Smart Yet Insensible Cities

Nassim Parvin

The concept of Smart Cities is one appearing more frequently in academic and popular discourse evoking images of urban utopias with seamless traffic flows, safe neighborhoods, and data command centers that identify and resolve urban issues such as air pollution, traffic, and crime. These utopias have animated several initiatives, most notably the White House's Smart Cities Initiative (2016). Implicit in these scenarios are the material infrastructure that supports them: high-speed connectivity, sensors, the Internet of Things, and Big Data.  In the light of ethical and political issues such as surveillance, algorithmic biases, and digital divide, this research probes whether smart cities technologies would be part of the solution to the problems of communication and community within the city, thereby improving the lives of citizens? Or, would they work to expand modes of participation and citizenship; or instead suppress communication and further distance and disintegrate communities?  My research addresses these questions through theoretical inquiry and experimental designs. Currently, my research group and I are conducting an ethnographic case study of the smart cities initiatives in Atlanta while at the same time creating experimental designs that probe the relationship to sensor-based urban technologies, place, storytelling, and community.

Old and current city street view