Science fiction and the smart-eco city

A new conference paper by Rob Cowley, a partner in the SMART-ECO project, investigates the relationship between science fiction and the recent discourses around ‘smart’ and ‘eco’ cities.

How could science fiction have affected the collective imagination about the city, having real impacts on the development of cities today? This and related questions are explored in the new paper, first presented at the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) Annual Meeting 2016, Singapore, 22–26 June 2016.

The paper starts from the observation that there is a clear science fictional aesthetic in the way that many urban initiatives are promoted, particularly those following the recent ‘smart’ theme. Their utopian presentation, however, is at odds with the often dystopian vision found in science fiction. Critics may even argue that the revolutionary connotations of science fiction may misrepresent the reality of smart-city initiatives, which have the potential to reinforce an unsustainable business as usual.

However, the author finds a value in this form of storytelling about the city: it has been successful in mobilising groups of actors and using narratives in this way may be a useful and legitimate approach to planning in a postmodern context.

This year’s SHOT Annual Meeting featured a session on technology and the city, which explored how cities have been imagined, designed and built along with the progress of science and technology. Simon Joss and Rob Cowley of the International Eco-Cities Initiative each presented papers.

Download the conference paper (PDF)

Visit the SHOT Annual Meeting 2016 website

Image: Rick Guidice, Cutaway View of a Toroidal Colony. Image credit: NASA Ames Research Center.