University of Calgary

Digital (In)Justice in the Smart City


This book is situated at the critical juncture where future cities are imagined, conceptualized, and operationalized. In the contemporary moment “smart cities” are becoming the dominant paradigm for urban planning and administration around the world, suffusing the urban fabric with digital technologies. This is happening at the same time as – and likely because of – federal governments launching national smart city challenges, private firms looking to take over public services, and public conversations invoking new tech utopias. Recently, however, the promises of smart cities have been gradually supplanted by recognition of their inherent inequalities and even revanchist urban governance, and scholars are thus increasingly working to envision “alternative” smart cities. Such visions are usually premised on models that reclaim longstanding social movements: social justice in the smart city, gender in the smart city, and most recently the right to the smart city. However, these efforts present us with a dilemma: smart is usually taken for granted, seen as self-explanatory and as an inherently and unquestionably good value to pursue, and undesirable outcomes are aberrations from an otherwise positive movement. This book steps back to challenge these assumptions and offer deeper insights into how injustice circulates though digital urban geographies. Informed by current discussions and challenges, this book foregrounds discussions of how we should think of and work toward urban digital justice in the smart city. It provides a deep exploration of the sources of injustice that percolate throughout a range of socio-technical assemblages, and questions whether working toward more just, sustainable, livable, and egalitarian cities, requires that we look beyond the limitations of “smartness” altogether. The book is particularly spatially aware in that it grapples with how geographies impact smart city visions and roll-outs on the one hand, and how (unjust) geographies are produced in smart pursuits on the other. Further, the book envisions alternative cities – smart or merely digital – and outlines the sort of work that the commons, utopia, and law might do in our conceptions and visionings of better cities. This book extends current discussions found throughout smart city literature in a productive and progressive manner. Urban digital justice is the usually tangential subject of disparate articles in a range of disciplines, yet remains holistically and systematically underexamined. To remedy this, our book provides a venue for consolidating and (re)focusing this literature, by bringing together 54 scholars from over 13 disciplines (geography, urban studies, urban planning, sociology, law, criminology, communications, digital humanities, information technology, science and technology studies, engineering, business, political science, public policy) and geographic contexts (e.g. North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia). The book contains 33 specially commissioned articles which offer novel, complementary and contrasting interrogations of digital urban futures. It includes analyses of the epistemological foundations of “smart”, logics and rationalities of datafication and infrastructures, the systemic and systematic inequalities and divisions, forms of smart citizenship and participation, and forward discussions of alternative futures. Cases include American transit platforms as digital enclosures, smart caregiving and algorithmic sensibilities in Singapore, digital disruption and informal mobility in Nairobi and Kampala, citizenship and datafied governance in the UK, and Canadian legal limits and potentials for creating a just smart city in Toronto. All this considered, the book would fit well into University of Toronto Press’s series Technoscience and Society, or Digital Futures. Paired with a rigorous peer review process, we expect the final book to contain the most comprehensive and insightful examination of urban digital justice ever produced. This book interjects in a longstanding conversation about the role of digital technologies in urban spaces. Following in the vein of early volumes such as Graham’s (2004), most recent edited volumes on smart cities and smart urbanism have focused on foundational definitions and critiques (see Marvin et al. 2015; Song et al. 2017) best practices (Gassmann et al. 2019), and applications and cases (Anthopoulos 2019; Karvonen et al. 2018; Rawat and Ghafoor 2018).These have had limited explicit discussion of inequality or injustice. The notable exceptions are edited volumes by Araya (2015), Coletta et al. (2018), and Cardullo et al. (2019), which approach questions of the right to the smart city and consider the unjust potentials of smart technologies. While impacts and inequalities are explicated in these texts through cases of technocratic governance, corporatization, surveillance, and privacy, justice itself is rarely interrogated, and treated instead as a teleological end to tech-utopian visions. The same could be said about the wide range of critical monographs on smart cities, in that they present social and political implications and assumptions of smart cities without directly building on the long tradition of scholarship on social justice (notable exception being Clark, 2020). Key references for this type of book include Picon (2015), Ratti and Claudel (2016), Willis and Aurigi (2017), Greenfield (2018), Green (2019), Mosco (2019), and Halegoua (2020). By far the most common type of book discussing smart cities is the uncritical book that seeks to promote a utopian vision, such as Townsend (2013), Goldsmith and Crawford (2014), and Anthopoulos (2017). The unique contribution of this book is the central and sustained presumption that digital urban injustice is a tendency rather than an ancillary impact of smart cities. While our themes and structure parallel other discussions of smart cities, ICTs, and digital geographies, the implications for justice, equality, access, and inclusion are foregrounded and go far beyond existing critiques of smart cities’ social, economic, and political implications. Given the trajectory of discussion of smart cities, from testbeds, to actually-existing smart cities, to now entrenched systems of social sorting, questions of digital justice cannot be left unanswered.


University of Toronto Press
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