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The (de)feasibility of smart cities

Talk given at the Data Cities event held in Berlin (sept. 25-27 2020) and organized by the Disruption Network Lab.

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The (de)feasibility of smart cities

  1. 1. The (de)feasibility of smart cities Alexandre Monnin Origens Medialab / ESC Clermont MSc « Strategy & Design for the Anthropocene »
  2. 2. The example of researchers I ONCE ASKED MY FORMER COLLEAGUES AT INRIA WHY THEY WERE WORKING ON SMART CITIES. NO ONE COULD ANSWER THAT QUESTION. NO ONE KNEW WHOSE DEMAND SUCH A RESEARCH PROGRAM WAS ANSWERING (IBM! CISCO!).
  3. 3. Solving current issues through technology (and data management) Sevareid’s law (1970): « The chief source of problems is solutions. » • i.e., aiming to solve a problem (making urban areas more « resilient », the environmental crisis, etc.) by aggravating it.
  4. 4. Have you solved…? the Jevon’s paradox and the rebound effect (the problem with optimization) the issue of decoupling growth and envrironmental « impact » ? the problem with the so-called dematerialization? the issue with the continuous growth of the environmental impact of digital technologies?
  5. 5. References • Magee, Christopher L., et Tessaleno C. Devezas. « A Simple Extension of Dematerialization Theory: Incorporation of Technical Progress and the Rebound Effect ». Technological Forecasting and Social Change 117 (avril 2017): 196-205. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2016.12.001. • EEB - The European Environmental Bureau. « Decoupling Debunked – Evidence and Arguments against Green Growth as a Sole Strategy for Sustainability ». Consulté le 6 août 2019. https://eeb.org/library/decoupling-debunked/. • Wiedenhofer, Dominik, Doris Virág, Gerald Kalt, Barbara Plank, Jan Streeck, Melanie Pichler, Andreas Mayer, et al. « A Systematic Review of the Evidence on Decoupling of GDP, Resource Use and GHG Emissions, Part I: Bibliometric and Conceptual Mapping ». Environmental Research Letters 15, no 6 (juin 2020): 063002. https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab8429. • Haberl, Helmut, Dominik Wiedenhofer, Doris Virág, Gerald Kalt, Barbara Plank, Paul Brockway, Tomer Fishman, et al. « A Systematic Review of the Evidence on Decoupling of GDP, Resource Use and GHG Emissions, Part II: Synthesizing the Insights ». Environmental Research Letters 15, no 6 (juin 2020): 065003. https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab842a.
  6. 6. Smart cities are not disruptive solutions but (cybernetic) business as usual
  7. 7. "advocates of smartness (…) see opportunities to decentralize agency and intelligence by distributing it among objects, networks, and life forms.“ In Halpern, Orit, Robert Mitchell, et Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan. « The Smartness Mandate: Notes toward a Critique ». Grey Room 68 (septembre 2017): 106-29. https://doi.org/10.1162/GREY_a_00221.
  8. 8. « to preach the corporate cosmology » (1976/2008)
  9. 9. With smart cities, this cosmology extends to cities themselves, they become firms, have competitors and rely on the same infrastructures as corporations do.
  10. 10. Why « solutions » won’t work : adversarial trends The problem with digital technologies is not an accidental but an essential one : - The rebound paradox won’t go away. - « Zombie technologies » (José Halloy) will stay such. - Decoupling is nigh on impossible.
  11. 11. About zombie technologies Monnin, Alexandre, José Halloy, et Nicolas Nova. « Au- delà du low tech : technologies zombies, soutenabilité et inventions. Interview croisée de José Halloy et Nicolas Nova par Alexandre Monnin ». In Low tech : face au tout-numérique, se réapproprier les technologies, édité par Isabelle Attard, Emmanuel Charles, Fergus, Alexandre Monnin, Laura Pigeon, Edouard V. Piely, Amélie Polachowska, Caroline Weill, et Mathieu Wostyn, 120-28. Passerelle 21. Paris: ritimo, 2020.
  12. 12. Why « solutions » won’t work? • Environmental issues are not merely a byproduct but an integral part of the model… • … i.e., not a « negative externality » but a necessity. • Yet, smart cities (and techno-fixes in general) fit well within the model of global governance of climate issues. • More and more parties are taking up climate issues (cities, corporations, etc.)… • … at their level, without tackling fundamental issues of growth, the extraction and use of fossil fuel, etc.
  13. 13. The Climatisation of the World, Stefan Aykut, 2020 “This model is based on so-called "end-of-pipe" measures, i.e. we will try to regulate outputs, and therefore greenhouse gas emissions. International negotiations will therefore mainly concern the distribution of the global effort to reduce emissions. On the other hand, we will not tackle the question of inputs, i.e. the processes that determine the evolution of emissions, such as energy production, industrial development models or the functioning of the world economy. Thirdly, this approach has also fostered the isolation of climate governance on the international scene, by separating it from a whole range of other international arenas and regimes. While the functioning of global energy markets has been identified as one of the "root causes" of the problem, the regulation of these markets is not one of the topics discussed in climate negotiations (Victor, 2011, 19). Other crucial issues are absent from these talks: the regulation of world trade is dealt with within the World Trade Organization or in bilateral negotiations; and the regulation of financial markets is negotiated in confidential arenas such as the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision. These arenas do not take the climate issue into account at all. And vice versa, climate institutions have little or no interest in trade or finance issues. Quite the contrary, since "firewalls" have been established to prevent these regimes from interfering, as noted by politician Elmar Altvater (2007, 37). By excluding these issues from climate governance, important levers for influencing the emissions trajectory have been deprived.”
  14. 14. The problem is not the solution: against the pharmakon • The late Bernard Stiegler and the Internation collective wrote about smart cities (Stiegler, Bernard, Collectif Internation, Alain Supiot, & Jean-Marie Le Clezio. Bifurquer: Il n’y a pas d’alternative. Paris: Les Liens Qui Libèrent, 2020, chapter 2). • Against technophobic trends they insisted on the importance of technology, just as Stiegler did for his entire life.
  15. 15. • But technology =/= technologies: one can oppose zombie technologies (including smart cities) and yet refuse to embrace a technophobic position.  Technodiversity matters. • The technical system is thought to be disrupting the social, economical, legal, etc. systems. As if it was always in advance. But this time, it’s not in advance but rather out of sync with the current situation.  IoT dates back from the 80s, smart cities appeared in 2005, etc. and we know these perspectives do not fit well with the Anthropocene/impending collapse/ecological meltdown/looming extinction, etc.
  16. 16. The smart city is thus a good example of what I call « obsolete futures »
  17. 17. The consequences of the Anthropocene • Raymond, Colin, Tom Matthews, et Radley M. Horton. « The Emergence of Heat and Humidity Too Severe for Human Tolerance ». Science Advances 6, no 19 (mai 2020): eaaw1838. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aaw1838. • Mora, Camilo, Bénédicte Dousset, Iain R. Caldwell, Farrah E. Powell, Rollan C. Geronimo, Coral R. Bielecki, Chelsie W. W. Counsell, et al. « Global Risk of Deadly Heat ». Nature Climate Change 7, no 7 (19 juin 2017): 501-6. https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3322. • Steffen, Will, Johan Rockström, Katherine Richardson, Timothy M. Lenton, Carl Folke, Diana Liverman, Colin P. Summerhayes, et al. « Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene ». Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115, no 33 (14 août 2018): 8252-59. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1810141115.
  18. 18. Issues Stiegler takes for granted that smart cities will happen. 01 No attention is given to movements of resistance and tactics deployed to shut down some projects like Quayside in Toronto. 02 From a strategic perspective, no effort is dedicated to synchronizing the scenario of the smart city with what we know about the trajectory of the Earth- system in the Anthropocene. 03
  19. 19. Smart cities as “negative commons” “Negative commons refers to “resources”, material or immaterial, “negative” such as waste, nuclear power plants, polluted soil or certain cultural legacies (the right of a colonizer, etc.). The challenge is to take care of them collectively (commoning) if we cannot wipe out these realities. It is therefore an extension of the classical theory of commons, particularly in relation to the “positive” approach of the Commons Pool Resources proposed by Elinor Ostrom, sometimes described as bucolic by Alexandre Monnin. The negative commons approach revolves around two major axes a) giving a negative value to realities that are often considered positive - fossil energy reserves, digital technologies, etc. - and b) giving a negative value to realities that are often considered to be positive. b) the fact of building new institutions likely to allow collectives to democratically reappropriate subjects that have escaped them until now, in particular co-existence with negative commons, more or less at a distance (one can think of the recent measures taken by mayors on the subject of pesticides, but also of the digital tomorrow, based on the same model).” Monnin, Alexandre, et Lionel Maurel. « Glossaire · Politiques des communs ». In Politiques des communs, 2020. https://politiquesdescommuns.cc/glossaire.
  20. 20. The Closing Worlds initiative
  21. 21. Two directions • Avoiding innovations to come to existence ; • Dismantling existing technologies, infrastructures, etc. unfit for the time to come. We are helping a City of 100 000+ inhabitants to foreclose some of its infrastructures with democratic “protocols of renunciation” that call for broader transformations.
  22. 22. Looking at pressing issues for cities… Food security Rising sea levels Extreme heat Access to water Etc.
  23. 23. Smart cities? • Smart cities (« metropoles »)  get rid of the smart element • Smart Cities  how about cities in the Anthropocene? There is an ongoing de-urbanizing movement because cities might not fit well with what we know aout the future? (see Faburel, Guillaume. Les Metropoles Barbares - Poche - Demondialiser la Ville, Desurbaniser la Terre. Le Passager Clandestin, 2019, )
  24. 24. • Meanwhile in France a Grenoble, once the place where smart city was first implemented in France, is looking to ban 5G…
  25. 25. So… Smart Cities? As jokes they should be ridiculed. As dystopias, they should be seriously fought. As projects, we should use them to learn how to shut down innovations. As realities, we should learn how to inherit them as ruins.
  26. 26. Thank you.

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