In order to give inhabitants an active role in the making of their environment, in this chapter we examine new urban possibilities that we explore through a concept of open urban localities. In this we propose a re-appropriation by inhabitants and public administration of digital technologies and infrastructures in order to create a new right to the city. We argue that 21st century citizenship must be founded on a new way of living and working in the city. As part of this we propose what we are calling the Real Smart City, which opening deliberation and urban design processes via participatory technologies, democratise the building and dwelling of the city – and its metabolic functions. One example of this is the Plaine Commune programme, the first regional laboratory of this kind, which we outline as a case study for thinking through the problem of the city under conditions of disruptive digital transformation, as well as of urgent necessity of finding alternative and sustainable urban planning and construction models for diminish its energy consumption.
It is well known that the process of urbanization, initiated with the industrial revolution and intensified during the XXth century with the process of metropolization and the formation of “global cities”, is a crucial challenge in the struggle for limiting the effects of climate change. This is why – even if there is a growing number of experiences of “territories in transition” that are developing in rural, semi-rural, small or medium urban areas – the question of the locality introduced previously arose first in urban areas.
Moreover, we know how the marketing of ‘smart cities’ imposed itself widely by advocating for an energy-efficient city. Should we therefore follow this model? We will pose in what follows that the ‘smart city’ story telling is above all a commercial discourse based on an immeasurable worsening of proletarianization (loss of knowledge in all its forms) to a point which is singularly dangerous in all respects. We must questioned this model keeping in mind the recent report from Amnesty International on the enormous threat posed by the current development of digital technologies, monopolized by a few players who have become literally irresponsible.
On the other hand, the enormous transformation underway generated by the Internet of Things (IoT) and ubiquitous computing – as well as all that is generated by the deployment of these technologies in the various fields of the urban – must lead to a real overhaul of urban development and democracy in general, and in particular in the city environment. As we will see at the end of this chapter, this involves the opening of a formidable project with educational and academic institutes at all levels – and an accelerated training operation, through contributory research (see chapter 4), of the personnel in charge of education.
We recommend here the development of contributory urban research approaches in order to grasp what are the deep dynamics of what we consider to constitute the possibility of a new urban engineering (génie urbain), where the inhabitants would once again become the primary source of territorial intelligence. This should be done in the context of a contributory economy (see Chapter 3) of capacitation of inhabitants of new digital technologies, but also of their elected officials and their administration, who are today totally destitute and very often manipulated by merchants of new services and other totally illusory promises.
In this new urban engineering (génie urbain), based on this new urban research, the technology would be reconfigured and redesigned from the contributory territorial practices themselves.
Urban Metabolism: a broader perspective
Metabolism is a term that has become a plastic category that can be molded to serve diverse analytical objectives, among which, the ecological relations that in our view describe the “intelligence” of a city. In this relationships several “organs” are at stake: in particular, somatic (or biological) organs, technical organs and social organization, that is why we refer to it as an ‘organology’. This ecosystem must be highly interconnected and integrated in a renewed urban metabolism driven by more adequate paradigms and tools (Carta 2014).
Urban metabolism is often reduced to a calculation of the quantity of consumption and release of energy in the whole system (in other words, energetic and material exchanges) instead of being explored as the relation between these organs. But if we consider it as the coupling of the intertwining perspectives of (1) citizens and users, with their narratives and issues; (2) technological and structural dimension, and operational features of the smart cities (infra- and exo-somatizations); and (3) social and normative institutions, with issues linked to policy making, surveillance, education and wealth, the real smartness of the city could lead to a more democratic ecology (Araya 2015).
Indeed, this last possibility is useful also in order to understand how capitalism troubles these relations. This has generally been described as a “metabolic rift”, referring to the tendency of capitalism to give rise to a general separation of the processes (and) of the organs, as well as to the tendency to disrupt every condition of life as such. This effect seems to be exacerbated in the so called Anthropocene, the epoch in which the human being and his productions are considered the most powerful responsible of global environmental and climatic change, leading to the erosion of territorial resources and to the anesthetization of vital metabolisms (water, waste, vegetation, mobility, etc.) (Carta 2017, 135).
But in fact, and precisely in this age, this appears as a simplification of the problem, so that we should rather think, with Jason W. Moore (2017), in terms of “metabolic shifts” that is, these constitutive relations in their reciprocal variation. Considering relations in terms of variation and not as pursuing a specific direction, allows us guessing the possibility of creating and developing an ecology of ‘localities’, as a specific and complex metabolic effect able to challenge and thwart the entropic effects of technological development.
The locality of the city is what stems out from the relations of the multiple social and technical ways of life living within it. It is the genius loci that is always more than the sum of the parts. As Italo Calvino shown in Le Città Invisibili, cities are places of exchange but “these exchanges are not only exchanges of goods, they are exchanges of words, of desires, of memories”. The city is a social and technical locality where a multiplicity of social and technical localities live. “The imposition of [universal] automated technological system and standardized ways of life deprive the inhabitants of their everyday life” (A. Alombert, 2019), as well as their knowledges, local technics and local practices that gives meaning to the social life.
The city is “no longer a crucible of creativity, which is innately unpredictable. Instead it becomes a zone of certainty for the sake of profit” (S. Zuboff, 2019). The mixity and diversity of urban centers has historically been the place of improbable encounters: city centers have always fostered interactions enabling creativity and innovation. The totalitarian synchronicity of the algorithmic gouvernmentality and its will of optimization is entropic in the sense that, pretending to seize the objectiveness of the city (J. Kelleher, 2019), it homogenizes and reduce the ‘ways of living’ the city – hence its metabolism. The reductionism operates via the ‘optimization’ (Kelleher, 2019) can only take into account what is calculable, that is what is foreseeable. We are embracing a path in which the possibilities for finding new solutions – thinking outside of the (black)box – is repressed by the complete standardization of models, by the opacity of softwares, and by the apparent ‘inexplicability’ of algorithms with which we want to make our cities run. In this way, the complex and open system that is a city starts to close down the possibilities for local flourishing, averaging its unicities towards standards.
‘Smart city’: from the promise of decreasing urban metabolism to the accomplished fact of complete platformization of the city
Smart city and urban metabolism
The smart city is often presented as more livable, ‘human-friendly’ and democratic space for living, a solution to the ever growing consumption of energy and resources that has characterised the development of urban areas. Indeed, thanks to the use of sensors, computation, faster and betterly organized communication, city services could improve their performances whilst diminishing their environmental negative impacts.
The implementation of new technologies into the city could indeed enable a more resilient and ecologically sustainable relationship between the urban areas and their surrounding environment. But within mainstream economic logics, a drastic decrease in the entropic impact of cities seems to be too difficult, if not impossible. The hope that technology alone could resolve all our problems has been called technological solutionism. This ideology of wanting to improve everything through “ready-to-wear” technologies neglecting any form of local knowledge – and treating symptoms without ever trying to understand the complexity of the causes (E. Morozov, 2013, 2015). This limits local institutions, but also political and social creativity, in the finding of solution. Furthermore, stick to the neoliberal economic credo, this algorithmic governance (T. Berns and A. Rouvroy, 2013) tends to repeat without major differences the ways of ‘functioning’ of the city: its metabolism, intended in the broad sense we sketch out at p. 3. The implementation of the ‘smart city’ mainstream idea will only accelerate the rate of all the anthropic and entropic processes that led human activities to become the major geological changing factor on the biosphere.
If designing more liveable and sustainable cities is something no one would oppose to, a major concern has grown in the last decade. The mutation of the urban landscape and ways of life we described in the first section has led to the creation of global cities (S. Sassen, 1991), that is cities with differentiated strategic global functions organizing all the kind of flows at the global scale, and organized around headquarters, centers parks and economic districts. The global city functions are marked by extractivism logic, and as it was already highlighted by The Economist in 2017 today’s new extractivism is data extractivism. The data economy is “expressed spatially through what marketing refers to as ‘smart cities’, a term that helps to hide the submission of territories to extraterritorial logic bypassing the local political authorities and the practices of the inhabitants” (A. Alombert, 2019B). We argue that in nowadays mainstream thinking the word smart is reduced to practices of computation and feedback loops, and the word city is reduced to a platform allowing the access to global infrastructures, data-mining and target-advertising our everyday life.
In the development of smart city systems, many cities in Europe have started “beginning to partner with private corporations such as IBM, Cisco, GE, […] Siemens”. In North America, major tech companies such as Google and Uber has started to work with municipalities. The example of the Toronto Side Walk Lab project is the most striking one. These marketing promises – that are never truly maintained – are at the base of the business model of big tech companies. Especially in time of austerity, public administrations are often obliged to opt in for already-given and standardized solutions, as well as for huge private investment with little – if not any – return to the local economy. The imposition of a technocratic and top down approach by tech giants marginalize citizens whilst tying public administration to profitably-sold long-term contracts. Consequently, this firms oblige cities to a complete dependency for the maintenance of the services and infrastructures, redefining the political agenda and economic programs that cities will implement in the next decades.
Hence, despite the promises, the GAFAM as well as BATX smart city model is being more and more perceived as not very ‘livable’, if not quite not urban – that is without suavity, courteousness, and refinement of manner – to local inhabitants. This is stemming out mainly for two reasons: the first one is about the design and the functioning of these technologies that promise inclusion and democratization of decision processes. The development of participatory platforms – such as the one for the Grand Débat in France – has giving rise to a lot of criticism, if not a complete deception, about the way citizens participation has been taken into account – we will analyze more into the detail this matter in Chapter 10 (Design).
Secondly, because the universal model put in place by these global technical systems – algorithmic calculation – platforms tend to reduce, flatten and dilute the techno- as well as noo-diversity of localities, disrupting social norms, costumes, and behaviours. The disorientation we are living at all levels, stems directly from the new disadjustment between the technical system of big tech exo-spheric companies, and social systems of the nations states, rooted in their localities. So-called ‘smart cities’ are hence “disrupting civil cities founded on citizenship” (B. Stiegler, 2018) and with it, a functional sovereignty (F. Pasquale, 2015) is imposing a new state of facts over the state of law of national states’ territorial sovereignty –– leaving a legal gap that needs to be urgently filled.
As it is has been described by Morozov and Bria (2017) the smart city idea represents a continuity with the neoliberal politics, fostering privatization of services and the individualization of the costs, eliminating all historical forms of reciprocity within societies. But it can also represent a complete new age of capitalism, a surveillance capitalism era, because of the privilege of unlimited freedom and asymmetric knowledge between these economic, political actors and citizens as it has been well described by S. Zuboff (2019). The whistle-blowers – such as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange – and Cambridge Analytica scandals should have teached us about the way with which data produced by billions of people on the web are used both by economic and political actors. It is then urgent to ask how the opaque infrastructures of these digital service technologies work and who is the owner, how and which data are collected by these systems, and what kind of data governance should be put in place.
Platformization of the city: infrastructure, infrasomatization and data
Infrasomatization and the Impairment of Minding practices
As far back as 1981, Steve Jobs, then CEO of Apple, famously called computers “Bicycles for the Mind”, implying that they augmented the cognitive capacities of the user, making them faster, sharper and more knowledgeable. More recently, writers such as Nicholas Carr, started worrying that the same technological tools could also undermine and fragment the possibility for thought. Through ubiquitous computing, digital technologies structure and govern the environment and the society in which we live, limiting thought and undermining the possibility for minding practices. This new ‘mode of functioning’ of, what has been called, the automatic society (B. Stiegler, 2015) is disrupting not only social relations and political institutions, but also psychological and social individuation in the sense of G. Simondon.
Today we live within a horizon of interpretability determined in large part by the capture of data and its articulation in and through infrastructures built from algorithms and implemented as infrasomatizations. They can be thought of as social-structuring technologies inscribing new forms of the social – or sometimes the anti-social – onto the bodies and minds of humans and their institutions. For the user these infrasomatizations are experienced through smart-phones and tablets which close the loop from within the brain to the outside environment, such that the aperture of thought is mediated and compressed – and the consciousness bypassed and short-circuited by intensive computation. Hence, the capacity for the human brain to perceive that algorithms are organizing their thoughts, or even to perceive that algorithms are at work, is impaired, if not destroyed – human reason is thereby diminished and made susceptible to persuasion and propaganda.
Infrasomatizations can be mobilised to support specific instances of thought, rationality and action – a hegemonic form of calculative reason in order to create the conditions for anti-democratic thought. The infrasomatization process may suppress and eventually replace local rationalities within particular social spheres, which once constituted the functional independence of the complementary spheres of social life, into a single regime of computation. These conditions create a data intensive economy which is the economic realisation of the gains and possibilities of the data-intensive scientific milieu. So, if the possibility of the citizens is impaired, how can a city be intelligent? This process demands the elaboration of a critique and ethics of data-processing, particularly from the standpoint of an imperative that would be not only negentropic, but anti-entropic, and ultimately anti-anthropic (in the sense that the IPCC refers to “anthropogenic forcing”, that is, the increase of rates of entropy due to human activity).
Smartness and Infrastructures
The constellations of infrasomatizations can be mobilised into de facto monopolies in specific imbrications. This is a better way to understand these computational structures rather than the notion of “platforms” that tends to use a self-description, and therefore hides more than it reveals. As it has been described by R. Mirchell and O. Halpern, the ‘smartness’ of the smart city “is a function of its extensive use of informatics infrastructure” (2018). Data streams are collected through sensors and analysed by learning algorithms, then organised and used for optimising urban interaction via the creation of different predictive models. Barely visible if not invisible to the eyes of citizens, these digital infrastructures impose an extraterritorial logic bypassing local political authorities and the local practices of the inhabitants. The truth of this from revelations from industry insiders and researchers of behavioural nudging and manipulation have been widely documented and have served to prompt public calls for more regulation over these systems (see S. Zuboff 2019 and R. McNamee 2019).
In the mainstream ‘smart’ city approach, the elimination of individual rationality in favour of tele-guidance make city dwellers function as infrastructures for the machine learning techniques. Hence, smartness “reconfigures a human population not just as that which uses infrastructure, but as itself an infrastructure” (R. Mitchell and O. Halpern, 2018). And as we have seen in the previous section – because of the business model that is reigning in tech world nowadays – this has only one aim: collecting, using and selling the maximum amount of data. In her critical study of the actual attempts to build ‘smart cities’, O. Halpern has also convincingly unveiled their fundamentally speculative nature. In spite of all the good intents and genuine hopes of their designers, they rest on the same dynamics as the derivatives that have restructured the financial world of the two last decades. They function as promises, designed to raise – largely unreasonable – hopes, soon to be abandoned in favor of more promising prospects. This derivation towards ever-elusive futures drives a fundamentally speculative economy, whose accelerating dynamics does indeed manage to explore a wide range of possibilities, but whose permanently delayed achievements fail to provide a livable basis for any new form of sustainable existence. The ‘smartness mandate’ (O. Halpern, R. Mitchell, and B.D. Geoghegan, 2017 that rules in parallel the design of smart cities and the social logic of financial derivatives rewards forms of governance, orientation and control whose result is to disorient and mislead our collective decisions.
The ongoing process of smartification of the city can be described as a platformization of the urban milieu. We argue that in order to pass from a ‘smart’ data-mine-city to a Real Smart City, inhabitants should be really empowered by the use of technology and not being subjected by it. Technological sovereignty is the idea for which citizens have the capacity to participate and have a say in how technological infrastructures surrounding them is operating, as well as put into question their purposes. There has been a political vacuum about the question of technology. Yet, it is up to the political institutions at all levels to create the condition of possibilities for technical, social and economical alternatives and to define a political will for a coherent trajectory towards technological but also data sovereignty, that is the re-appropriation by inhabitants and public administration of digital technologies, data and infrastructures. Paired with the capacitation of inhabitants for the development of knowledge (know-how, know how to live, theoretical knowledge, technical knowledge) at the local level. One for being able to criticize needs firstly to understand and then go beyond what has been criticized. This means that inhabitants should have not only the skills for using ready-for-use technology, but also the knowledge to create techo-local alternatives proper to their locality. This will enable the reshaping of the urban dynamics in order to fight against the production entropy.
An holistic approach taking into account the data governance, infrastructures’ ownership, transparency, intelligibility and criteria, as well as the right to explanation (D. Berry, 2018). Changing the legal system would not be enough. We need to go further and seek to understand and challenge the way in which “smart” infrastructures recast certain regulatory or legal limitations into ineffective measures from which they are able to extract excessive amounts of profit and exhaust the wider economy creating new forms of structural poverty and inequality. A new data governance need to be integrated to a “reappropriation strategy” of the infrastructures. However, “without wide-ranging actions on an international scale it will be extremely difficult to reverse a trend that already raises many concern” (E. Morozov and F. Bria, 2019).
Smart Urbanism or Smart Surveillance?
The ‘smart’ model of urbanism also promises to empower urban governance, centralising the data captured on the territory into urban dashboard (S. Mattern, 2015). In order to give to local policy makers a better grasp over the ‘functioning’ of the city, the real-time monitoring of the city provide data-driven decision protocols for bettering the decision making processes.
The underlying idea here is to solve technically any kind of issue, increasingly evacuating the processes of debating and deliberating from the political arena, whether it is for climate change, security, streamlining bureaucracy or progressive policies issues. This tendance has been described as technological solutionism (E. Morozov) and we will explain this in the next section. Sadly, the first implementations of urban dashboards and other network surveillance systems have shown that ‘smart systems’ are not empowering and used by the general public – rather they are used on it. Rio de Janeiro’s Operation Room (IBM) and New York’s Domain Awareness Systems (Microsoft) are only epiphenomena of a process that is now becoming global. The massive use of predictive algorithms and the consequent militarization of the urban areas – previously exclusive for war-conflict zones – is exacerbating the social issues in the urban areas, creating socio-economic silos and invisible frontiers into the cities.
Cities have to contrast the new segregated geography of barriers that follows speculation (and not investment). These economic trends binding surveillance capitalism with predictive behavioural patterns are creating socio-economical frontiers and silos, marginalizing and displacing locals inhabitants, closing down the possibilities of local flourishing and impeding the of historical mixity, and creativity of the urban centers to invent new ways of life for the majority of the population, and not only for the shrinking privileged social strata benefiting from these kind of delocalized investments.
Real Smart City: Contributory Economy & Local Platforms.
The new urban and territorial revolution opens new and promising possibilities to fight against the Anthropocene but, as we have previously shown, it also threatens to become uninhabitable, if not inhuman. As it has been shown by C. O’Neil (2016), the algorithmic governance of Big Data restrain the possibility for bifurcating. If we need to invent new ways of living and producing, we need to think (penser) how to take care (panser) of our psychological, social and environmental ecologies without repeating the errors that led us to the Anthropocene.
To fight against this new kind of algorithmic control (Rouvroy and Berns, 2013; Supiot, 2015) and standardization it is necessary to seize and redesign these “smart” technologies to reconstitute a real urban intelligence. This should be done, firstly, taking into account the pharmacological dimension of any technique and, secondly, conceiving and creating neganthropic infrastructures designed for facilitating the processes of interpretation and collective decision-making. We posit that the resolution of urban problems cannot be only techno-logical, but also social and political – that is to say urban in the strict sense. A Real Smart City (RSC) is not – as we tried to show in the case of ‘smart’ city – an instance for replacing the institutional dialogue, social deliberation and political debate with a limited and standardized set of technologies and technocratic policies. The RSC project’s objective is the understanding and the deconstruction (as intended by J. Derrida) of the ‘smart city’ as an expression of the neoliberal economy and the computational capitalism – as well as the ideology of efficiency and exactness of data – in order to rethink intelligence, the city and its locality. We claim that it is only via a new understanding of today’s problematic and the experimentation of new economic models that we can invent and create new solutions at the height of the epochal issues.
We argue that a Real Smart City is a city where inhabitants have a right to the city, being able to decide and redefine city’s dynamics, hence its metabolism. This is why the Institute for Research and Innovation –– together with the Digital Studies and the Real Smart City project consortium –– in concert with local institutions, associations and inhabitants, is experimenting in Plaine Commune (north of Paris). The aim is to make emerge a new urban dynamics in order to give inhabitants an active role in the making of their environment, whilst diminishing the production of entropy of the territory. This experimentation is based on two pillars.
Contributory Research. The first one is the Contributory Research (for more details see chapter 5). This approach bring together researchers from various academic fields and territorial actors into networks of research and experimentation. Territories would be able to experiment sustainable, solvent and desirable economic activities and technological tools with the aim to develop reproducible recommendations through rapid transfer processes to other localities presenting similar physical and cultural conditions.
Contributory Economy. The second one is the Contributory Economy (for more details see chapter 6). A Real Smart City can be possible only on the basis of a new form of economy, the contributory economy which valorizes the process of capacitation and the collective practice of knowledge (know how,know how-to-live and theoretical knowledge) through which the inhabitants participate to the making of their localities and develop a collective urban intelligence. This ‘intelligence’ cannot be reduced to the smart ideology of efficiency: it has to include sociability, or philia. To become a neganthropic locality – or an open urban locality – a learning and contributory territory needs to experiment and make emerge new local knowledge and new ways of living in the physical and digital milieu. The empowerment of local actors is the condition of possibility for the conception of new urban economy, the implementation of new forms of urban management that are truly contributory – and not only ‘collaborative’, as understood by UBER and the actors of the so-called sharing economy – which consists in redefining (a) the rules of living together in the urban environment in terms of both services – public, associative or private – or in the form of urban commons, (b) the rules of local decision-making, (c) and finally the forms, scales and instances of deliberation, all of which implies reconsidering the social relations of the whole when setting up proximity platforms and original forms of crosslinking.
De-automation of the algorithmic teleguidance: towards a self-governance through contributive and deliberative technologies. For a Real Smart City, the question is to empower citizens’ capabilities also through the practice of digital technology. The efficiency of automation must allow the release of energies and time at the service of urban deliberation in the spirit of cooperation as contributive technologies make it possible, such as deliberative social networks for debating and managing controversies, annotation and categorization tools for the creation of knowledge. Through the practice of such contributive technologies, inhabitants can take collective and reflexive decisions and introduce unpredictable de-automation and bifurcation in their algorithmic and automatic milieu. The Real Smart City gives to inhabitants and public local administration an active role in the making of their environment via the re-appropriation, re-design and normativation of digital technologies and infrastructures. One central point for doing so, is to stop abandoning the web to a mere market logic (The Web Foundation, 2019) that is leading the hyper-industrial societies to a new acceleration in the consumption, hence an increase of augmentation of entropy.
In order to create a new right to the city, 21st century citizenship must be founded on a new way of living and working, opening deliberation and urban design processes via participatory technologies, democratise the building and dwelling of the city – and its metabolic functions. The example of the Plaine Commune programme, the first regional laboratory of this kind, wants to be outlined as a case study for the problematic of the urban areas under conditions of disruptive transformation – as well as of urgent necessity for finding alternatives for sustainable urban planning and construction models in order to diminish the production of entropy generated by human activities. This is why Plaine Commune can be defined as a locality fighting against the anthropic production of entropy –– that is a negentropic and neganthropic locality.
This could lead to what the Italian Territorialist School called a local self-sustainable development. With this concept, this group of scholars emphasized the balance between directing development towards fundamental human requirements (which cannot be reduced to material needs alone – social sustainability) and enhancing environmental quality of the territory. This approach to the territorial planning is not localism, but a form of bottom-up globalization: in this sense, the concept of open-locality proposed here rejoins the Territorialist School’s concept of inter-locality solidarity, that is the flexible and not hierarchical connections between sustainable ways of living and lifestyles present on different localities. Jose Ramos and Michel Bauwens (P2P Foundation) call this cosmo-localization, that is the creation of a cosmo-local production system in which ‘what is light’ [like knowledge and information] is shared globally, in open design commons, and ‘what is heavy is produced locally’, by generative economic entities”. This will lead to a “meaningful (virtualized) knowledge commons of high quality, open source, circular and community owned designs, as well as local production creates a virtual organizations power to produce high quality goods”.
This means that, in a RSC, empowerment paths and practices for developing citizen’s capabilities are put in place, supported by social policies capable of sustaining and valorizing common oriented work and knowledges in and out of employment. Furthermore, the creativity and synergic dynamics of the urban milieu must be freed and not repressed for inventing sustainable ways of living in the city, pairing the ‘cultivation’ of new local practices and knowledges with the critical use of technologies.
Sobriety and energy equality: sustainable and resilient cities for our uncertain future. If silicium and cobalt are at the heart of digital infrastructures, the main materials used in the building industry are concrete, glass and steel. These materials, ubiquitous in the the more and more standardized global cities, are suitable for construction because of their changes from the liquid to the solid states. Hence, they are very easy to be modeled and they require less human work force – and its savoir faire. In nowadays business as usual techniques, these materials extracted and transported, if not found on the territory, and then used on the place of construction: all of this is done with the help of a high concentration of energy. These globalized techniques do not respond to any local energy sobriety, representing one of the most entropic factor of the life of human on earth. As the OECD states in the Global Material Resources Outlook to 2060 “[t]he economic activities that drive materials use have a range of environmental consequences. These stem from obtaining the materials (e.g. greenhouse gas emissions from extracting and processing primary materials), from using them (e.g. air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels), and from disposing of them (e.g. pollution of air, land and water from landfilling waste).
Contemporary construction industry made around 10% of the total greenhouse gasses emission – and they rise up to 30% if we also take into account the operating energy in buildings. The ‘smart’ model of urbanism is an ambiguously defined project. Still largely underestimated because drowned in the smart strategic marketing, this transformation is already modifying the entire urban morphogenesis, with new architectural and engineering design, visualization and management technologies such as BIM (Building Information Modeling/Management). We argue that the model proposed for the automatization of construction, as it is proposed today, will only aggravate the environmental problem. Firstly, it is still based on a newtonian framework ignoring the laws of thermodynamics; and secondly, it standardizes more and more the urban landscapes, averaging the singularities of cities into an ephemeral and expensive (economically and environmentally speaking) ‘fashionable design’. Apart from the fact that they are entropic, these technics – themselves standardized as well – do not allow any kind of individuation and transindividuation of negentropic knowledge. It is essential to research, develop and experiment new technics for all different local contexts.
A Real Smart City needs to blow up social and technical locking making the way to experimentation of new technical and social models for inventing new ways of dwelling (habitare) and new ways of living (habitus) its socio-technical habitat. For redefining local technics, the right to make mistakes is essential in the pursuit of bifurcations. The Real Smart City will stem out from a deep understanding of the negentropic techniques of yesteryear joining our current technical capacity. We propose to redefine new construction techniques coupling 3D printing, cobotizer and BIM (Building Information Modeling/Management) with pre-industrial construction techniques reevaluating raw materials such as earth, stone, and wood. In this sense, the design of cities will be in direct relation to locally available materials, and not resources which generates anthropogenic forcings at the other end of the world (over-consumption of sand, iron mineral, etc.), leading to what has been already described as local self-sustainable development.
BIM/CIM (City Information Modeling) and Contributory Design
Social sciences scholars have long highlighted how important can be the involvement of citizens in the co-production and co-design of services. New urban design tools, such as BIM and now CIM (City Information Modeling), have great potential to facilitate and support the contribution of citizen on urban and territorial planning projects. Thanks to these technologies, increasingly present in the building industry, we are able to integrate at (almost) all times the contributions made by association, professionals and inhabitants of the territory. BIM and CIM technologies are multiscalar, hence can provide a holistic understanding of the urban whilst creating the conditions for a real bottom up participation, and more important, contribution for the future of the territory.
Contributive design could open up to a need of co-creation with and for citizens. BIM and CIM, if used in the proper way – as all technologies - can be seen as a transindividuation infrastructure, a space for collective experimentation and decision making based that stems from individual intuitions. These design tools would not only be used in the context of a new building industry, but also in agriculture, energy, and transport industries. The enhancement of the negentropic processes will be the goal of these contributory platforms and give perspectives for actions, such as creating new techniques for the transformation of local matter. In addition, citizen creation processes can be scalable in order to create networked territories, in the sense of P. Veltz (1996). In this way, we will be able to see the emergence of bottom-up globalization we mentioned before, that is an multiscale territorial networks in order to achieve negentropic objectives. This will increase the resilience of cities as well as the investments made in profound way of life changes. Like an emergency toolkit for the Anthropocene, the techniques for accumulating new knowledge will allow us to respond urgently to future extreme climatic hazards.
A practical example: Urban Modeling Project in Plaine Commune (in collaboration with Créteil’s Rectorate and the CO3 EU project, H2020).
This project aims to identify and develop new potentialities given by new technologies, thanks to a method of contributive research aimed at the appropriation of urban digital technologies by territories and their inhabitants. Such appropriation presupposes the production of new urban knowledge and skills. Aiming at the appropriation of urban digital technologies by the territories and their inhabitants, IRI will develop together with associations and professionals from the Plaine Commune territory, the Rectorate of Créteil and the European Project CO3 some transdisciplinary educational activities related to Urban Studies in middle and high schools of the territory for increasing the awareness about the new disruption in the urban modeling and planning technologies. The aim is to create capacitation workshops as well as theoretical courses that would bring students the necessary knowledge and skills for the development of a critical urban culture engaging the question of the right to the city, and the use of Building Information Management and Modeling (BIM) technologies – starting from the utilization of games (ex. Minecraft) and progressively move towards professional digital tools (ex. SketchUp and BIMs technologies). This will be coupled with the use of CO3 consortium’s technologies for experimenting a knowledge-centered commons and peer-to-peer economy, such as Blockchain, Augmented Reality and a Geolocated Social Network.