This is the second in a series of texts in which I am drawing the boundaries of my PhD investigation. In the first one, I have explored references that bring about a critical perspective on the topic of smart cities. In this one, I will focus on waste management. It is an important theme, often mentioned superficially in the narrative about smart cities. However, it is usually neglected by those set out to create alternatives in a more inclusive, fair, sustainable and participatory way. In this text, I will attempt more specifically to discuss how cities can improve the reuse of materials, instead of sending all of them down the line for recycling, incineration or landfill disposal. Once again I will build on relevant literature, as well as bring anecdotal insights from my experience in previous projects.
In the context of the OpenDoTT project which advances the understanding of open design seeking to develop a more trustworthy internet of things (IoT), the specific topic of my PhD research is that of the so-called Smart Cities. Since I arrived in Dundee last July I was able to get a taste of a wide range of critical takes on the field, reflect upon some common elements between them and how they relate to my own past experience, as well as learn about areas I want to explore further.
My starting point was, in fact, a hiatus of about a decade. Around 2009 and 2010 I have written a bit about smart cities, albeit very superficially and only in Portuguese. My main interest was not technology in itself, for I already felt the deployment of information systems and hardware in cities was arguably nothing new. From public lighting to policing and transportation systems, cities have often been the proving grounds for new technological developments, since way before the digital appeared. I was rather more interested then in understanding the potential role of experimental labs when associated with emergent urbanism and local communities.
It’s been a little over four months since I moved to Dundee from Brazil. Besides the sort of activity more commonly associated with research—reading and taking notes, writing down findings and perceived gaps, discussing ideas and planning field exercises—I have engaged in a kind of meta-research. My investigation topic being ‘smart cities’, the very fact that I have moved with my family to a city we haven’t even visited beforehand offered—is offering—good insight into what one often takes for granted when thinking about cities. Mobility, education, utilities, many aspects of city life could arguably be improved to better serve its citizens. The only problem is, ‘improving’ means different—often controversial—things to different people. When it comes to research then, some choices must be made.
Over this period, I went back to using a blog to document ongoing research. I have also collected a few hundred references about a growing number of themes related to cities, technology, things, and society. Part of them came from projects I was previously involved with. Others came from discussions with colleagues, supervisors and members of the OpenDoTT consortium. Equally fruitful was the first trip of my PhD research when I attended a pretty relevant conference in Rotterdam and a festival in Berlin.