Smartness and Wealth

April 8, 2024
TU Dresden
Dresden, September 2023

Smartness promises wealth to cities around the world. Across the planet we see a growing investment by corporations, philanthropies, start-ups, and governments in computational infrastructures that will manage cities and their inhabitants. This ‘smartness’ is closely affiliated with venture capital and start-up experiments. It is assumed that smart systems in logistics, real estate, finance, energy and retail will encourage innovation and entrepreneurship, and will resolve problems of top-down economic planning. In this project we will examine five particular aspects of this new model of wealth creation and urban management: optimization, sustainability, inclusion, resilience, and convenience. These are all particular varieties of the promise of wealth associated with smartness: the optimization and subsequent affordability provided by logistics; the sustainability required for living on a planet in crisis; the inclusion in economic life offered by decentralized finance; the energy resilience to climate change, resource limitations, and geopolitics promised by smart grids and financial hedging;  and the convenience sold by smart retail. It is smartness which propels these promises – a smartness promoted by venture capital. Whether through public smart city initiatives or the plethora of private urban platforms for mobility, sustainability, finance and retail, venture capital is reshaping how wealth is produced and reproduced in the cities of today and tomorrow. This project examines historically and ethnographically the relationship between contemporary smart urbanism, wealth, and transformations in venture capital engendered through ‘smart’ discourses. Ethnographically the research will occur in five sites in five different countries: Hamburg as Germany’s premier smart, logistical city; Kolkata as one of India’s select smart cities centered around sustainability; Nairobi’s ‘Silicon Savannah’ as a nexus of decentralized, financial technologies; Denver as a major start-up and innovation corridor in the United States, centered on smart energy and innovations; and Tokyo as an epicenter of smart, convenient retail. Historically, the research will examine genealogies of ‘smartness’ and venture capital at these sites and compare  venture capital and ‘smart’ urban initiatives globally. The project thus offers a detailed view of the making of smart cities, and the promises of optimization, sustainability, inclusion, resilience and convenience which constitute a large part of what we consider wealth today. This project engages five PI’s (of which I am the co-lead) located at TU Dresden, Dresden, Germany,  Jindal School of Art and Architecture, Delhi, India, African Center for Cities, Cape Town, South Africa, Leuphana University, Lüneberg,  Germany, and Concordia University, Montréal, Canada.


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