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The governance of urban objects

Publicado originalmente en Smart Cities Summer School – Medium


During the Summer School it was discussed a lot about in what is the city, what defines a city, and also Jens Dangschat argued that is not such term as a city from a sociological perspective.

But what everyone agreed is that the city is a problem of governance. The governance of the territory and everything else around.

It was also discussed the role of objects and the path dependence effect over urban affairs. The Actor-Network Theory from Bruno Latour was cited by Harvey Molotch and criticized by Allen Scott.

But when we talk about urban planning, almost everything ends or begins with the objects in the cities. From buildings to services, once the objects are put there, objects become actants. Then, city governments make a big effort to maintain this objects and to hold large budget, which become a hot topic between politicians.

Urban developments are an assembly of discourses, resources and actors that move things forward to “modernize” the city with an enormous power.

Smart Cities are also about objects. It depends on the perspective, but objects that are added to the city space are intended to make the urban life more efficient, or new projects that intend to change our relation with the already existing objects.

Moreover, people is oftenly left to a second place, assuming that people is easy to persuade, through some simple rules. As Kloosterman pointed, Technology is a pure blessing. There is always who loose and people who win with technology.

People’s behavior in cities is almost chaotic and unexpected. Far from predictable, people adopt choreographies to workaround with the agency of objects. Molotch gave us some examples on how the NYC Subway infraestructure is ensemble during decades in controversial ways.

By the other hand, the most talked type of economies nowadays, the brightysharing economy is about access to others’ goods (Koen Frenken gave us a nice talk about its effects). Again, objects are central. People manage to pass them hand to hand.

Cities, then, are not an object whose substance can be defined, but an aggregation of coordinations, intentions, and unexpected conditions. As Bruno Latour would say “it’s not a matter of fact but a matter of concern”.

Of course, not everything that I mention in this article is strictly considered part of a network (or is it?), but my point is that in cities, objects matters.

Objects can be only in one place, and its agency is clear in that sense. Of course it’s agency can be extended beyond the location. But in-location is much stronger.

For example, part of the object-human ensemble is in aesthetics, that bring to us the symbolic link to our memories of past events. That is what make us to remember how nice and comfortable was our experience in Vienna. 😉

Whatever was our personal perception of that experience with others, the objects were physically the same for all of us. And that, makes a common point to everyone to remember our experience.

My research project has to be with it. Our understanding about the agency of objects is sometimes narrow. We refer to them because its function (I.e. A Tram), o by its location, (I.e. The TU Building at Karlsplatz). But we will remember this places because we live there during ten days and we shared a lot of things together, and nobody else will know nothing about that empathic relation that we forge together.

For that reason, I ask myself how can we enhance this experience? How can we share those values, experiences and understanding that belongs to that place?

Ps: You can find some traces about the Summer School in Storify

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