Street smarts for smart streets

Coley, Rob (2016) Street smarts for smart streets. In: Visualizing the Street, 16-17 June, 2016, Allard Pierson Museum, University of Amsterdam.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
Item Status:Live Archive


In the utopian rhetoric of the ‘smart city’, contemporary practices of image-making are deemed to have transformative power, to generate new participatory forms of political agency. Smart city boosters and branders promise a world of citizen visualization – a street level power to collectively shape and safeguard the future, enacted in processes of photographing and filming. Smart visualization is, we are told, a panacea for the multiplicity of threats to social stability. Critical responses to this vision centre on its apparent homogeneity and stability (Greenfield, 2013; Townsend, 2014). Here, smart city governance is understood to exploit what IBM engineers call ‘a real time operational picture’ of urban culture. There is a general fear that ostensibly participatory processes in fact produce ‘programmable’ urban environments that allow future citizenship to be subjected to present control. Such responses emphasize a need to counter the ‘big picture’ views of city governance with tactics that recall Fredric Jameson’s practice of ‘cognitive mapping’ (Toscano and Kinkle, 2015). However, as Jennifer Gabrys (2014) makes clear, smartness does not operate according to ‘normative mechanisms’ but instead optimizes difference by mediating the tendencies and orientations of the environment to which any activity of visualization is immanent. This is to imagine the smart city as a premediated zone, whereby power seeks to control and manipulate ‘multiple futures…alive in the present’, future political trajectories that ‘exist as not quite fully formed potentialities or possibilities’ (Grusin, 2010). In the smart city, there is a relegation of established political powers that derive from ‘agent-centred’ visualization. Instead, agency is transformed according to an ‘environmental sensibility’ (Hansen, 2015) that remains out of conscious reach. Accordingly, although the vision of the smart city has yet to be actualized, it already has real implications for how we conceive street level agency. Here I will contend that new ‘street smarts’, appropriate to the conditions of the present, will only emerge through an interrogation of the humanist discourses that surround processes of visualization.

Keywords:smart cities, visual culture, urban, visualizing
Subjects:P Mass Communications and Documentation > P300 Media studies
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Film & Media > Lincoln School of Film & Media (Media)
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ID Code:23340
Deposited On:24 Jun 2016 09:41

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