Rebugging The Smart City. Design Explorations Of Digital Urban Infrastructure

Nick Förster Technical University of Munich
Gerhard Schubert Technical University of Munich
Frank Petzold Technical University of Munich

Smart Cities are presented as a straightforward solution to diverse urban problems. On a closer look, however, the discourse on ‘Smart Cities’ seems wicked in various ways: vaguely defined, speculative, and fragmented into incommensurable positions. Focussing on this ‘wickedness,’ we explore the potential of design approaches to pervade the obscurities and discursive segregations around digital urban infrastructure. Insights from critical design theory lead us to an engagement with digital design not only as validation and enhancement of Smart City projects but as contingent and political exploration. Design becomes an investigation and remaking of what a ‘Smart City’ means in a concrete context. Hence, this approach allows an intersection of social and technical, affirmative and critical perspectives. We explore this approach through an experimental workshop. Hence, we discuss the unfolding of two design engagements: the reframing of ‘Smart Lighting’ as cosmopolitical controversy and the hacking of pedestrian navigation as urban exploration. This approach shows a double potential: On the one hand, it makes digital design practices aware of their ambiguous and political effects. On the other, we scrutinise the possibility of sociotechnical design perspectives as a research approach towards ‘Smart City’ projects and digital urban infrastructure.

Keywords: Smart City, Design Theory, Prototyping, Digital Infrastructure, Urban Studies, Critical Making, Speculative Design, Sdg 9, Sdg 11

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