because somehow they are living in a fantasy world where they equate Google with progress."

Acknowledgements: We want to thank the following for their great feedback and support here in the urban studies group of the Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning and at the CITY Institute of York University, in Toronto:  Catherine Wong, Tom Becker, Michael Rafferty, Gene Desfor, Roger Kiel, and Linda Peake. Also, thank you to the organisers at LIST and LISER for the opportunity to present this work at the International Symposium, The Emergence of the Smart City.

References
Alphabet Inc. (2017) Alphabet Announces Fourth Quarter and Fiscal Year 2017 Results https://abc.xyz/investor/pdf/2017Q4_alphabet_earnings_release.pdf (Accessed August 6, 2018)
Ash, J., Kitchin, R., Leszczynski (2016) Digital turn, digital geographies? Progress in Human Geography, 42(1) 25-43.
Balsillie, J. Sidewalk has only one beneficiary, and it is not Toronto. Globe and Mail https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-sidewalk-toronto-is-not-a-smart-city/
Baker, T., and Temenos, C. (2015) Urban Policy Mobilities Research: Introduction to a Debate. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. 39(4) 824-827.
Bilić, P. (2018) A Critique of the Political Economy of Algorithms: A Brief History of Google’s Technological Rationality. tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique 16(1) 315-331.
Carr, C. (2011) Luxembourg Sustainable Spatial Development Policy: General Milestones and Circuits. Sustainlux Working Papers. University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg.
Carr, C. (2014) Discourse Yes, Implementation Maybe: An Immobility and Paralysis of Sustainable Development Policy, European Planning Studies 22(9) 1824-1840.
Carr, C. (2018) Sustainability in small states: Luxembourg as a post-suburban space under growth pressure in need of a cross-national sustainability. in Brinkmann, R. and Garren S. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Sustainability. New York: Palgrave.
Carr, C., Becker, T., Evrard, E., Nienaber, B., Roos, U., McDonough, E., Hesse, M., and Krueger, K. (2015)…Raising sustainability/Mobilising sustainability: Why European sustainable urban development initiatives are slow to materialise/Territorial cohesion as a vehicle of sustainability/Sustainable urban development and the challenge of global air transport nodes and spatial integration/Distorted density: Where developers and non-governmental organizations on sustainable urban development agree/Overcoming politics with markets? The co-production of sustainable development in urban and regional planning
Planning Theory & Practice 16 (1), 99-125
Fuchs, C. (2017). Social Media: A Critical Introduction, 2nd Edition. Los Angeles: Sage
Hesse, M. (2105) Luxembourg. disP – The Planning Review 51(1) 54-55.
Hesse, M., Carr, C. (2013). Integration vs. fragmentaion: Spatial governance for land and mobility. In M. Hesse, G. Caruso, P. Gerber, & F. Viti (Eds.), Proceedings of the BIVEC-GIBET transport research days 2013 (pp. 379–381). Zelzate: University Press
Kitchin, R. (2015) Making sense of smart cities: addressing present shortcomings. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 8, 131-136.
Krueger, R., Gibbs, D., Carr, C. (2018) Examining regional competitiveness and the pressures of rapid growth: An interpretive institutionalist account of policy responses in three city regions. Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space. https://doi.org/10.1177/2399654418767661
Larsson, S. (2018) Algorithmic governance and the need for consumer empowerment in data-driven markets. Internet Policy Review: Journal of internet regulation. 7(2), 1-13.
Marshall A. 2018. Alphabet is trying to reinvent the city, starting with Toronto. https://www.wired.com/story/google-sidewalk-labs-toronto-quayside/WIRED.
Mitchell, W. (1995), City of Bits. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Sidewalk Toronto (2019) Welcome to Sidewalk Toronto. https://sidewalktoronto.ca (Accessed March 6 2019).
Talking Politics  2019. The Nightmare of Surveillance Capitalism. https://www.talkingpoliticspodcast.com/blog/2019/144-the-nightmare-of-surveillance-capitalism
Valverde, M., Flynn A. (2018) Mystery on the waterfront: How the 'Smart City' allure led a major public agency in Toronto into a reckless deal with big tech. https://cfe.ryerson.ca/blog/2018/12/mystery-waterfront-how-smart-city-allure-led-major-public-agency-toronto-reckless-deal
Zuboff, S. (2019) The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. Public Affairs, New York.





25 February, 2019

Guest Lectures Series in Geography and Spatial Planning

Save the date for the two final talks on the series on Suburban Transitions:

This Wednesday, we welcome Prof. Axel Priebs from Vienna on the 27th of February at 1PM. His talk is entitled: “Suburban Transition in a City Regional Framework: Practical Insights from Greater Hanover, Germany" in the Black Box, MSH

On March 14th at 1pm, we welcome Dr Guy Engelen (from VITO, Belgium): “Can Urban Sprawl be Halted in Flanders, Belgium? Geo-Research in Support of Spatial Planning Policy” also in the Black Box, MSH.

***
Then in April, the Institute's next series about the Geographies of (in)justice begins, organised in partnership with the JSSJ Justice Spatiale / Spatial Justice Journal.

“Regeneration not speculation” says a billboard in Belfast that we chose for our poster. "Unfair taxation = social anger" says some graffiti in the streets of Paris after a day of “yellow vests” demonstrations. The calls for more justice are flourishing in public space. Yet their diversity and complexity require social scientists to rethink their own conceptualisations of socio-spatial production. This spring, the guest lecture series focuses on the spatial dimension of injustices. It seeks to contribute to the ongoing debate by questioning how injustices are expressed, put into words, constructed as social and political problems, and how researchers develop conceptual and empirical tools to grasp them. The dates are as follows:

Sylvie Tissot, University of Vincennes-Saint Denis Paris 8 (France)
Thursday, April 11th, 12.30-14.00 | MSH Blackbox 
Does spatial proximity erase social inequalities? “Social mix” and gay-friendliness in gentrified areas (France and the USA)

Madina Tlostanova, Linköping University (Sweden)
Wednesday, May 15th, 12.30-14.00 | MSH Blackbox
(De)coloniality of knowledge: questioning vantage points, delinking from rules, troubling institutions

Aurélien Delpirou, Ecole d'urbanisme de Paris / Lab'Urba (France)
Tuesday, May 21th, 12.30-14.00 | MSH Blackbox
The “yellow vest” movement in the light of the socio-spatial inequalities in France

Brendan Murtagh, Queen University Belfast (Ireland)
Wednesday, June 12th, 12.30-14.00 | MSH Blackbox
Solidarity economics and local development: the case of ‘post-conflict’ Belfast

Judit Timár, Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Hungary)
Tuesday, June 18th, 12.30-14.00 | MSA 2.230
The Challenges of Researching and Teaching Spatial (In)justice: A Central and Eastern European Perspective

10 February, 2019

Carr invited to York University's CITY Institute as a Visiting Scholar, 2019




Carr, an Alum of York University's Faculty of Environmental Studies, is super excited to be  joining the scholarly community at the CITY Institute, York U, as a Visiting Scholar (2019) -- an application that was generously supported by CITY members, Professors Gene Desfor, Roger Keil and Linda Peake.

Inspired by constructivist and critical scholarly takes on the digital turn in urban geography, corporatization of urban governance, policy mobility, market-led land-use and sustainability, Carr's goal during her time in Toronto is to research Sidewalk Lab's involvement in urban development along the lakeshore. This topic is generating widespread international attention, and seems to hold a mine field of lessons about smart city development. Exploring this is part of a project that she is pursuing together with Markus Hesse examining the social production and governance of digital cities. 

It will be a great opportunity to link urban studies research at CITY to that of the Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning at Uni Luxembourg. In this spirit, Carr also looks forward to joining seminars hosted by CITY, and leading seminars on issues, such as small state governance, cross-border suburban development, critical takes on European sustainable urban development, and/or other topics related to her current or previous work.

Further readings at Urbanisation Unbound

09 February, 2019

Carr/Hesse presenting at the Smart Cities International Symposium

We (Carr/Hesse) look forward to presenting our paper, entitled Some notes on smart cities and the corporatization of urban governance at the 

10th International Symposium "The emergence of the Smart City: stakes, challenges, practices and impacts for public governance" organised by the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) together with the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER).

March 5 & 6, 2019
Venue: University of Luxembourg, MSA

A provisional program is available here
Registration and Pricing is available here
Contact information here

Accepted Abstract

Part I Difficulties of Smart Cities
This paper aims to bring forward some interweaving strands of international scholarly literature in urban geography that raise urgent questions concerning the smart city agenda. These are: 1) the digital turn in urban geography (Ash et al. 2016) and the corporatisation of urban governance and algorithmic capitalism (Bilić 2018; Fuchs 2017); and, 2) policy mobility, examining the difficulties of implementing standardized policy solutions as answers to specific urban problems (Baker/Temenos 2015; Carr 2014).
  Clearly, digitization and technological developments have revolutionized geography in many ways. And, broadly speaking this is nothing new. Roughly twenty years ago, triggered by the rise of the Internet, speculations forcasted that information and communication technologies would lead to the dissolution of material spaces, leaving little behind but the ‘City of Bits’, as research from the prestigious MIT suggested (Mitchell 1995). However, back then, voices were already pointing at the technological determinism of these early predictions (Graham/Marvin 2002), emphasising the complex relationship between urban development, and recalling that urban planning and technological innovation was neither totally new, nor would this relationship be so trivial that tech itself would necessarily be productive and beneficial to cities.
  What has changed in recent times is the proliferation of digital technologies and the diversity of applications. Following Ash et al. (2016), we contend that geography has experienced a ‘digital turn’ with urban geography being produced by, through and of digitization. And, while digitalization has provided benefits, these have also come sidelong a series of unsolved critical evaluations, which remain pertinent to current agendas on smart cities.
  First, there are certain epistemologies behind the production of big data, algorithms, digital technology design (Ash et al., 2016): Data is not value-free (Kitchin 2015). Rather, data are indicative of end processes of political ideologies – e.g. neoliberal urban agendas – and associated methods and processes of framing that structure the production of data. If, "we now live in a present characterized by an abundant and diverse array of spatially-enabled digital devices, platforms, applications and services that have become ordinary and expected presences in our everyday lives," (Ash et al. 2016: 28), how are these processes and algorithms informed by socio-economic inequalities and how do these technologies reproduce them? Or, how far does the corporatization of city services resemble ideologies of technological solutionism(Ash et al., 2016)?
  Second, the circulation of data around the globe sparks debates as to who owns and regulates the data that gets stored and processed in remote geographic locations. This, too, is not new, but scholars are increasingly wondering about the implications of data-driven markets and algorithmic governance (Bilić, 2018). There remains, “the need to examine the ownership and control of data; the integration of data within urban operating systems, control rooms, and data markets; data security and integrity; data protection and privacy, data quality and provenance and dataveillance,” (Ash et al., 2016).
  Third, the smart-cities agenda is being heavily pushed by companies who view digitizing urban environments as a burgeoning market for their products (Kitchin 2015). This could have a number of undesirable externalities: a) the commodification of public services, as city services are administered for private profit; b) technological lock-in effects that may render the city less resilient against bugs, viruses, crashes, and hacks; and, (c) processes of standardization that overlook specificities of places, and fixes municipal administrations to narrowly defined technocratic modes. Are we aware of these downsides? Can we manage their outcomes?
  Another set of relevant literatures is that on policy mobility, that focuses not specifically on the digitization of cities, but the circulation of policies. Developed as a critique of new urbanism, or business improvement districts, the central point is that urban policies are not one-size-fits-all templates that can simply be transferred from one place to another: local context and specific historical trajectories matter. This is an important message perhaps to technologists who develop their products in and for one context and then attempt to export or sell them elsewhere. It is also relevant to Luxembourg, where the specificities are rather evident.

Part II Alphabet City
In 2017, Waterfront Toronto, a public entity in charge of managing land-use along Toronto's lakeside, announced that Sidewalk Labs – a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc.(formerly known as Google) – won the international competition to develop Quayside, a derelict piece of land wedged between Lake Ontario and an expressway. This generated a worldwide media storm, announcing that Google was getting into urban development, and rightly so. After all, why would a company that runs an annual revenue of roughly USD110 billion (Alphabet, 2017) based on “algorithm capitalism” (Fuchs 2017) get into urban development?
  The exact plan remains unveiled; however, Sidewalk maintains that it will develop Quayside into the best smart city ever, learning from past urban planning projects, and building improvements into the design. Quayside will be environmental with climate positive passive buildings, which will be flexible and multi-purpose. Garbage will be automatically removed, smart cars will ferry people about, and sensors will monitor air pollution. Quayside will also be social: Development will be participatory and to this end, Sidewalk has already engaged a series of Public Roundtables, Neighbourhood Meetings, Workshops, Design Jams, Kids Camps and more. Inhabitants will also profit from a system that integrates health services. Quayside claims also to aid in the economic development of Toronto, by reducing the costs of government and ensuring affordable housing (reversing the trend of gentrification otherwise sweeping the city).
  These pillars of sustainability will be delivered by Sidewalk’s “single digital platform” that is widely advertised but hardly explained. Certain is only that this will be a powerful data collection machine, and that the undefined governance of this data is raising red flags, displayed by several significant resignations from Waterfront Toronto and local activism (Bliss 2018; Lorinc 2018). In the light of the scholarly literature above, there is good reason for caution concerning Alphabet's promises and phantasies. Hence, our critical stance on this case.

Part III Lessons for Luxembourg?
What can Sidewalk Labs at Toronto Quayside teach scholars and local Luxembourgish policy-makers?
  First, Quayside brings into focus that Alphabet Inc.is entering urban policy as another developer on the field: It is getting territorial. (See also Amazon.com’ssearch for HQ2). In this respect, logics of market-driven land use remain unchanged. However, gaps in discourse at Quayside concerning data governance suggest hidden dimensions to this process, and perhaps even a new dimension in the digital turn: geographies forthe digital, and not the other way around. Second, as Kitchin (2015) said, smart city agendas entail the international circulation of knowledge followed by the application of standardized instruments that mismatch the specificity of place. The lessons of policy mobility are relevant, especially for the rather specific context of Luxembourg.
  So, we suggest that we identify the real urban problems in this country, and consider whose problems the smart-city agenda is responding to: We seek to avoid discussing a product beforeclarifying whether there is proper need. In a nutshell, based on a decade of our empirical research, the urban problems of this country are: extreme economic and population growth pressure, associated imbalances of jobs and housing (especially a lack of affordable housing), increasing transport congestion, and limited governance capacities to steer these phenomena. Most importantly, the political majority in Luxembourg believes that growth should continue. Contradictions and externalities of growth are viewed as problems of second order, and simply in need of technical fixes. Growth is almost sacrosanct and must not be criticised, even in future discourses (e.g. Rifkin). Given the absence of openurban debates in Luxembourg, the question is what benefits of smart cities bring beyond opening up new fields of tech engagement and business? We maintain that it would be beneficial to begin with an open discussion about cities first and smartness second. After developing a critical awareness of Luxembourg local development, one could then explore the nexus of cities and smartness, how the two could be brought to productive conversation, what the cost and benefits of implementation and experimentation would be. Smartness, itself, cannot guarantee better urban life.

References
Alphabet Inc. (2017) Alphabet Announces Fourth Quarter and Fiscal Year 2017 Results. 
Ash, J./Kitchin, R./Leszczynski (2016) Digital turn, digital geographies? Progress in Human Geography, 25-43.
Baker, T./Temenos, C. (2015) Urban Policy Mobilities Research: Introduction to a Debate. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 824-827.
Bilić, P. (2018) A Critique of the Political Economy of Algorithms: A Brief History of Google’s Technological Rationality. tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique, 315-331.
Bliss, L. (2018) How Smart Should a City Be? Toronto is Finding Out. CityLab. 
Carr, C. (2014). Discourse Yes, Implementation Maybe: An Immobility and Paralysis of Sustainable Development Policy. European Planning Studies, 22(9), 1824-1840 
Fuchs, C. (2017). Social Media: A Critical Introduction, 2nd Edition. Sage
Graham, M./Shelton, T. (2013) Geography and the future of big data, big data and the future of geography. Dialogues in Human Geography, 255-261.
Graham, S./Marvin, S. (2002) Cities and Telecommunications. Routledge.
Kitchin, R. (2015) Making sense of smart cities: addressing present shortcomings. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 131-136.
Lorinc, J. (2018) The post-Will era begins. SpacingToronto. 
Mitchell, W. (1995) City of Bits. MIT Press.

31 January, 2019

An Afterword on Free Transit in Luxembourg

under the Red Bridge, Luxembourg City (photo by Carr)
Earlier this month, we published an article in ‘The Conversation’ on Luxembourg’s decision to introduce free public transit for everybody in the spring of 2020. Shortly afterwards, the government (the Minister of Transport himself) confirmed that the measure will be effective as of March 1st, 2020 — even though there are a couple of open questions that still need clarification beforehand  and will cost about 41 million Euros annually. All the while, our article continued to generate further media coverage both locally in the Luxembourger Wort and internationally at the BBC (revealing, too, that the attention economy can shower benefits not only politicians but academics as well).

In our contribution, we aimed to make two critical points: On one hand, we wanted to provide a general comment on the weakness of the free public transit measure, since we believe that it is far too over-simplified a concept given the wicked nature of the problem. Price is only one of many factors that explain, trigger, and determine modal choice. In his instructive overview, Annema (2013, 112) concluded that ‘empirical research worldwide shows … that the responsiveness to price changes is fairly modest in most cases’. Keeping a complex issue short: this means that pricing alone is not likely to spark major changes in travel behavior, and thus remains largely neutral to the overall transport system. Is it then worth such an expensive attempt?

On the other hand, we mentioned three further arguments considering how free transit could be even detrimental to the health of the transport system, apart from the weaknesses mentioned before. First and foremost, there are dozens of million Euros to be spent (btw, for something that nobody asked for …) that will most likely have no visible impact systemwide. This means there is real money lost that cannot be used for more urgent measures, such as good bike networks, or a better protection of pedestrians. Second, a rush of passengers to a crappy system would disappoint many people and make them lost for alternatives to the motor car, which are actually much needed. Third, most seriously, free buses have potentials to cannibalize walking and biking (instead of reducing car travel, i.e. if the latter is not constrained…). As a consequence, such measure is neither good for the transport system, nor would it have a positive impact on the environment. It could even mean the opposite.

One may also spend a few thoughts on the “social” dimension of the measure – the soundtrack with which the whole decision is now being sold to the public, as other arguments are proving less convincing. However, a social benefit could only be expected in the event that public transport fares are deepening social inequality. Unfortunately, statistical data is lacking on this issue, as transit is not included in the official consumer-price index, unlike cars or petrol. However, the factor that is most effective in creating inequalities (and also most rapidly increasing in this respect) is obviously the housing sector. So, if the government would like to undertake effective measures in combating inequality, it is rather clear what sector would come into play here. Hence, one may ask: What’s the problem? What political action is needed?

Governance lesson to be learned
Many of the points above were also the reasons behind the wide spread critical views on free transit about two years ago when it was discussed in the Grand Duchy – a discussion that included decision-makers who are now proposing the measure. Why and how have things changed since then? The answer to this question is most likely related to the policy process, and it looks as if the various ways this measure has been treated politically sheds some light on peculiar governance patterns and practices – politics “made in Luxembourg”. In this case, one could surmise the following: 1) politics prefer proposing solutions over examining ‘real’ problems; 2) it is more important to create an imaginary to sell good news, than it is to be stuck in ‘wicked’ problems; and, 3) issues are easily driven by the most powerful governance authorities from above, which in small states usually implies the central government.

Concerning the first point: There is a certain tradition in this country, in terms of planning and building policy, of discussing a solution before the nature of the problem has been identified. To name these spatial planning problems that are specific to Luxembourg: It is a small but fast-growing archipelago, which brings a striking mismatch between size and function to the fore, quite visible by the unbalanced relationship between the number of residents and that of workplaces. However, taking a closer look at such real problems would necessitate proposing measures that are either overly complex or that would go against vested interests (or both). This makes the search for complex, interdependent strategies actually inconvenient for policy makers – who seek to be judged as power people who are good at implementation. In this context, professional politics seem to be more inclined to stick to PR and the symbolic. Concerning the second point: It is fantastic to see how the imaginary is circulating and changing the message! This seems to be a paradigmatic case of policy mobility, or trans-local policy.

Would you like some evidence? Look at what the Minister confirmed in his press conference (according to a snippet from the local Luxemburger Wort, 22nd January): “We don’t expect an increase in the number of passengers to occur. The free ride is primarily a social measure, a cherry on the cake which yet needs to be baked.” On the same day, the international press (in this case the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, see the second snippet) confirmed another narrative: The government aims to ease congestion on commuter trunk roads and reduce transport related air pollution. These are not only two entirely different messages (in circulation), they implicate different strategies and scales of impact. The mere rise of the number of transit users is an immediate, primary, goal. Achieving such a comprehensive, system-wide result is a secondary goal and would require associated changes in other transport modes (such as mitigating the motor car and the like). So far, this is unlikely to occur. However, it can be said that the imaginary worked well, in order to spread good news about the famous country.



Luxembourger Wort, January 22, 2019

Regarding the third point: in a press-conference, the Minister unintentionally confirmed that the nature of decision-making and governance practice in this country is primarily state-centred. When questions from the press turned to local bus services, the response was that the municipalities would, of course, remain autonomous and retain the power to choose to either continue with charging for transit use or to follow the central government’s proposal. It came out that the capital city, whose bus service is probably carrying a large portion of daily transit customers in the country, was not consulted by the government before it announced the policy scheme. To long-time observers of governance practices in the Grand Duchy, this looked like pretty common business-as-usual policy-making.


Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, January 22, 2019

The flawed and unconsidered way of decision-making does not do well in presenting the measure as well-considered. In this sense, the measure was actually rather populist (in a more critical meaning of the term), because it potentially discredits institutions and their ability to deal with genuinely complex problems. It is post-political– not in the sense that civil society would take over responsibility from institutions in charge, but given the lack of a clear, balanced but effective framework of analysis, intervention, and evaluation. However, it is not politically neutral: It is riding on the surface of media and public perception, and thus has some geo-political underpinnings (see Kȩbłowski et al. 2019).

Besides ticketing details and this and that, the actual lesson to be learned from the whole story, for Luxembourg as well, is that the free ride takes the country to the screen of the international press, but does not bring us closer to a robust, appropriate strategy and practice for getting around.

References
Annema, Jan Anne (2013): Transport resistance factors: time, money and effort. In: Van Wee, B., Annema, J.A. & Banister, D. (eds.), The Transport System and Transport Policy, p. 101-124. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.


Kȩbłowski, W., Tuvikene, T., Pikner, T. & Jauhiainen, J. S. (2019). Towards an urban political geography of transport: Unpacking the political and scalar dynamics of fare-free public transport in Tallinn, Estonia. Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, 2399654418821107.

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Hesse/Carr (2018) The post-politics of offering free transit
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