Cityscapes #3: Smart city?

Issue 3 of Cityscapes Magazine launched in March 2013. Featuring interviews with Lagos governor Babatunde Fashola and novelist Imraan Coovadia, the bumper 140-page third issues has as its thematic focus the “smart city”. This fuzzily defined term speaks to the increasing use of networked information and communications technologies in ordering of large-scale urban phenomenon.

The magazine visits Rio de Janeiro to find out what this means practically. “Technology gives you a faster response,” explains Dario Bizzo Marques, a technology systems coordinator at Rio’s $14-million integrated city management centre, home to Latin America’s largest surveillance screen. “We increasingly share the space and time of cities with semi-autonomous agents of a nonhuman, indeed non-biological, nature, from drones to algorithms,” offers Adam Greenfield in his provocative 100-point manifesto appearing in Cityscapes and addressing the pervasive use of tech-savvy urban management solutions.

Noted urban theorist Ash Amin, in a cornerstone 5000-word interview with Matthew Gandy, is also wary of the ideological implications of reducing city management to the top-down marshalling of abstract data. “The positivist legacy has been rekindled in the ‘big data’ approach to the city,” offers Amin. “Its conceit is to think that the availability of sophisticated mathematical models able to work large data in nuanced ways, allows the city to be visualised and understood in all its complexities and evolving changes.” Also included in the latest issue of Cityscapes: an intimate account of living in the Nairobi slum of Kibera; a description of Sao Paulo’s oppositional graffiti cultures; a fond appraisal of the career of legendary Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray; a look at Kigali’s ambitious master plan; a profile of artist Theaster Gates; a speculation on the city without the automobile; and a photo essay describing life in Kowloon, the famous Hong Kong tenement slum demolished in the early 1990s.

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