Smart cities construct inhabitants as consumers. They aggregate and exploit individual preferences and behaviors to create rational, efficient cities. Hackability could subvert 'smart' initiatives. This panel explores tensions between the smart and the hackable in the context of the digital commons.
Engineers, planners and policymakers espouse faith in technocratic solutions to urban ills. 'Smart city' narratives suggest that positive outcomes can be achieved by creating personalized experiences of the city. Instead of a generalized conception of the public, city inhabitants are constructed as diverse consumers representing market sectors. Interactions with public services and spaces can be tailored to produce efficient behavior and pleasurable, engaging experiences, making concerns regarding surveillance and social engineering more difficult to identify and contest. Because the 'smart city' is based on aggregating and exploiting individual preferences and behaviors, realizing the ideal of an urban commons becomes even more elusive. The 'hackable city' (frequently constituted as bottom-up organizing) could provide a subversive corrective to 'smart city' (top-down, centrally-managed) initiatives. However, the radical potential of these practices remains uncertain. While do-it-yourself urbanists and civic hackers can be seen as challenging these narratives through the appropriation of technologies and spaces by encouraging unsanctioned uses of public spaces, such projects are not subject to participatory planning processes and may reflect elite consumption preferences. 'Hackable city' interventions could prove to be exclusionary. We invite contributions which critically explore the tensions underpinning smart and hackable city technologies, public space and its relationship to the commons. How might engagement with technically-mediated public spaces undermine or constitute a commons? Do hackable city interventions empower public space users to become producers? We especially seek work that complicates implicit dichotomies like bottom-up and top down, or hackable versus smart, engaging with the grey space between extremes.