Educating smart cities

Ben Williamson

Computer code and digital data have become powerful influences in the social organization and governance of education. At the same time, cities are being reconceived as composed of code, driven by data, and made ‘smart’, ‘programmable’ or even ‘sentient’. At the intersection of these developments, a range of commercial, governmental and civil society organizations is now engaging in a reimagining of education for the smart city. This is the subject of my new article in Big Data & Society, ‘Educating the smart city: schooling smart citizens through computational urbanism.’ By tracing key technical developments and related discourses, the article examines the emergence of ‘smart schools’ that are currently in-the-making – fabricated educational spaces that are to be enacted by an assemblage of coded technologies and data practices (performed by technical experts) and supported by the production of discursive imaginings that are intended to school individuals’ capacities, skills and literacies to participate in the smart city itself.

The article contributes two original lines of critical analysis: (1) by tracing how commercial vendors such as IBM and Microsoft are extending their global smart cities programs into a reimagining and reconfiguration of schools as data-based sites of real-time monitoring and measurement, where students are increasingly treated as ‘data objects’ whose actions can be altered through programming the environment; and (2) by examining how governmental and civil society organizations are working within local smart cities initiatives to develop young people’s capacities as active ‘smart citizens’, with the technical data skills to contribute to computational urbanism by participating in ‘civic coding’ on behalf of the city. These features constitute an emerging educational infrastructure of intersecting standards, technologies, discourses and social actors, all infused with the aspirations of technical experts to govern the city at a distance through monitoring and manipulating young people as data objects, while also schooling them to act as active computational citizens with the responsibility to compute the future of the city. The novel claim advanced in the article is that education is being positioned as an urban laboratory in which imaginaries of the smart city are being made attainable in experimental form. For advocates of future city visions, the attainability of more data-driven and computational forms of urban governance appears to depend on educating the smart city and the citizens that inhabit its computational dynamics and its associated forms of conduct.

The rest of the article is available open access on the Big Data & Society website.

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One Response to Educating smart cities

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