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Smart Cities & Post-Conflict Citizens

Smart Cities and Post-Conflict citizens. What an important set of social dynamics to explore. Can they be mutually beneficial or permanently fraught with fear and a lack of trust? Are cities lacking meaningful local health, safety and security measures which support social integration and recognise those who are emotionally precarious? Do the displaced represent a threat to the modern city ethos?

Inspired by work on a current project exploring smart city approaches to climate change risk and how they might be scaled or adapted in support of flood vulnerable citizens. We have started exploring how these high-tech aspects of city living and resilience can be used to support those citizens affected by conflict.

All over the world, cities are embracing different degrees of sophisticated high-tech methods (and often contentious approaches) of managing their, urban environments, occupants, and living conditions. Many, if not all of these cities, have a responsibility to integrate and support a growing number of people dealing with an entanglement of emotions due to conflict and displacement.

Cities like London, Berlin, Istanbul and Oslo provide homes to many displaced people looking for safety and support. There are cities like Kabul and Mosul wrecked through conflict which are quickly rebuilding after conflict, developing infrastructure and growth in technological capacity quicker than their citizen are recovering emotionally. And there are the contemporary and connected cities which are enduring the effect of conflict conditions today, struggling to cope with the influx of refugees and internally displaced people seeking refuge in an urban context, rather than in rural camps made available by the international peacebuilding community.

Assessing these cities and their conflict-affected inhabitants, our initial curiosity found focus in the idea that (unpredictable) post-conflict citizens and their (technocratic) host cities have contradictory perspectives with regards time and how it is orientated.

On one hand, Smart Cities are ‘present’ forward-looking in their pursuit of big-data based, technology-driven systems that reduce infrastructural weakness, improve sustainable environments for mass cohabitation, and develop resilient living conditions which will adapt to future risks brought about by climate change, pandemic and economic upheaval. They have their vision firmly set on modernisation, a networked urban environment communicating nationally, internationally and at speed. On the other hand, citizens affected by conflict (the oldest of human pathologies), seem naturally disorientated, preoccupied with the past, looking for recognition of their struggle and the acknowledgement of how they suffer today.

Whether you are ‘for or against’ the idea of smart cities, there is a certain inevitability about their role in humanity’s future. Cities, tech and data-based companies such as IBM, Cisco and Siemens are investing heavily in urban systems that advance the knowledge of how cities function and how they will adapt to mitigate risk.

Despite the seemingly enthusiastic pursuit of smart city technology, the context seems fragile without creative and explorative processes that capture and promote the potential these cities offer the humanitarian sector and mitigates the very real risk that a smart city’s technology and communication capacities could be misused to segregate, encourage othering and encourage antisocial and antagonistic behaviour resulting in future violence.

Image by Lebbeus Woods

Two interesting reads on the subject:


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