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Working Papers:

This is the UCCities working paper series, set up to showcase some of the great work we are doing. If you're interested in submitting original work for consideration as a UCCities work paper, please contact the UCCities Working Paper Series editor, Dr. Victoria Fast:

WORKING PAPER #2 -- Waterfront Toronto: Privacy or Piracy? (Kyle Peel and Eliot Tretter)

Abstract: Toronto's Portlands neighborhood is the target of an enormous redevelopment effort that will infuse smart-city technologies into the urban morphology. The quasi-governmental Waterfront Toronto agency has partnered with the Alphabet subsidiary company Sidewalk Labs to plan and build out the neighborhood, essentially from the ground up, and embedded it with sophisticated technologies. The redevelopment plan details a digital layer made up of sensors that will collect and process locational information, tracking movement and usage patterns. Yet the project has been mired in controversy, mainly because of questions about data ownership and management. While there will be the amassing of an unfathomable amount of data, it is not clear who will control it and how it will be processed and used. Critics of the project have pointed out that the potential value of the data is enormous and if a private company has exclusive domain over it, that company could decide to sell it at will. Securely storing citizen’s data is another problem. This paper provides a description of the popular newspaper accounts of the Waterfront Toronto Project. It discusses how the project and redevelopment authority came to be, how Alphabet be-came the primary partner, the redevelopment vision, and controversy that has engulfed this smart-city project.

Full paper available at

WORKING PAPER #1 -- Social justice in the digital age: re-thinking the smart city with Nancy Fraser (Marit Rosol, Gwendolyn Blue, Victoria Fast)

Abstract: While many urban scholars acknowledge the importance of justice and participation for emerging smart city initiatives, these dimensions remain inadequately addressed in critical literature. To strengthen the smart city critique, in this conceptual intervention we employ the theory of justice developed by philosopher Nancy Fraser, organized along the domains of redistribution, recognition, and representation. Using Fraser’s tripartite framework of justice, we reformulate and expand the existing critiques of the smart city. Moreover, drawing on her notion of transformative approaches, we argue for shifting the discussion away from the smart city, even an alternative one, towards the just city and a just urbanism in the digital age.

Full paper available at

Related Publications and Research Activity:

Urban Studies Special Issue:

Members of the UCCites team (Byron Miller, Ryan Burns, Victoria Fast & Anthony Levenda) are guest editing a special issue of the Urban Studies journal on Smart Cities between Worlding and Provincializing. This SI aims to provide a collection of original research articles from diverse perspectives around the world that call into question dominant epistemologies and theoretical frameworks employed in the study of smart city projects. Some papers disrupt western-centric forms of knowing the smart city, providing space for alternative epistemologies and ontologies that address the colonial, racist, technocratic-instrumental, and authoritarian forms of knowledge production and dissemination that have shaped cities now and in the past. Others provide case studies of the ways in which smart city policies and projects are pitched as ways to develop a “world-class” reputation. This special issue frames smart city initiatives through two complimentary theoretical approaches central to contemporary urban studies and urban theory: worlding and provincializing. Smart Cities: Between Worlding and Provincializing” also highlights productive tensions that emerge when addressing these approaches together. Papers are currently under review. Stay tuned for more!

13th Annual Critical Geographies Conference | September 28-29, 2018

The University of Calgary will host the 13th iteration of the Critical Geographies Mini-conference, which advances pressing research debates around human dimensions of climate change, social and interpersonal strategies for mental well-being, and the role of technologies in a quickly-changing world. Connecting all these topics, however, is a concern for social and political change, particularly for marginalized people. The conference has received the support of the Faculty of Arts, Vice President of Research, the Department of Geography, the interdisciplinary research network UC Cities, and the graduate student organizations The Urban Research Network (TURN), Geography Student Association (GeogSA), and Latin American Research Centre. The conference's first cohesive theme is the idea of “Crisis”: for example, ecological crisis, political crisis, humanitarian crisis, or socio-technical crisis. Tiffany Muller-Myrdhal, Senior Lecturer of Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies at Simon Fraser University, has agreed to deliver a keynote talk. The conference will be preceded by a graduate student-oriented workshop around radicalism within and beyond academia, and a post-conference urban hike exploring the urban vacancy crisis in Calgary.

Hayek's Alexa: Architectonic Impulses in the Smart City | May 17, 2018

Smart cities theory and policy emphasizes the new — new cities, new technologies, and new possibilities of efficiency, innovation, and optimization. While some of the technological details of smart cities are indeed new, the underlying philosophy involves economic and policy traditions built in the mid-twentieth century— which were in turn premised on nineteenth-century epistemological revolutions. Today's Silicon Valley smart-city disruptions are the culmination of the social and political philosophies of Friedrich von Hayek, fused with World War II cybernetics and the evolutionary methodological syntheses of Francis Galton and Karl Pearson. Today’s cosmopolitan world urban system, with its promises of politically neutral managerial efficiency, encodes dominant but unstable operating system of social and cultural conservatism that consolidated the self-perceptions of Western civilization. Yet the evolution of conservatism—especially American conservatism—has produced an ignorance of its own history and contradictions. The planetary urbanization of Hayek’s smart-cities triumph, therefore, promises a transhumanist future of apocalyptic beauty in a robotic siege of the very foundations of cultural conservatism.

Elvin WylyProfessor and Chair of the Urban Studies Program, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia

Data-driven Governance: Post-truth politics? | March 6, 2018

While the explosion of new sources of data and analytical techniques has left cities clamoring to become 'smart', the availability of this data hasn't led to an inexorable shift towards either more rational governance nor more equitable outcomes. This talk explores how the rise of data-driven urban governance has corresponded with the emergence of a kind of 'post-truth' politics, where appeals to data and scientific expertise carry even less weight than they might have previously. Drawing on ongoing research from Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky that uses mapping and data analysis to highlight urban socio-spatial inequalities, this presentation will highlight the contradictions and limitations of such research, and of the potentials for a more data-driven form of resistance to such inequality. 

Taylor SheltonAssistant Professor, Department of Geosciences, Mississippi State University

The Social and Environmental Implications of Smart Cities: Toward a Global Comparative Research Agenda | August 17-19, 2017

A three-day conference hosted by the University of Calgary featuring presentations from local and global scholars on the challenges smart cities pose on aspects of governance, surveillance, justice, and policy mobility. On the third day, a road trip to Kananaskis was offered with activities ranging from a hike of Prairie View Trail to a group discussion of global comparative research design. 

The keynote speakers included: Anthony Yeh (Hong Kong University, "Smart Cities in Pacific Asia: Roles of Government and Private Sectors"), Darshini Mahadevia (CEPT University, "Land Governance and Contestations in Smart City Projects in India"), Carla Bailo and Harvey Miller (Ohio State University, "The Columbus Smart City Project: Big Opportunities and Big Challenges"), Clara Irazabal-Zurita (University of Missouri, "Striving for Smarter Cities: The Good, the Bad, and the Smarter in Latin America and Beyond"), Nancy Odendaal (University of Cape Town, "Does the African Smart City Exist? On Understanding Livelihoods and Technology Appropriation in African Cities")

Urban Studies Research Group Strategy Workshop | April 13, 2017

In March 2017, members of the Urban Studies Research Group (UBGR) were awarded a SSHRC Connection Grant to hold a workshop on global comparative smart cities research. The keynote speaker for this workshop was Linda Peake, who is the Director of the City Institute at York University.

Linda PeakeDirector, The City Institute at York University