Accepted Paper:

Environmental hacking in the smart eco-city: A road to empowerment?  


Sanneke Kloppenburg (Wageningen University)
Ingrid Boas (Wageningen University)

Paper short abstract:

Smart eco-city projects often include digital tools for monitoring and visualising urban environmental issues. Through an analysis of different modes of ‘environmental hacking’ by citizens, this paper critically engages with questions of transparency and inclusion in the design and use of such tools.

Paper long abstract:

Rapid developments in ICT, including big data and smart sensors, allow for new ways of collecting, sharing, and using data about our environment. In many smart eco-city projects, apps, websites, and digital tools for monitoring and visualising (urban) environmental issues are created, often connected to aspirations of citizen participation in the collection of data. The underlying assumption is that gathering more data helps to address urban environmental issues in better ways, and that citizens will be empowered. In this article we critically engage with such assumptions by focusing on issues of transparency and inclusion. First, we argue how the connecting and integrating of real-time data from multiple sources affords new ways of knowing the environment as a dynamic information system. When the environment is increasingly understood and acted upon through digital technologies, an important political and ethical question becomes who has the power and skills to design and develop these technologies. We analyse different modes of 'environmental hacking' by citizens: from citizen-engagement in environmental monitoring to 'sustainability hackatons' organised by city administrations. We suggest that environmental citizenship and activism in the context of smart eco-cities may well require significant technical skills (programming, coding) as well as the ability to translate issues through tools and visualisations and to make data matter. This also means that claims about the empowering potential of ICT need to be nuanced. What is needed is reflexivity on the normativity and values embedded in technologies for monitoring, measuring and visualising urban environmental issues.

Panel T008
Smart eco-cities: experimenting with new urban futures