Making Smarter Environments: The Environmental Politics and Practices of Smart Cities

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: Digital Geographies Specialty Group, Geographic Information Science and Systems Specialty Group, Urban Geography Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM (MDT)
Room: Napoleon C1, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Organizers: Ryan Burns
Chairs: Ryan Burns


Within smart cities debates, the dominant discourse suggests that smart technologies will improve sustainability, efficiency, and environmental control, yet much of these claims have been taken for granted, furthering post-political urban environmentalism. We see this as an opportunity for critical geographers and political ecologists to investigate the politics of urban environmentalism at the nexus of big data, smart technologies, and data-driven governance.

Recent work has brought attention to these issues. For example, Gabrys (2014) identifies the ways in which smart cities enroll environments - surroundings, natural processes, and technological milieu - to shape the range of possible ways of being in the city. Likewise, Luque-Ayala and Marvin’s (2016) work on urban atmospheric control and “nowcasting” shows how computational power extends a logic of control onto natural processes, such as storm surges and flooding in the city. Recent work on “environmental big data” has also pushed forward concerns about the practices, devices, and subjects involved with environmental monitoring, raising new questions about epistemologies and ontologies of nature in the city as well as the politics of socio-environmental control (Gabrys 2016; Lippert 2016; Garnett 2016; Fortun et al 2016).

Critical questions are still to be answered, however, as smart cities and IoT agendas proliferate. They include questions of the decision-making practices around the geographic-ecological placements of data centers, the implications of sensors for real-time monitoring of air and water pollution, and the nature of the performativity and social construction of open data categories such as "environmental" data.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter James Palmer*, University of Oxford, Marion Ernwein, University of Oxford, Making the mos(s)t of trees? Political and ontological implications of ‘smart’ responses to urban air pollution 20 1:20 PM
Discussant Sofia Shwayri 20 1:40 PM
Presenter Yawei Zhao*, University of Calgary, Eliot Tretter, University of Calgary, The Chinese Smart City: The State, Technology, and Discourse 20 2:00 PM
Presenter Paul Parker*, University Of Waterloo, Bronwyn Lazowski, University of Waterloo, Gord Stephen, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, USA, Does smart meter feedback generate a smart energy culture? Lessons from a Canadian residential in-home display study 20 2:20 PM
Presenter Louise Carver*, Birkbeck, University of London, Practices producing big data and biodiversity: the role of digital technologies in addressing environmental change in England 20 2:40 PM

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