Here is the text of her presentation:
This intervention is ‘inspired’ by a feeling of uneasiness that comes with thinking about what is being disassembled when different types of infrastructures (such as energy, water and transport sectors) come together in the city. Nexus discussions tend to be focused on what comes together and how, while an equally interesting and important area to explore should be the disjunctures between processes, categories, rights and needs within modern cities, increasingly imagined as “smart cities”, underwired by intelligent infrastructure.
A starting point of thinking about these disjunctures are questions about what are the roles of customers, users, and citizens in accessing and interacting with intelligent infrastructure? And how these categories of actors are expected to interact with and within intelligent infrastructure through the medium of data production? Thus this intervention aims to open up questions about the interpretation of access, inclusiveness and where do the values of infrastructure come from? What disparities we see as researchers, and where? Is what we are seeing limited by the lenses we are using?
While it is easy to imagine how disparities in terms of conventional categories like gender, race and class are produced and reproduced in the context of the urban nexus, I would argue that there are new sets of processes through which disparities are reproduced and new categories within which disparities can occur and should be studied.
There are different governance implications associated with the concept of citizens, than those of consumers. The urban nexus is increasingly being associated with the more efficient integration between silo sectors, systems and infrastructures like food, water and energy. At the same time, urban governance is increasingly being focused on operationalizing the urban nexus, the desire to move towards resource efficient and integrated cities. Integrated and organised through operating systems, they rely on continuous data production and management by users, and active users in particular. The status of being active seems to be directly related to what extent are consumers/users embedded in the production and use of real-time data. We could also think of active users as those who are directly and indirectly involved in the production of urban informatics: ‘the collection, classification, storage, retrieval, and dissemination of recorded knowledge of, relating to, characteristic of, or constituting a city’. It is an emerging field for studying and using data at the intersection of people, place and technology with a focus on cities, locative media and mobile technology.
With the proliferation of ICT technologies in every day urban life and increased application that these have in the provision of everyday services, the demand to produce more information (data) as consumers and users is also growing. We are promised that the more we interact with intelligent infrastructure the better service it can deliver.
The governance of the urban nexus is often reduced to city projects experimenting with vertical integration within existing independent infrastructure and services silos, e.g. energy, transport, water or health. These in turn are expected to be scaled up and grow into a system of systems capable of achieving considerable increases in efficiency, more citizens and users engagement and new infrastructure services. However, what we are witnessing is the interpretation of the urban nexus through the lens of intelligent infrastructure as the subject of urban management rather than governance. This has several implications.
In urban management the responsibilities of groups of actors and /or institutions need to be clearly identified, assigned and accepted, as its main objective is to take sustained responsibility for actions to achieve particular objectives with regard to a particular object. The focus of actions is on reaping benefits from resource allocation and co-ordination of human actions towards a common goals, while limited attention is focused on who manages whom? and the institutions trying to manage. Thus, we end up paying for increased efficiency of cities with political power and representation within cities.
The identification and acceptance of predetermined roles, within a strict framework of interactions is what is limiting. A lot of freedom to act and interact outside of digital data frameworks is lost that way. When citizens are reduced to users. Active users who agree to produce and volunteer data for system management. Users are managed. Citizens are not. At least should not be.
Energy production tools are changing the relationship between citizens and city services. Citizens are increasingly becoming providers of city services and not only users. They become prosumers – another status grounded on the status of user, and of consumption. Any roles and responsibilities for prosumers for example, are defined narrowly within the realms of energy production and consumption; while citizens and citizenship become “translated” through the lens of our digital footprints and bodies. Digital profiles, data subjects, avatars, barcodes, and passwords speak of a body that is mainly constituted by information.
Within the urban nexus of intelligent infrastructures we all exist as long as we are part of a continuous processes of producing, coding, decoding, and recoding data. This happens somewhat at the expense of a physical body, which has strong links to the environment, and of another nexus which exist outside of or on the periphery of digital data.
Practices of digital citizenship and management of users lead to the reproduction of disparities within cities. This happens where certain nexus practices and actors remain hidden, and where rights and privileges are disassembled within the urban nexus. Data generation and legitimacy become more intimately intertwined, not only in our daily lives but also in the way we study the urban nexus. How we study the nexus through urban research: urban observatories, urban labs and operating systems, has a huge impact on how we see the urban nexus, and what we see as the urban nexus.
On one hand when interpreted through the lens of urban ‘smartness’, sustainable and inclusive infrastructure within cities is understood as multiple, deeper and/or thicker connectivity and efficiency enabled through the flow of data and technology. However, is this logic of smart urban infrastructure emerging at the expense of the `modern infrastructural ideal’ based on universality of services and ubiquity of access (Graham and Marvin, 2001)? Real time data only empowers those who can access it and work with it, while many vulnerable groups may find themselves even further from intelligent urban spaces and services.
Infrastructure is geared toward understanding access in terms of points of access rather than values from infrastructure services. Values that go beyond thinking in terms of infrastructure integration and efficiency, underpinned by cost-benefit analysis. But in terms of infrastructure as an agent of change, bringing in values like equity, sustainability and democracy. Values mandated through the status of citizenship, the right to shape urban nexus practices so that they serve the people living in cities. Not the value of inclusion in an integrated operating system.
The distinctions between citizens and users is as important as ever. Because the rights of users are conditioned on payment for services, on usefulness of data. While the rights of citizens are not conditioned by a cost-benefit analysis, but run deeper and are much broader. At least should run deeper than that. Citizen is an equalising word. It carries with it the activism of Aristotle’s definition – a citizen is one who rules and is ruled in turn. There are certain privileges implied by the concept of citizenship, which are irrelevant of race, gender, class, age and ability, especially ability to pay. Let’s not forget that citizenship is an act of participation. And participation is a right.
Granting each individual the same formal rights is understood to promote equality through making a person’s political and economic power irrelevant to rights claims. If we, as citizens can rule, how do we rule through data production? How do we rule operating systems? And how are we being rules through our data consumption?
Image credit, with many thanks to Nathan Oxley at the STEPS centre.