About James Branch

Studying an MRes in Arts and Cultural Research at Brighton and blogging about digital cities and design

Google Fiber

A map of Google Fiber cities and potential Google Fiber cities

This article by links with my post earlier in the week, which talked about the governmental effect of smart city discourses on cities. Larson reports that US cities need to complete a ‘Fiber-ready checklist’ in preparation for a Google’s new (x100 faster than broadband) fiber-optic network. In this example, Google’s vision of a smart city is regulating cities by setting criteria that need to be met in order to receive the infrastructure and investment. To meet the criteria cities will presumably need to make decisions and divert resources according to this criteria. In this way Google’s smart city discourse or vision has a constitutive, material effect on cities and then casts them as either Google Fiber cities, potential Google Fiber cities or non-Google Fiber cities not included on this map.

Are cities to be answered?

Townsend (2013, p.xii) defines smart cities as ‘places where information technology is wielded to address problems old and new’. Outlining a technology industry perspective, he describes a vision of smart cities that compute away congestion, global warming and declining health through automated sensors, software, digital networks and remote controls. For Vanalo (2013), the term is problematic rather than problem solving, (although he acknowledges there may be utility in the smart city concept) he is concerned with the possible effects of smart city discourses on cities and the people who live in them. Firstly, Vanalo (2013, p.2) suggests that such discourses may distance urban government from politics, by the re-framing the ‘urban question’ in terms of the environment and technology. Such a move broadens the ‘field of action’ for technicians, consultants and private companies, which as Morozov (2014) points out, certainly raises questions about checks and balances. Secondly, Vanalo (2013, p.3) describes the potential for what he calls ‘urban governmentality’. Referencing Foucault’s governmentality concept, in which ‘subjects perceive themselves and form their identities through processes of government which control, incite or suppress actions by deeming what is acceptable and what is unacceptable’ put simply the ‘conduct of conduct’ (Vanalo, 2013, p.3). He applies this concept to cities in Italy bidding for  EU research funding, competing to meet ‘smart city’ benchmarks and boost their rankings; ‘Cities are made responsible for the achievement of smartness, i.e. adherence to a specific model of technologically advanced, green and economically attractive city, while ‘diverse’ cities, those following different development paths, are implicitly re-framed as smart-deviant.’ (Vanalo, 2013, p.7). This reading of the smart city may seem an overly pessimistic, especially when set against breathless visions of efficient, green, healthy smart cities of the future, but I think it is useful that Vanalo identifies a potential depoliticization of urban issues, interests served and also questions the type of subjects or cities that discourses around this urban imaginary produce.

Morozov, E., 2014. Open City: Democracy, Technology and the City. Available at: < http://www.cccb.org/en/video-debates_open_city_evgeny_morozov_vo_en-45467 > [Accessed 13 February 2014].

Townsend, A.M., 2013. Smart cities: big data, civic hackers, and the quest for a new utopia, New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

Vanalo, A., 2013.  Smartmentality: The Smart City as Disciplinary Strategy. Urban Studies. [eJournal] 1(16). Available through: Sage Journals website http://usj.sagepub.com [Accessed 13 February 2014].

Smile Scanning

“At last, a really practical use for technology in the workplace. A Japanese railway company, concerned that its employees may not be looking delighted enough to see passengers, has introduced “smile scanning” software to keep tabs on how enthusiastically they are grinning.” Graham Snowdon


Bit of a Bio


Hi, my name is James Branch. I oscillate wildly between being a teacher and a student. I teach part-time at Winchester School of Art. I’m also a student on the MRes in Arts and Cultural Research course here at Brighton. I’m particularly interested in questioning how design/designers come to terms with the use of locational information in their work and the wider issues that this throws up. Looking forward to studying this Digital Cities module and bouncing some ideas around with all the good folk I met yesterday.

This isn’t a picture of me – I have less hair, but something to get the ball rolling… Artful anti-recognition techniques. Thanks to @_Undt for the link. Photo by Emily Raw.