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.


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)

Communication and Civil Society (V). The transformations of Civil Society in the Information and Knowledge Society

Notes from the Civil Society and Politics transformation in the Internet Age, organized by the Communication and Civil Society seminar of the IN3 in in Barcelona, Spain, in October 26-27, 2011. More notes on this event: comsc.

The transformations of Civil Society in the Information and Knowledge Society
Oscar Mateos (Ramon Llull University, chair), Joan Coscubiela (UOC-IN3), Gemma Galdón (UOC), Ada Colau (Plataforma d’Afectats per la Hipoteca).

Òscar Mateos

What are the big changes that we are facing? It is not an era of change, but a change of era, Joan Subirats. The 15M movement has put the spotlight on many ongoing dynamics that were working for the change. And, arguably, the ones that understand the 15M are part of it, and one can only be part of it if one understands the movement. There are new languages, platforms, ways to communicate, and that is part of the change too. And maybe these processes are the very true outcomes of the movement, and not what it is traditionally asked to a movement: an impact on institutions or the taking of power.

Joan Coscubiela

Our society is in a dire crisis, especially in our social organizations. And this crisis is boosted by technological change.

The relationships between economics and politics, and between corporations and unions have been altered, and the balance of power amongst these institutions has radically changed. Some reasons are that the habitat (the factory) has been radically transformed; the disappearance of the aggregation of interests due to the disaggregation of identities; the difficulty to build a collective identity upon which to leverage a movement.

The dismantlement of the factory, the dismantlement of the national economy, and the dismantlement of the nation-estate. The integrated factory becomes the networked enterprise. There are central workers and workers on the periphery.

There is also a crisis of the communication channels in traditional unions, based on the integrated Fordist factory and the assembly of workers.

All these crises are undoubtedly weakening the strength and even legitimacy of traditional trade unions. But, if this crisis of legitimacy will be especially tough in Anglo-Saxon unions (based on the firm or the factory, or European unions (based on the economic sector), it might be that Mediterranean-type unions (based on the notion of class, or of social equity) will have it more easy to regain legitimacy, even if a deep transformation is notwithstanding required.

The great opportunity for trade unions is how to leverage the power of ICTs to regain legitimacy to refund the forms of participation.

Gemma Galdón

With the coming of the Internet and the intensive use of social networking sites and similar tools make the medium become the message: the fact that the 15M movement is very live on the Internet is part of its very definition, of its DNA, and tells much on the nature and characteristics of the movement.

There is a qualitative leap in the way participation is understood: besides being present on a demonstration, being active on the Internet (gathering information, commenting, creating opinions, broadcasting messges, etc.) can be as much important as physical presence. Notwithstanding, either on the street or on the Internet, legitimacy comes not from the diffusion of information, but from being committed with the movement. Only commitment leads to legitimacy and reputation, and not only mere participation by being active on social networking sites.

The logic of expansion of social movements is no more centralized, but rhizomatic: it obeys to no traditional logics, especially cultural logics or logics of power.

Indeed, social movements of the past five years have detached themselves from the international political and economic agenda. Nowadays movements no more follow international leaders to their international meetings of the World Bank or the G8. Social movements increasing have their own agenda, and an agenda that is created and updated ad-hoc.

This change is partly due because information and the communication tools have been democratized to the limit. What is difficult now is opacity and non-transparency. Diffusion of information and ideas and calls to action are now cheap and fast. On the other hand, this is a double-edged sword: repression is now more easy than ever for the ones in power, as identification of individuals and collectives is immediate.

The problem is: are we making any impact? When the whole world protested against the second invasion of Irak, nothing happened. And, worst indeed, there does not seem to exist an alternative to the broken representative democracy.

The challenge is how to leverage the common sense we reconquered and turn it into a driver of change, based on new forms of political transformation.

Ada Colau

The new forms of participation not only surprised the traditional social movements, but also the newer ones, that became “obsolete” even if they were recent. These newer social movements were based on platforms that (a) focused on a specific issue and (b) acted as a helping collective so you could reach out (instead of a vertical organization where the individual helps the organization to reach out). These platforms had to transform into networks and the new ways to organized that the Internet and, especially, social networking sites made possible.

That was the case of V de Vivienda [H stands for Housing] in Spain, on of the seeds that afterwards would nourish the 15M Spanish Indignants movement. V de Vivienda was auto-convened and auto-organized, by means of SMSs and e-mails.

V de Vivienda succeeded in putting on the political agenda the housing bubble and the social and economic problems derived from it.

The answer from the political institutions to the movement was very shy and myopic. So, after all the energies poured into the movement, it does not seem be having much impact. What to do about it? How to keep on without being discouraged? The new strategy is increasingly being civil disobedience, so that a change in the Law is forced. But civil disobedience is individual, not collective, so the collective has to find ways to support the individuals that will enter civil disobedience (i.e. in the present case debated here, resistance to eviction and the movement helping people to resist evictions and, at last, stop them).

The network helped in building a critical mass around the issue of mortgages and evictions, as this is not a geographically concentrated problem, but quite a spread one.


Manuel Castells: one of the reasons of the crisis of trade unions is that they are part of the power, they come from a paternalistic way to understand society. And social movements are fighting just against that.

Manuel Castells: changes, real and structural changes need their time and own pace, and that that change begins with a change in the processes.

Ismael Peña-López: acknowledging the truth of the aforementioned statement, the problem is that people’s lives happen in the short run (evictions, unemployment subsidies have limited time spans in the range of months), and thus some milestones have to be achieved in the short run. This is especially true not only to protect the victims of economic crisis, but also to avoid the draining of energy of social movements, that can fade away and dissolve if anything tangible and concrete can be achieved (and this should be achieved without violence).

More information


Civil Society and Politics transformation in the Internet Age (2011)