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Unpacking Data-Driven Urbanism within a Historical Context of Urban Cybernetics

Authors: Gunes Tavmen*, King's College London
Topics: Cultural Geography, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: smart cities, cybernetics, control, data-driven urbanism
Session Type: Paper
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Despite the widely acknowledged cybernetic aspects of smart cities, there is in fact little research into detailing in what ways these manifest, as well as what cybernetic principles are diminished in contemporary data-driven cities. Instead, there is a tendency to use ‘cybernetic urbanism’ as a pejorative signifier relating to a set of unpacked attributions of data-driven cities. Cybernetics, on the other hand, was an expansive field, and was challenged both within and without from the outset. In the pursuit of filling this gap in the critical smart city literature, this paper aims to trace the convergence of cybernetics and urban planning in a historical context by showing the variety of ideas emerged within the field and in what ways these ideas continue to shape urbanism. In doing so, I will also show that, within the critical smart city literature, most of the suggestions that are given as ‘remedies’ for the ills of smart cities indeed overlap with the ideas rooted within cybernetics -despite their disdain for it- such as decentralisation, horizontal decision making (e.g. community networks), adaptivity, and self-organising systems. Lastly, I will join Krivy (2016) (also see Davies, 2015), and argue that the type of power found in cybernetic urbanism propagates along the lines of Deleuzian control through the notions of contingency, complexity and unpredictability that emerged within second-order cybernetics. However, I will also add that this is so on the level of governance; while in deployment of technical systems within these governance models, these notions paradoxically diminish.

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