Sustainable Technologies and Creativity: The Alternative(less) Imaginaries of Smartness?

Vesa Vihanninjoki: University of Helsinki, Finland

Sanna Lehtinen: University of Helsinki, Finland


KEYWORDS: Sustainability, Creativity, Imagination, Aesthetics

Urban environments worldwide are becoming more and more saturated with a variety of technologies, giving rise to a whole range of unforeseen possibilities and challenges. Proponents of the so-called “Smart city ideology” emphasize the increase in practicality, safety and effectivity that the novel technologies bring about, perhaps understating the complex questions of values and meanings involved. Technologies are, however, never mere neutral means to an end, but they make the world appear to us in certain ways, and it often is the technologies that allow us to conceive a particular end as an end in the first place. For example, focusing on the measurability and effectivity of various urban functions, such as traveling, may lead one to evaluate urban life exclusively in terms of measurability and effectivity. It is increasingly hard to take a leisurely stroll, when one is used to think moving in the city only from the viewpoint of travel time.

Promoting “smartness” is thus about defining the city and the urban lifeform anew. Traditionally cities have been regarded as cultural “melting pots” and as manifestations of diversity. Accordingly, the multitude of urban experiences (i.e. the manifold intersecting experiential urban realities) has been conceived as a major source of value. Smart city hegemony, in turn, may pose a real threat to this, as the increasing technologicality potentially homogenizes the realm of possible urban experiences, forcing to perceive and evaluate urban lifeform through the rather narrow “smart city lens”. The aesthetics and the imageries of the prevailing smartness paradigm are indeed distractingly one-sided and unvaried, providing only a very limited number of possible alternative urban futures. Such an impoverishment of creativity and imagination is likely to have seriously detrimental impacts on the sustainability of urban lifeform, sustainability being understood as a combination of fostering adaptive capabilities and creating opportunities.