In becoming a smarter city: Pragmatist experiments in Sydney's transport information systems

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Copyright: Tompson, Tim
Cities are primary centres of human population, productivity and environmental impacts. Their adaptation to the challenges of the 21st century is critical. Since the mid-2000s, the concept of the smart city has emerged, proposing digitally-mediated ‘solutions’ to these challenges. Yet, the smart city’s ill-defined and ideological discourse has little relevance to urban design and development initiatives undertaken within local contexts. There is insufficient guidance for practitioners, with many of the realities of practice hidden or excluded from the discourse, particularly the impact of the socio-material. This thesis responds to this dilemma. It draws on the rich history of philosophical pragmatism to ‘reassemble’ the smart city discourse, making it responsive to the immediate and situated challenges of 21st century cities. The thesis strips out the ideology of the smart city, grounding the concept in the experience of existing projects. As a result, the research constitutes a reassembly of the smart city, understanding it as a concept ‘in the making’; one which includes other voices in the discourse. It reimagines the smart city in terms of post-anthropocentric urban politics: the Cosmopolitical. To enact this contemporary pragmatist ontology, the thesis presents a visual history method, developed through empirical studies of two transport information system projects in Sydney, Australia. Over a three-year period, data on both projects were drawn from observations, oral histories and secondary sources, including media and reports. The data were then analysed, using Actor-network theory. It is argued that these visual histories and the pragmatic positioning of the research explain smart city initiatives as necessarily heterogeneous processes, open to multiple interpretations. This lays the foundations for my proposal for a process-based ontology of ‘becoming' rather than ‘being’, asserted to adequately conceptualise the smart city for future initiatives. Practitioners are urged to adopt process-relational approaches, rather than more limited rational ways of conceiving and planning the smart city. Whilst challenging, pragmatism offers a significant contribution to understanding the smart city; an alternate epistemology and relevant ontology in the remaking of our cities for 21st century challenges.
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Tompson, Tim
Thompson, Susan
Haeusler, Matthias H.
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PhD Doctorate
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