24 August, 2019

Job Advertisement: Two PhD positions at the ETH - A message from David Kaufmann

Dear colleagues,
I am searching two PhD students for the newly established research group in “Spatial Development and Urban Policy” at ETH Zürich, Institute for Spatial and Landscape Development. The research group and both PhD students will work at the intersection of public policy, urban politics, and spatial planning.

PhD in Spatial Planning Policy Analysis
PhD in Participatory Urban Governance

Applications are considered until September 1, 2019. Please share these job ads in your networks and with suitable candidates. Contact me if you need more information.

Thank you and best regards,
David Kaufmann

Incoming Assistant Professor in Spatial Development and Urban Policy, ETH Zürich
Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Bern

18 August, 2019

The IGU Urban commission meeting in Luxembourg was a huge success!

The IGU Urban commission meeting in Luxembourg was a huge success! Thank you to all the participants for a great conference. All extended abstracts of the presented communications are available here.

09 August, 2019

It matters how smart cites are governed

A longer German version of this blog post, "Smart Cities: Selbstzweck oder sum Wohl der Städte?" was published in the Tageblatt, August 2019. It is available here.

By Constance Carr*

In recent years, the idea of a smart city has captured imaginations with many believing that the future city is upon us with politicians, business leaders and the wider public all excited about what the future city will look like and who will have the best. This has also ignited a certain race for innovation, with the speed of development reaching such a velocity that the tech industry's appetite for more and more R&D, associated qualified labour flows, and necessary infrastructure seems insatiable. This narrative has also fuelled digitalization as a key urban development policy around the world. Luxembourg is no exception here, and aiming for a leading position in digital development.

Part of Sidewalk Lab's exhibition at the 307, March 2019 **
Yet, there is more at stake than simply catering to the needs of the tech industry, because a truly smart digital revolution would also demand investment into areas that have nothing to do with digitalization skills, programming, or coding per se. For some, one key is to understand if the latest innovations can be suitably translated or properly applied to the fleshy, analogue world. For others, it is necessary to understand the psychological interface between humans and technology. These are necessary avenues of research, but what is equally vital to understand is how people are treated, how decision-making is organized, how information is shared, and how wealth is distributed. This sociopolitical awareness is not part of the standard computer science degree program but is nevertheless a fundamental component of the smart city future. In short: Society matters.

This is not new, as the shadow sides of the tech industry's impact on cities is already well documented. Silicon Valley is known as the city of angry people, as exploding housing prices continue to exacerbate homelessness or sustain long, arduous, commuter flows, and no one does anything about it. Seattle is confronted with Amazon's headquarters that ignited a rash change in population demographics and associated challenges. And, there is more and more evidence from China that their digital revolution represents a consolidation of state power and new structures of social stratification. See Karvonen et al.'s Inside Smart Cities – Place, Politics and Urban Innovation for an overview of the latest research on these issues.

A good example of what happens when urban digitalization is taken on by big tech in particular, is the Quayside development in Toronto. In 2017, Waterfront Toronto, a governmental agency in charge of land use along the city's lakeside held a competition to develop 12 hectares of land. The winner was Sidewalk Labs, daughter of Alphabet Inc. and sister to Google LLC, who declared that they would build the world's ultimate smart city. 

Wooden, flexible, multi-purpose, climate positive passive buildings, automatic garbage removal, self-driving cars, sensors left and right to monitor air pollution, commuter flows and municipal service needs, the tech fantasy was all there preserved in appealing water colour paintings. Quayside is marketed as the economically, environmentally beneficial and equitable to boot.

Yet, the hype and fancy drawings didn't dazzle everyone. In an earlier blog post, we listed some of these critical voices who are raising serious concern. In addition to those, since then The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has again filed a lawsuit against Waterfront Toronto and all three levels of government on the grounds that the agreements with Sidewalk Lab on issues of data governance are neither in the public's interest nor constitutional. Roger McNamee, Silicon Valley venture capitalist, wrote an open letter to Toronto City Hall:

And, together with Prof. Shoshana Zuboff, author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, together with McNamee and Balsillie (founder of Blackberry), McNamee also testified before the Canadian Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics and the International Grand Committee on Big Data Privacy and Democracy advising them against their business model. Watch some of it here.

And, a wide social movement has formed, #BlockSidewalk, involving urban planners, techies, business leaders, land developers, and politicians and residents with full intention to stop the project all together.

Sidewalk's primary response to the criticism has been to dominate public discourse. First, it was silent, ignoring the outcry. Then, it published a 1500-page 'draft' plan, that will take months or years for the public to figure out.

Clearly digitalization of urban space can be a Trojan Horse. However, it can also bring about positive change. While still confronting its own challenges, Barcelona is a leading example here. Barcelona's smart city strategy began agenda of economic development and growth. And, it was designed to favour a handful of chosen corporations. A change in government with a different set of values, however, redirected this strategy to one of citizen control, digital empowerment and technological sovereignty. Local problems were examined, debated, and digital solutions were tried out that would improve the urban life and not just business development.

The story of Barcelona is important for several reasons. First, it confirms that the applications of the smart city are case specific. Second, it reveals that there are positive outcomes of digitalization, when appropriate governance frameworks are put in place. Three, governing structures and values matter and make a difference. Issues of fairness, equity, sharing, and participation can be built into the smart city design.

Here in Luxembourg, the Ministry of Economics is pursuing the vision of intelligent digital specialization, and the capital city has been presenting itself as the Smart City stage for some time now. What kind of smart city will be produced here? Who will it benefit? Will it improve life for everyone or just a few? What resources will be drained and who will profit?

There are win-win scenarios to be had. Digitalization can be applied effectively. The clues are the relationships between socio-institutional and technical domains. The savy, and smart, digital city would take this into account.

* Constance is currently a Visiting Scholar at the CITY Institute, York University, in Toronto , where she is researching the Quayside development on Toronto's Waterfront. Find a research summary here.)

** For a urban scholar's perspective on the Human Scale, see previous blog post

Further Readings at Urbanization Unbound
Carr, C., Hesse, M. 2019. Digital Urbanism and the Challenge of Urban Governance (DIG_URBGOV) – Short Research Summary
Carr, C. Hesse, M.  New Publication on Smart Cities in Forum für Politik Gesellschaft und Kultur
Carr, C. 2019 Digital and city development and urban governance in Toronto
Carr, C., Hesse, M, 2019. Some notes on smart cities and the corporatization of urban governance
Carr invited to York University's CITY Institute as a Visiting Scholar, 2019
Carr 2018. Wagering the Waterfront? Angling the abc & xyz of Quayside Toronto

12 July, 2019

The IGU Urban Geography Commission annual meeting, 4-9 August 2019

The IGU Urban Geography Commission annual meeting, 4th -9th August 2019 is coming up. It will be held this year in Luxembourg. Information about the IGU can be found here:

Below shows the schedule at a glance. The full program, including schedule of keynotes and speakers, descriptions of field trips and information about visiting Luxembourg, can be downloaded

New publication on Smart Cities

A new publication came out today: Carr, C., and Hesse, M. "Smart Cities, ‚big politics‘ und die Privatisierung der urbanen Governance" in Forum - für Politik, Gesellschaft und Kultur.

The full article can be requested the University of Luxembourg's publication archive: http://orbilu.uni.lu/handle/10993/39894

The 30th Annual Conference of the International Network of Urban Research and Action will take place in Luxembourg, 2020

Hold on to your hats! At the 2019 INURA Retreat in Croatia, it was voted and decided that INURA will celebrate the 30th Annual Conference in Luxembourg, 2020. The event will unfold as a partnership between the Christian Schmid from the ETH and the urban group at the Institute for Geography and Spatial Planning. We will let you know the dates and program in due course.

Find information about INURA at www.inura.org.

For now, thank you Arie van Wijngaarden for the first personal investment into this upcoming event!

Further Readings on INURA at Urbanization Unbound
Hesse, M, Doerr, T., Carr 2018. Keep off the grass - even if the grass is not grass
Carr, C. An event in Zurich on housing co-ops and cooperative living
Carr, C. Notes on INURA Lisbon 2013

27 May, 2019

2019 Benelux Interuniversity Association of Transport Researchers (BIVEC-GIBET)

Last week, Markus Hesse and Tom Becker presented at the biannual Transport Research Days held at Department of Geography at Ghent University and organised by the Benelux Interuniversity Association of Transport Researchers (BIVEC-GIBET). 

The BIVEC-GIBET aims to generate discussion on various angles of transport infrastructure, such as transport economics and governance. The Transport Research Days, presents an opportunity for both "young and established scholars from the three Benelux-Countries ... to present their research findings to an informed audience of transport researchers."

In a session entitled, "Accessibility" chaired by Thomas Vanoutrive (University of Antwerp) Becker presented, "Best practice without evidence? Policy-based evidence-making in European sustainable urban mobility transfers". 

In a session entitled, "Pricing" and chaired by Bert van Wee (Delft University),  Hesse presented a paper that he co-wrotei with Carr, entitled "Free Transit in Luxembourg: A case of post-political urban governance through policy mobility," and focussing on the issue of governance, policy mobility and transport pricing. It generated lively discussion and we look forward to telling you more about it when it is formally published.

26 May, 2019

Over 180 researchers at the University of Luxembourg support the Youth for Climate

Luxemburger Wort, May 22, 2019.
Susanne Siebentritt had the idea first. Luxembourg students were preparing to march for climate change, and she thought it was time that scientists say something in support. Hard to argue against the necessity of such a message, a cross-faculty group of authors quickly solidified to knock their heads together and write up a statement for the press. These included Rachel Reckinger (Identités. Politiques, Sociétés, Espaces), Ariane König (Education, Culture, Cognition & Society), Susanne Siebentritt (Physics and Materials Science Research Unit) Norman Teferle (Research Unit in Engineering Sciences (RUES), and Constance Carr and Christian Schulz (from the Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning).

Moreover, 180+ researchers from the University signed the statement, and various translation s were made thanks to additional help from Pol Breser, Nathalie Entringer, Peter Gilles, Laurence Colin.

These translations and the list of 180 signatories are available at sustainabilityscience.uni.lu

On May 22, 2019, the Luxemburger Wort agreed to publish it as a Letter to the Editor. An English version is available here; the Luxembourgish version is available here, and a French version is available here.

On the same day of publication, 100,7 requested an interview. Carr and König were able to respond. Here is the link to the Luxembourgish transcriptOr, just click here to go directly to the sound file (German).

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.

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


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

(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.

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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