Messy Human Elements

“The city is its people” (Hill, in Hemment & Townsend, 2013, p.88). In the quest for efficiency in the technologically driven and overridden smart ‘ghost’ city, the human person is stripped of its central role in the dynamic venture through life’s everyday interaction and experiences of communication. Thus the smart city can be pictured as a barren factory endowed with machinist capabilities, serviced by the human person sleepily pushing buttons for function and routine activity. Such a structured, routinely and highly efficient state of being may actually be in conflict with the nature of the human person, the citizen of the city, whose “profoundly human elements… the messy ones” made up of “events never planned” calls on what citizens may actually want, “a slightly less ‘connected’ journey to experience serendipity in their lives once in a while” (Mulligan, in Hemment & Townsend, 2013, p.83).

One cannot envision the city without its citizens. However making the citizen a passive consumer of technologies presented and decided upon by corporations and government, excludes the Smart Citizens from their central role in the livelihood of the Smart City, that of engagement in the process of deciding on technology use and its design. Dan Hill quotes Cedric Price in asking, “Technology is the answer. But what is the question?” (in Hemment & Townsend, 2013, p.87): This in the quest of understanding the central and active state of Smart Citizens in the existence of the Smart City; “smart, engaged, aware and active citizens” (Hill, in Hemment & Townsend, 2013, p.89). “We make cities in order to come together, to create commerce, culture, conviviality, and the very notion of living in cities. Buildings, vehicles and infrastructure are mere enablers, not drivers. They are a side-effect, a by-product, of people and culture” (Hill, in Hemment & Townsend, 2013, p.88).

Among various art and design projects, which engage citizens in the active, smart running of the city, is Hackair. Such an open platform hands over direct responsibility to citizens and engages them in measuring and publishing air pollution levels. This increases citizen engagement and awareness in the well-being of its city environment, through technologies that enable smart citizens’ direct and active commitment, rather than a passive consumerist approach to technologies.






Digital Single Market. 22 new CAPS projects in Horizon 2020 [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 24 April 2016].

Hackair [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 24 April 2016].

Hemment, D. & Townsend, A., 2013. Smart Citizens: FutureEverything [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 24 April 2016].

Hemment, D. & Townsend, A., 2013. FutureEverything Publications: Smart Citizens [pdf] Available at: <> [Accessed 24 April 2016].

Hill, D., 2013. Essay: On the Smart City; Or, a ‘manifesto’ for smart citizens instead [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 24 April 2016].


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