DemocraticCity (I). Democratic-common cities vs. Smart-private cities

Notes from the Network democracy for a better city, organized by the D-CENT project, in Barcelona, Spain, on May 5th, 2015. More notes on this event: DemocraticCity.

Democratic-common cities vs. Smart-private cities
Chairs: Arnau Monterde

Gemma Galdón, Eticas Research & Consulting
Cities: smart vs. democratic?

Different concepts of what a smart city is from 2000 to 2012. If in 2000 the definition is based on efficiency and integration of data, in 2012 the definition includes citizen empowerment. But all of them have a certain degree of technophilia, that technology will solve all of our problems.

The smart city, all in all, is an overdose of sensors that gather data everywhere, all the time.

There is a risk in too much trusting technology: if we do not believe well how technology works, we may incur in making worse decisions, in buying in any kind of technology just because, with no objective reasons to buy it.
Smart cities run on data, smart is surveillance. So we have to aim for a responsible smart city, taht takes into account:

  • Legal issues.
  • Acceptability issues.
  • Responsible innovation.

OECD’s principles:

  • Notice.
  • Purpose.
  • Consent.
  • Security.
  • Dislcosure.
  • Access.
  • Accountability.

Carlo Vercellone, Centre d’économie de la Sorbonne
Welfare systems and social services during the systemic crisis of cognitve capitalism

Can we move from a traditional welfare system into a commons-based welfare system? Can we build a smart city based on this approach?

Social welfare services should not be regarded as a cost whose funding should depend on wealth created by the private sector, but instead be recognised as the driving force behind a development dynamics based on knowledge-intensive production and behind an economy whose main productive force is the intellectual quality of the labour force (or, as it is usually called, using an ambiguous expression, human capital).

We are witnessing the growth of the intangible part of capital. The driving sector of the knowledge based economy correspond most closely to the public services provided by the welfare state. It supports a mode of development based on the production of man for and by man (health, education). The aim of capital is not so much to reduce the absolute amount of Welfare expenses, but to reintegrate them within the financial and mercantile circuits.

There are two opposite models of society and regulation of an economy based on knowledge and its dissemination. A rentier model of ‘accumulation through expropriation’ of the commons, and a model of common-fare organized around the priority to investment in non-mercantile collective service and in the production of man for man, and the establishment of an unconditional Social Basic Income (SBI) independent from employment.

Francesca Bria, NESTA
Democratic-common cities vs. Smart-private cities

The making of the Internet of Things and Smart Cities implies the industrialization of the Internet and the convergence of energy, logistics, communications, IP network as a service platform, data-intensive welfare and money and payments systems.

What are the problems?

  • City infrastructure lock-in: the black box city, vendor lock-in, proprietary and non interoperable technologies, public and user data lock-in.
  • Digital panopticon, algorithmic governance based on deep personalization, behavioural profiling, pervasive surveillance.
  • Financialization that comes with smart city: project financing, debt financing, smart bonds, etc.
  • Austerity policy: financialisation of welfare, outsourcing of public services, etc.

Building democratic alternatives:

  • Technological sovereignty and alternatives to platform capitalism.
  • Network democracy and infrastructures for citizen participation.
  • Data politics: data ownership, data portability, encryption, standardises identity management, citizen control, regulate identity marketplace.
  • Anti corruption measures.

Evgeny Morozov, Author & Editorialist

Why all these issues matter in the context of the city?

It seems that the smart city could be an answer to many problems that we found as society. But it is an answer with a very strong baseline: the city is a place for consumption and entertainment. And smart cities are specifically addressed to answer all problems by improving consumption and entertainment.

For instance, personalization may sound appealing, but overindividualization makes it more difficult to think about the city as something that is a common project with your neighbours. Individualization makes it more difficult to think in public terms, but in term of how easy it is now for me to consume or be entertained.

Another issue is data and infrastructure ownership: smart city companies are not city companies. Companies own the infrastructure and the data, not cities. And most companies have nothing to do with the city. Thus, most cities have not the ability to harness technology. Citizens have to contest the fact that data will be privatized and ceased to be theirs.

Most services that companies provide to smart cities are not free, despite the fact that they do say so. These companies are not the new welfare state.

Xabier Barandiaran, Floksociety
Wisdom of crowds and free knowledge open commons against the ‘smart ass’ city

Cognitive capitalism is the set of processes where the private accumulation of capital is made by means of control (production, accumulation, restriction, privatization) of the signs: exploitation of immaterial goods that act upon the mind, attention, imagination and social psique, and including nature and machines. Cognitive capitalism exploits the intellect of the citizen, social communication to extract value, exploits popular knowledge and culture, controls the wisdom of crowds, sets up artificial barriers where there were none (because goods and assets were immaterial), etc.

There is the risk that some supposedly initiatives of the collaborative economy are not genuine: AirBnB, BlaBlaCar or Uber are not really open or transparent, nor collaborative, etc. but just another approach of cognitive capitalism.

Discussion

Q: What is the transition like towards a new kind of smart city? Gemma Galdon: by getting rid of automatisms when it comes to using personal data, by being critical, by looking for real alternatives to automatization and data collection.

Q: Any model of open data alternative to the ones used in mainstream smart cities projects? Gemma Galdón: yes, there are alternatives but the more radical alternative is whether we can do things without using personal data. Not using personal data in different ways, but with no data at all. Indeed, the vulneralibilization of data is a collective thing: if I make public my data, I am also making available data from my family, friends and acquaintances.

Q: How can you measure the value of Wikipedia?

Q: How do you explain the success of initiatives like AirBnB, BlaBlaCar or Uber? Francesca Bria: they are not only technological platforms, but they are markets, they act as marketplaces where the rules of the game are set by their owners. They are successful because the work well upon network effects, including a certain “social lock-in”: “everyone is in there” or “everyone is using it”. Evgeny Morozov:

Network democracy for a better city (2015)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2015) “DemocraticCity (I). Democratic-common cities vs. Smart-private cities” In ICTlogy, #140, May 2015. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from http://ictlogy.net/review/?p=4305

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About Me

    I am Ismael Peña-López.

    I am professor at the School of Law and Political Science of the Open University of Catalonia, and researcher at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute and the eLearn Center of that university. I am also the director of the Open Innovation project at Fundació Jaume Bofill.