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Meaningful Inefficiencies: Encounter, Play and Dialogue in the Smart City

Thu, August 31, 4:00 to 5:30pm, Sheraton Boston, 3, Fairfax A

Abstract

Smart city discourse has grown to include a suite of technologies integrated into the environment, from urban sensors to measure everything from air quality to body temperature, to mobile devices to capture movement, and facilitate reporting. Just as cities embrace the hyper efficiency promised by the smart city, there are emerging practices that resist this logic. We explore the tensions between the promise of the smart city and the realities of the bureaucratic management of human relations and communities. We look at several examples that seek to disrupt dominant approaches to governance, specifically those that push the smart city from its focus on efficiency and innovation, to include the messiness inherent in human relations. These efforts are by no means a rejection of the smart city, but they seek to expand the definition to include a range of inefficiencies too often excluded from the discourse, such as encounter, play and relation. We introduce the concept of meaningful inefficiencies to capture the range of activities and approaches taking place in civic organizations that deliberately seek to challenge the dominance of technological efficiency in contemporary governance. We explain these practices through the metaphor of games, where players are provided with goals, and confronted with unnecessary obstacles that make their striving for that goal meaningful. We call these meaningful inefficiencies and argue that, distinct from mere inefficiencies, they are necessary for making a city smart.

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