Call to Urbanize Technology


For years, the Smart City has been the ultimate form of urban progress. This concept can be defined as the use of information technologies to improve the quality of life of citizens while reducing the operating costs for cities and urban stakeholders. The ongoing digital transformation, the abundance of urban data and the emergence of Artificial Intelligence technologies supported this vision as cities around the world became “smarter”.

Despite this hype, a growing opposition began to surface. In both Europe and North America, citizens increasingly distrust urban monitoring and claim more digital rights [1]. In Asia, from the Middle East to South East, several Smart Cities such as Masdar and Songdo struggle to attract residents.

We believe that this global failure highlights a conceptual deficiency.

In the Smart City paradigm, quality of life is mainly quantified via the consumption of urban services and goods. Therefore, technology is used to optimize the city.

This approach has its benefits. Optimization of urban services such as water management, urban logistics and infrastructure maintenance can contribute to safer and more efficient cities. To some extent, smart grids make cheaper and greener energy possible while digital tools can foster civic engagement.

However, on its own, this paradigm is incomplete [2]. Cities are more than an optimized platform offering a frictionless user experience. Civic participation cannot be reduced to data transmission and human beings are not machines. In contrast, we believe that:

1. Cities are owned by people. Streets and parks are shaped by the desire to share a destiny. Places embody our social instincts and our need to gather. In that way, cities materialize our social contract. They are the common ground for generations.

2. Cities are incomplete. They evolve and transform over time. Exactly as if urban materiality was malleable. This plasticity allows us to dwell a city, to extend it and to reconfigure spaces. People do not only own the city, they constantly make it.

3. Cities are complex systems [3]. Complexity is order in heterogeneity. Likewise, cities are balanced by a bottom-up dynamic: urban density and social interactions contribute to distribute rationality and spread information. These welcoming collisions of singularities and cultures make cosmopolitanism possible. That is why cities are where diversity can flourish and thrive.

4. Cities are lands of liberty and opportunities. They are places of encounters and exploration. Encounter with other singularities and exploration of new cultures. These frictions give rise to freedom. It allows self-accomplishment through the interaction with otherness. It gives us the possibility to become who we are.

5. Cities are full of meaning. They host the daily story of people, communities and civilisations. This urban narrative reminds us that, “poetically, humans dwell upon the earth” [4].

6. Cities are not artificial bubbles. They are part of the biosphere and must echo this fundamental truth. Urbanity depends on our ability to live in a sustainable way and to fulfil our biophilia.

Each time a technology atrophies one of these qualities, it de-urbanizes the city.

We believe that in addition to optimize cities, we must urbanize technology [5]. That is, designing and developing technologies that promote urbanity and cityness.

Considering our six urban principles, urbanized technologies are:

1. Situated. They emanate from a social contract, a culture and a geography.

2. Open. They are accessible for all and evolutive.

3. Decentralized. They empower communities and are equally distributed.

4. Frictional. They encourage exploration through interactions.

5. Meaningful. They amplify human speech.

6. Ecological. They are frugal and low carbon.

None of these features are incompatible with contemporary technologies. Sensors can turn into interfaces. Data and codes can become transparent and understandable to all.
Algorithms can ease exploration and wandering. Social Media can be decentralized and frictional. Digital can serve the urban narrative.

The only limitation to reinvent urban technologies is our imagination.

We are convinced it is time to complete the Smart City paradigm and to urbanize technology. It is high time to dwell again upon the earth.

[1] This citizen resistance has even led to the abandonment of smart city projects, for example in Toronto and Los Angeles.
[2] There is now an extensive literature on this conceptual deficiency. Among others: The Smart Enough City by Ben Green, Building and Dwelling : Ethics for the City by Richard Senett and Undoing Optimization by Alison B. Powell.
[3] To be accurate, they are open complex systems interacting with the outside. It also means that their modelization is always incomplete.
[4] Hölderlin, The Ister.
[5] Saskia Sassen, Open Source Urbanism in Domus (2011) and Urbanized Technology in URBAN AI (H. Beroche et al., 2020).

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Call to Urbanize Technology by Urban AI is made available under the terms of the licence Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.
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Saskia SassenProfessor at Columbia University
Carlos MorenoCo-Founder & Scientific Director ETI Chair – Pantheon Sorbonne University
Cédric VillaniFields Medal Laureate and French Deputy
Luc JuliaChief Scientific Officer at Renault
Alex PentlandProfessor MIT Connection Science, Sloan IDE and Media Laboratory
Gaspard KoenigPhilosopher
Jean RottnerPresident of the Regional Council of Grand Est
Nigel JacobCo-Founder - Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics (City of Boston)
Hélène ChartierHead of Zero Carbon Development at C40
Frédéric MazzellaFounder and President of BlaBlaCar and Co-President of France Digitale
Thomas CottinetHead of ECOLAB – French Ministry of the Ecological Transition
Hubert BerocheFounder of Urban AI
Akim OuralDeputy Mayor - City of Lille
Marius HartmannChief Advisor at the Danish Business Authority
Nuria OliverChief Scientific Advisor at the Vodafone Institute and Chief Scientific Advisor of ELLIS Alicante Foundation
Olivier SichelPresident of Digital New Deal Foundation
Dr. Nadina GalleEcological Engineer & Technologist
Eric CostaPrésident Citynove - Directeur Immobilier Groupe Galeries Lafayette
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Olivier CorradiCEO of Tomorrow
Sasha LuccioniPostdoctoral Researcher at Université de Montréal and Computational Social Scientist at UN Global Pulse
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Carolina PanDirector of Research, Power for All
Philippe BeaudoinCEO of Waverly
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Tom BensonResearch Fellow + Project Lead @ MIT Senseable City Lab
Albane GodardConsultant in Innovation and Urban Development
Suzanne FritelliCo-Founder of BuildrZ
Jose Carpio-PinedoResearcher - Universidad Complutense de Madrid
Robert HeineckeFounder & CEO, Breeze Technologies
Ariela ValverdeArchitect and Urban Planner
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Florent OrsoniDirecteur du city design lab - L'Ecole de design Nantes Atlantique
Charles-Edouard DelpierreGeneral Manager Urban at Tractebel
JEAN-GABRIEL GANASCIAProfesseur des universités (Sorbonne Université)
Adrienne SchmoekerFormer Director of Civic Engagement and Strategy, Deputy Chief Analytics Officer for the City of New York
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Caroline LébrardCréatrice du podcast Felicity
Arthur LapeyrèreArchitect, VDC Expert & Data Analyst
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Rafael LunaCo-Founder of PRAUD
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DELPIERRE Charles-EdouardGeneral Manager Urban at Tractebel
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TG SitharamDIRECTOR, IIT Guwahati
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Beatriz Botero ArcilaCo-founder Edgelands Institute
SAYON PRAMANIKAssistant Professor- National Institute of Technology Raipur, India
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DUGROSPREZ TeddyÉtudiant dans le génie climatique, l'efficacité énergétique et le développement durable
Ariel NoymanMIT City Science
Stéphane RocheUniversity professor
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Alain RenkCo-Founder of Open Urbanism Foundation Geneva and 7 Billion Urbanists Network
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Flawizky NicolasArchitecte DPLG cyberneticien
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Cedric RenziScientific Software Development Engineer - Modelling & Simulation for design and systems Engineering
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Kee Moon JangPhD candidate
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Remy BourganelChief Startegist
Antoine VerhulstData Analyst
Adriel Alvarez-PerezBusiness Developer - Bluspark
Charles KantorFounder & CEO at KLASS Labs│Stanford University
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Philippe BOYERDirecteur innovation
Seddik nadia Coach
ANJALI GUPTAAssistant Professor
Herquin Thomas CEO
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Duraid DaasCity & Regional Planner
Izlem BoyluDirector - Urban Planning, AECOM ME
Vasiliki PahagiotopoulouArchitect
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Sara Sbaragli Research Fellow in Sociology
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Soledad GuileraSmart Cities, AI & Government Professor
JONGBIN BAIEKAssistant Associate, Urban Planning & Design Department, Heerim Architect & Planners
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Hangjoon GioChief of Smart City Business DivisionGH(Gyeonggi Housing and Urban Development Corporation)
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