[Study] Rethinking The Smart City – Democratizing Urban Technology

January 16, 2018

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Rethinking The Smart City – Democratizing Urban Technology
By Evgeny Morozov and Francesca Bria
Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, New York Office
January 2018

Download pdf: English version – German version

Following the celebration of the “creative city” (as described by Richard Florida), the “smart city” has become the new flavor of the month—and a brand. It makes clever use of resources, and it attracts money, corporate power, and private industries. Offering us cheap, effective solutions to social and political problems, the smart city is functional, optimized, and safe rather than participatory, sustainable, and fair.

As Evgeny Morozov and Francesca Bria point out, however, the problem is not merely the regulatory impulse of smart technologies. Coming from a political-economic rather than a purely technical perspective, the authors argue that the smart city can only be understood within the context of neoliberalism. In order to remain competitive in the era of austerity politics, cities hand over the management of public infrastructure and services to private companies, both de-centralizing and de-personalizing the political sphere.

How can cities regain control not only over technology, data, and infrastructure, but also over the services that are mediated by smart technologies—such as utilities, transportation, education, and health? Offering a wealth of examples and case studies from across the globe, the authors discuss alternative smart city models, which rely on democratic data ownership regimes, grassroots innovation, and cooperative service provision models.

Laying out what works and what doesn’t in the smart city of today, the authors do not simply advocate for a high-tech version of socialism in the fifth publication of the “City Series” of the Rosa Luxemburg Stifting. By carefully assessing what is at stake and for whom, this timely study offers practical solutions for how cities can be smart while retaining their technological sovereignty.

Evgeny Morozov is a prominent critic of digital capitalism, dealing with questions of how major technology companies are transforming society and democracy. The author of several books, he also writes for various newspapers, including The New York Times, The Economist, The Guardian, and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

With a background in social science and innovation economics, Francesca Bria is an expert in digital strategy, technology, and information policy, who is active in various innovation movements advocating for open access, open technologies, and digital rights. She is currently Chief Technology and Digital Innovation Officer at the Barcelona City Council.