Accepted Paper:

Citizen led visions of the future smart city from grassroots urban agriculture  


Adrian Clear (Northumbria University)
Sara Heitlinger (Newcastle University)
Rachel Clarke (Northumbria University)
Simran Chopra (Northumbria University)

Paper short abstract:

Taking a participatory and speculative design approach in a UK community, we unpack how material practices of urban agriculture might be configured in a future "smart" sustainable city imagined by its citizens, and we contrast this with technosolutionist visions of smart cities from the literature.

Paper long abstract:

Visions of sustainable smart cities typically involve top-down, authoritarian, efficiency-based solutions to the problem of environmental sustainability through the use of embedded networked sensing and automation in order to optimise urban processes, and therefore make them more sustainable. But these visions perform a very distinct version of sustainability that leave little room for citizen agency or alternative understandings of sustainability (MacLaren, Aygeman 2016). Furthermore, while there are increasing efforts to involve citizens in the design of smart cities technologies, there remain significant questions over who controls, owns, and has access to the data and how legislation is addressing these challenges (ICO 2017).

In this paper, we capture a citizen perspective on 'smartness' in relation to urban agriculture in a city with perceived social deprivation, transitory student and migrant population, diverse cultural and food heritage, limited growing spaces and the recent removal of allotments. We describe findings from a pilot project that used a speculative design approach, grounded in life experiences and local material re-imaginings, to negotiate past, present, and future practices of urban agriculture (Baumann et al 2017; Forlano 2016; Light et al 2009). Our novel method engages grassroots urban growing communities in the co-design of sustainable urban futures, through mapping, experimentation, creative exploration and critique of smart city technologies such as networked environmental sensing and data visualisation. We reflect on how our method brought out new design imaginaries that contrast sharply to the technoscientific futurity (Puig de la Bellacasa. 2015) of the dominant visions of sustainable smart cities.

Panel D01
Politicizing futures. When conflicting visions meet