Response as responsibility: Capitalist hauntings, climate specters, and data-driven urban adaptation

Authors: Julia Wagner*, Clark University
Topics: Urban Geography, Human-Environment Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: urban geography, digital geography, climate change, adaptation
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 45
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper explores the politics, materialities, and ideological entanglements of the responsive city, the latest branding in techno-optimistic urban resilience, visioning readily adaptable urban infrastructures aided by a datafied Internet of Things. I examine two articulations of this phenomena: Sidewalk Toronto, the recently foreclosed smart neighborhood project and Kibbo, a #VanLife, smart settlement tech start-up, to interrogate the capitalist prerogatives of the responsive city’s pillars of circulation, recursiveness, and emergence. By tracing disjunctive mobilities of data and Darwinism, cybernetic pasts and techno-optimist futures, I unearth the deeply capitalist pillars of the responsive city’s data-driven urban resiliency and adaptation. With these logics, urban governance is stymied by a climate specter materializing in affects of urgency, uncertainty, and overwhelm. The responsive city centers increasing data accumulation as the solution to anticipate and thwart climate-related threats conveyed through models and charts. In this oversimplified articulation of profit-oriented urban governance, responsiveness is conflated with responsibility and use with infrastructural effectiveness. With a reflection on changing urban patterns of circulation with the onset of COVID-19 restrictions, I argue that responsive city systems are limited in their structural imaginations of profit accumulation. I suggest that the pandemic’s spread highlights the truly unpredictable impacts of capitalist natures that require more expansive attention than monitoring measurable metrics and guarding against predictable catastrophe.

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