Shot in 1982, the film Blade Runner is set in futuristic Los Angeles in 2019 in a setting full of flying cars, building verticals and ubiquitous advertising screens. Although the merit of history goes well beyond the special effects and elaborate aesthetics, it is impossible to deny the imaginary importance of the future dystopia that pervaded Ridley Scott’s mind in the 1980s. The various technological elements made up a kind of smart, yet vigilant city, in which the past (human) and future (android) disputed the spaces in search of recognition, survival and even love. From different perspectives, objectively and subjectively, the landscapes of smart cities reveal more than a horizon of technological modernization: they represent and resignify the own social disputes in the urban environment. But to whom are they destined? This is the theme of our post this week.
Smart cities: from fiction to reality
In Blade Runner fiction, a kind of delirium involves spectators through visual and narrative features, among them the ubiquity of control forms: the Voigt-Kampff, a kind of interrogation polygraph to check if one is really human; the Spinner, a flying car used for police surveillance; and artificial intelligence that perceives mood swings, performs facial recognition and suggests profiled behavioral practices.
The architecture of the cinematographic city also reflects a deepening of the social hierarchies, in urban conformations in which the rich ones live in elevated, ample, clean and silent environments, whereas the lower classes dispute space in the dirty and crowded streets, live in cubular apartments and are subject to the thousands of lights and sounds of advertisements that hijack them.
With the unconstrained confluence of high technology in the midst of a few (and remaining) biological elements, dystopias are often narratives centered on the loss of human control over the development of society and technology or the natural resources necessary to survival. This type of history relates scarcity, marginalization and insecurity from the allegorical optimization of human actions in favor of one group and, usually, to the detriment of others.
Although cities are still not taken by the cars that fly, the future envisioned for 2019 is not as far away as one might think. With the increasing incorporation of new technologies into daily life in cities, we see some of these same Blade Runner elements presented in the form of innovations (stand-alone cars, face recognition on Chinese streets and social networks, Amazon’s Alexa, etc.), which they also qualitatively transform the forms of sociability and production of the city space.
Faced with the global phenomenon of cyberculture, we must question the arrival of the future in order to prevent life from imitating art, assuring cities their hegemonic function, but also consistent with the heterogeneity of interests and groups that compose it. In this confluence of factors, law, governments, media and technologies interact in a variety of ways.
Urban landscapes and intelligence at the service of city integration
The construction of models for the development and renewal of cities goes back to a constant idea that there is an urban crisis to be overcome, and that it stems from the absence of mechanisms to ensure economic growth and social well-being. The production of the city, human action par excellence, would also lead to the enlargement of space and human incomprehension over its totality. As a result of this sense of crisis, there is a loss of control over key areas of urban organization.
By establishing specific sector-specific renovation programs, creative and sustainable cities have their transformational capacity conditioned to a fragmented vision of the city. While fundamental to ensuring quality of life, culture and environmental balance, they are not in themselves capable of establishing a holistic view of the challenges facing urban centers. Cultural policies expose the risk of privileging manifestations of a particular social group, while environmental actions may exclude human potential by considering only the negative effects of the impact on nature. To the most common criticisms of these models, the punctuality of sectors that are affected by sustainability programs and indexes, especially energy, water and transport, can also be added.
Although these sectors are crucial for the redesign of the urban network, the search for localized efficiency precludes a comprehensive approach to urban phenomena. Cities need actions that have not only cultural or environmental targets, but which also envisage the composition of a safer, smarter, healthier and more financially balanced environment. The use of information technology is already essential to overcoming the challenges created by urbanization, and city renewal and empowerment programs adopt platforms that prioritize cost and resource efficiency in developing development policies, but it is necessary to that cities are, in addition to being creative and sustainable, truly smart. For this, we must go beyond technology.
The different technologies employed in the creation of these cities should be based on a model of innovations that is, in addition to being efficient in terms of costs and resources, smart, reliable and integrated. This should be the point of elaboration of the system to be implemented. Cities must operate platforms capable of harmonizing the various areas and elements that constitute them, so that the perspectives of realization of the individual, whether in the public sphere or in the private sphere, are connected in the established development and protection network.
It is in this sense that the adoption of the paradigm of the urban landscape can be a factor of increment to the proposed dynamics of intelligence. If, on the one hand, smart cities have objectives similar to those of sustainable cities, the reconciliation between the economy and the ecology propagated in them must serve not only the interconnection of green spaces and built-up areas (so-called green-gray integration) but also assurance of connectivity and the multifunctionality of spaces in a socially inclusive plan.
As the space of the city is also a space of flows with three layers of material supports, it will be up to the circuit of electronic impulses to promote a strategy of transformation of the space that reaffirms the cultural and identity references of that community. The proposal is to bring together the cultural and environmental paradigms in the production of a platform prone to review and update the processes that already occur in the city, without neglecting elements that were previously considered accessories. The understanding of the urban space from its landscape results in an equation that allows to add the elements of the previous models and to compose a holistic vision of the questions to be faced. Landscape is the result of the interaction between culture as agent and nature as a medium.
The polysemy of the concept of landscape carries the potential of establishing a system able to delimit a set and its functionality, also in the operational plane, since the landscape includes the own things and also its image, its representation that is organized in types, reasons and models, as well as serve as a characteristically modern form of representation and encounter with the external world, whether in its graphic and pictorial qualities or in the means of connecting the individual to the community, as well as in forms of graphic representation such as maps, urban furniture, paintings, photographs, videos and films.
The understanding of the urban landscape goes beyond the merely aesthetic character of the forms of expression and, still associated with its pictorial component, begins to incorporate human and social values and feelings into a more visceral reference experience. In this sense, territory can also produce feelings of well-being that are marketable and directed not only to collective social practices but also to the production of capital value and convenience transferable to consumer relations.
To deal with the complexity that results from the interactions between the symbolic, material and capital values that exude from the dynamics of urban space, the education system for technology must involve not only an agenda of digital inspiration but also emancipatory. The qualification of the interested agents for the composition of a multilevel governance, capable of underlining the cultural and social diversity that compose the city, must dialogue with a collective project of technical innovations to be implemented under the criterion of economic and environmental effectiveness, with affordable costs that ensure their inclusive potential. In this sense, adopting a learning-based approach can present itself as a strategic challenge to ensure the 6 dimensions of urban intelligence: Smart Economy, Smart Mobility, Smart Environment, Smart People, Smart Living, and Smart Governance.
In this respect, the formation of intelligent databases on the city must capture not only the balance of the natural characteristics, the built area and the relations established between them, but also consider the paradigm of the viability of an urban landscape that not only translates the well-being related to these characters, as well as the values to be shared by individuals who transit and relate in the general spaces of the city, whether public or private with a direct impact on the enjoyment of public areas. Cyberculture points to the presence of a generalized telepresence civilization, in which the physics of communication responds to the tendency to hybridize between space, body and information, establishing a passage for the digital forms of interaction by creating a universal by contact, the from a continuum without frontiers where humanity dips with other beings in the same bath of interactive communication.
Technology and its possible accessibilities
Among the main benefits of using technology by smart cities are the various forms of inclusion and accessibility. The vast availability of data and metrics, coupled with the Internet of Things (IoT), provides unimaginable connection possibilities, even by science fiction directors: burglar alarm pickup devices public); traffic volume sensors for the automated timing of traffic lights (traffic management efficiency); geolocation of loads and passengers for generation of flow metrics of processes and people (urban mobility); watering of plants and trees according to the climate and the daily solar incidence (rationing of water resources); and public and private lighting through motion sensors (energy efficiency).
These and other applications in the urban context corroborate profound changes in the landscape of cities, from the experience of mobility of the interactions between cars and pedestrians, to the aesthetic relations established between profiled advertising (see below) and its consumers. In constant transformation by interventions in the environment, the smart city can also expand the capacity of inclusion. According to some studies, the wide availability and accessibility of sensors and internet connections increasingly incorporate people and objects into the logic of data production and processing.
For example, visually impaired people can benefit from the freedom provided by autonomous cars. Pedestrian presence sensors can increase the red traffic light time for vehicles, making it easier to cross the streets according to the needs of each person. Kiosks and interactive maps of information can help tourists navigate a city whose native language they do not master. Non-monetary means of payment, and even without the need for physical contactless, can increase the security of transactions, corroborate the formal regularization of money circulation, avoid fraud and facilitate the automatic exchange of different currencies.
Another important example of intelligent advertising profiling was a Spanish campaign developed for children against child violence, seen only by viewers under 1.35 meters (due to the angle of view of the advertising totems). While the children observed an image that referred to forms of denunciation against the aggressors, their companions, because they were taller, saw other content. This was a clever way of directing different messages that one would like to convey, since children are often accompanied by their own aggressors, but discreetly and in the same space, for different viewers.
Smart marginalization: gentrification and geolocalized concentration of digital benefits
What we understand by intelligence in urban organization can also mean, depending on how it is implemented and the interests of who it serves, efficiency in the development of processes of gentrification and concentration of the benefits that initially justify it. If the “smartizing” of things implies using the latest technology to provide services in the urban context, it is also possible that this application of resources, directly and indirectly, is skewed, as are so many others today.
In his studies on Brazilian and Latin American economic formation, Celso Furtado emphasizes the processes of unequal accumulation of wealth that gave rise to what he determines as underdevelopment, thus providing explanations about the origins of asymmetric structures that seek to eliminate through induction to the development. For the author, it would be incongruous for underdeveloped countries and regions to seek to develop themselves through productive techniques that are inadequate to their cultural and geographical realities. This import of productive techniques and methods, to the detriment of the valorization of nature, creativity and local ingenuity, would have the power to perpetuate relations of dependence with countries producing technology, in addition to increasing the development gap between these regions.
The same process can be observed in recent phenomena of technological assumption by developing countries and regions. In general, they are phenomena that involve the importation of technologies, require the licensing of software and demand the technical training of specialized personnel. In addition, the application of new technologies, or technological infrastructure, either as a public policy or as a commercial strategy of the private sector, is not immediately disseminated. They are punctual incorporations, in places and in strategic markets. This would be a reproduction of international asymmetries of development also in the internal sphere, between the coast and the sertão, between Southeast and Northeast, between capital and interior, between center and periphery, and so on.
For Furtado, a “cultural creativity” would be necessary to overcome the social, political and economic imposition of capitalism in the contemporary world. This is one of the means to innovate, be it in the scope of intellectual property, productive structures and even social activities. Without taking cultural aspects into account and the heterogeneity of peoples, society conforms to the old reproductive structures of an “urban marginality” and an “economic authoritarianism” capable of “blocking the social processes in which this creativity is nourished, frustrating true development. ” In this tax context, the power relations between agents are asymmetric, competition is not perfect, and classical economic theories would be insufficient to explain the setbacks to the development of non-industrialized regions, or that have low indices of industrialization. Given that economic progress and the commercial integration of peoples are not homogeneous, regional development requires different implementation strategies, depending on these local characteristics.
Just as economic and technological dissemination does not take place in a homogeneous way by society (international or national), smart cities also have the potential to aggravate marginalization and focus some of the benefits of this offline space scanning. China itself experiences this parallel today: one of the highest levels of income inequality in the world yet easy access to cutting-edge technologies as one of the major exporters (and creators) in the industry. While half of the country is still rural, poor and disconnected from the networks, the other half concentrates national and foreign investments, produces technological innovation in the most varied sectors, is hyperconnected and establishes some of the main international trends in the tech market. According to a Thomson Reuters report, China became the world’s biggest patent filer in 2011, surpassing the traditional US and Japanese markets.
This unequal distribution of informational capital, especially through heterogeneous technological dissemination, also has its effects in the digital context, or online. Named a digital division, this consequent heterogeneity results from a double principle of development: the lack of productive and technological capital alone requires less training and the use of informational intelligence in its daily life; In addition, today’s disconnection also provokes a preterm in the market choices of those who seek to invest (income, educational, racial, gender, among others).
In these contexts of disconnection, in the absence of strategically directed technological development policies, the reasons why the disconnection itself exists exist and reinforce the conformation of new pockets of marginalization. An equally unequal application of these technologies has the potential to maintain or deepen the perceived inequalities we face in urban planning. While the intentionality of the production of places can give them values of inclusion, innovation, sustainability and progress, it is also possible that scarcity, segregation and marginalization are the focus of the “smartising” of 21st century cities.
Smart cities require enabling or transformative technologies for their institutionalization. However, this dimension must follow strategic and democratic plans with regard to intentional transformation choices of the city. Technology improves quality of life, but technology should not be a goal in itself. On the contrary, its use as a tool for progress and evolution of the concepts of the city needs to be weighed against social, economic-developmental and accessibility factors.
In one of the most beautiful scenes of Blade Runner 2049, perhaps in an exercise of futurology even greater in relation to the first film, the director Denis Villeneuve chooses to portray K, the android interpreted by Ryan Gosling, in a moment of reflection. Alone, K walks on a blanket in front of a neon billboard in rainy Los Angeles when, after looking at a billboard, the character portrayed in his ad comes close and says: you seem lonely. In the background, there is a sign that flashes the words: Everything you want to hear; everything you want to see.
In the dystopian landscape, the dialogue between machines is symptomatic and a subterfuge of the center-technology script to reflect the protagonist’s feeling. It is the height of the subjective individualization in which the android, having always lived in the certainty of its condition, begins to question its own existence, in the hope of being also human. His only possibility of redemption is alterity.
This should also be the central objective of any technological and informational system to be implemented in smart cities. In order for the space produced in the city to continue to converge on individual perceptions and expectations, it is necessary to trace the innovations model in the search for high efficiency in resource use and cost reduction in combination with the maximum intelligence, reliability and integrability of the programs. implemented.
A city that intends to overcome the adversities of urbanization in an intelligent way must not only ensure environmental quality with the rational use of natural resources. It is necessary to establish models of optimization of public services, but also a system of education for technology that presents digital and emancipatory inspiration. In this way, platforms can combine into instruments of inclusion and accessibility, as well as protection of minority and vulnerable groups.
The model also needs to be reliable, focusing on the creation of governance programs that allow for transparency and explanation of decisions made, as well as call the population to the discussion about the use and use of collected data to ensure plural use of the system adopted and services and spaces produced. The democratization of use presents itself as a way to overcome disbelief in the transformative potential of these programs, allowing even the overcoming of some territorial disparities. Reliability is imperative to overcome the difficulties and challenges of underdevelopment.
The integration of cultural and identity references in the urban landscape aims to overcome any fragmentation reminiscent of previously developed models by allowing a holistic understanding of the physical and social composition of the city. Although it allows the individualization of technological intermediations, the landscape paradigm combats the processes of spatial marginalization by promoting the incorporation of multiple elements into a heterogeneous whole, thus valuing plurality.
The advancement of technology through a development plan that is not purposefully modeled to encourage cultural, environmental and social capacities will make cities, too, need to question their very existence. After all, meeting the most notorious requirements of forming an smart city – such as the development of a broadband network that enables digital applications and also the enrichment of the physical space and urban furniture with digital systems – will not be effective for the reproduction of the urban life if it is not aimed at building a strategy that encompasses the achievement of all individuals.
It is in this sense that the integrative view of the urban landscape can provide subsidies for the constitution of an urban value system, serving as paradigmatic framework for the data to be assimilated in the production and reproduction of the development models adopted. Its integrative character allows the combination of several elements in a polysemic movement capable of strengthening innovation in territorial and regional practices.
It is up to the intelligent cities of the future to answer whether they will also have the capacity to be all that we want to hear and see. Do individuals have the same opportunities to occupy and experience space without lacking a sense of humanity to ground their own existence?
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