TSU Seminar Series - Hilary Term 2016

Seminars were delivered on Tuesdays in Weeks 1, 3, 5 & 7 of Hilary Term (January - March) 2016 at 4pm in the J Gottmann Room, School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford.

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The idea of the 'smart city' has recently gained significant appeal amongst urban policy practitioners, international organisations, the corporate sector, academics, and social enterprises. By bringing together a range of innovative technologies, infrastructure and data management techniques, smart cities promise to enhance urban sustainability, to increase economic growth and prosperity, and to facilitate greater citizen participation in urban governance.

Yet beneath these headline claims, there remains a wide variety of different understandings and discourses on smart cities, which needs to be unpacked and critically examined. Particularly urgent is the need for a more detailed and reflexive discussion of what will be the potential impacts of smart cities on the future of urban transport and mobility systems.

Against this backdrop, this seminar series will gather together a range of world-leading academics and urban policy practitioners to debate some of the key issues raised by smart cities for urban transport and mobility futures. Specific issues to be addressed will include the promises and challenges of bringing autonomous vehicles into the city, the political implications of adopting a user-centric approach to smart mobilities, and the democratic consequences of smart technologies for public participation in urban transport planning.

Week 1: 4pm, 19 January 2016, Gottmann Room, SoGE

Technical Efficiency, Social Deficiency?

Due to unforeseen circumstances Prof Geoff Vigar was unable to attend this seminar. Prof Michael Batty from University College London was the only speaker.

Chair: Dr Jennie Middleton, TSU Senior Research Fellow in Mobilities and Human Geography

This introductory seminar will provide an overview of the diverse theoretical concepts and frameworks that comprise contemporary 'smart city' discourses. Appeals to the smart city as an innovative and progressive form of modern urbanism are ubiquitous across the public, private and third sectors, as well as in many fields of academic research. Amongst other things, the meshing of hi-tech, interactive infrastructure with the 'internet of things', and the provision of big data manipulation capabilities to citizens, are viewed as harbingers of radically enhanced urban efficiency, prosperity and sustainability. Yet actual visions of what a smart city should look like in practice remain embryonic, especially in their accounts of the distributional politics through which expected benefits will be shared amongst urban citizens. Against this backdrop, this first seminar aims to stage a system-level debate about the promises and perils of the smart city discourse, focusing in particular on its implications for future experiences, practices, and politics of urban (im)mobility.

Week 3: 4pm, 2 February 2016, Gottmann Room, SoGE

Urban Mobilities in the Smart City: What about the 'User'?

Chair: Dr Tim Schwanen, Director of the Transport Studies Unit

Optimisation of service provision to users and user experience is a cornerstone of almost all smart city initiatives. With regard to everyday mobility the emphasis is not merely on the provision of real time information provision about mobility options but also about turning mobility itself into a service that is convenient, comfortable and enjoyable. Nonetheless, users and use often remain abstract categories in smart city and intelligent mobility discourses, in part because visioning and practical experiments tend to be initiated and shaped by coalitions of entrepreneurial (local) governments and (global) businesses. User involvement in the design is often restricted to consultation and downstream participation, which raises a range of pertinent questions that feature prominently in this seminar: how are users and use imagined in smart city visions and experiments? To what extent are heterogeneity in needs, commitments, preferences, identities and capabilities of users considered and catered for in intelligent mobility initiatives? In how far do smart city and intelligent mobility projects benefit all rather than perpetuate and even exacerbate already existing inequalities in urban mobility?

Week 5: 4pm, 16 February 2016, Gottmann Room, SoGE

Autonomous Vehicles - Beyond the Hype?

Chair: Dr Nihan Akyelken, Departmental Lecturer, Department for Continuing Education

The seemingly imminent arrival of autonomous vehicles in our cities represents perhaps the most significant technological development in personal urban mobility since the invention of the car itself. Optimists in the car manufacturing industry and beyond envisage such vehicles as the key to not simply reducing, but entirely eradicating, accidents and congestion from the urban landscape, and moreover as a crucial means of empowering those whose personal mobility is in some way impaired within the existing socio-technical regime. Yet beneath this veneer there lurk a number of thorny issues relating to the impact of autonomous vehicles on the use of public transport and cycling and on energy consumption and CO2 emissions, to their implications for the form and implementation of legal-regulatory frameworks around road safety and responsibility, and to the potential consequences for privacy, and cyber-security, of integrating such vehicles with other 'smart' innovations in the urban setting. This seminar aims to unpack these issues in detail, and in so doing to reflect upon the implications that the arrival of the autonomous vehicle may have for the geographies of mobility in the smart city of the future.

Week 7: 4pm, 1 March 2016, Gottmann Room, SoGE

Smart Technologies and Public Participation in Transport Planning

Chair: Dr Idalina Baptista, Associate Professor in Urban Anthropology, Kellogg College

One of the core ideas behind Smart Cities is that the progress in information technologies enables urban and transport planning to be based on better informed decisions using data-driven solutions to urban problems. Yet our understanding of how the emerging role of technology and data in our cities will shape public participation in urban and transport planning is still limited. A well-discussed pitfall is that smart city technologies can give the false idea that urban planning becomes simply a matter of efficient administration, leading to technocratic approaches in decision-making. Despite the potential of such smart technologies to engender new forms of public participation and reduce information gaps between citizens and local governments, another pitfall is that not all social groups equally have the appropriate skills and resources to use these new technologies to influence planning decisions. In both cases, an uncritical adoption of smart cities can undermine participatory planning, either by withdrawing the political and participatory dimension of planning, or by exacerbating the social imbalance of who gets to be heard. This seminar will provide critical view on smart cities and discuss some of its implications to rethink the role of citizen engagement in urban and transport planning.