Speaker: Mike Crang: The Pirate City: Make Do and Mend in Improvisational Urbanism


The account of smart cities has focused on key exemplars and celebrity cases, largely dominated by visions of open data producing a transparent city. This city then becomes amenable to management through the integration of various networks – typically bringing together notions of transport, energy, water and waste flows. The social realm tends to be passed over either in favour of a notion of a central control operating efficiently by bypassing democratic cycles of governance or as a contented population to be serviced. Alternately there is a vision of algorithmic smartness where a distributed form of intelligence leverages the calculative power of consumer devices to suggest a pluralised control united in a technical ecology. The appeal of the latter though tends to rely on a notion of the citizen as consumer who is pacified and happy to delegate their agency to algorithms. The question of whether this enables a democratising of control or a delegation of agency remains an important one. To answer this, the paper looks to some other places and other practices of citizenship. It looks at the appropriation of urban space taking its inspiration from William Gibson’s invocation of the Walled City of Kowloon to challenge the walled gardens of proprietary systems and the coherent, and often bucolic, visions of smart cities. In speaking of such it turns to think of the heterarchic and heterologic practice of the city, that involves thinking through the recalcitrant materiality of media and its transductive potential to suggest it is neither as seamless nor as transparent as often suggested.

Mike Crang

Mike Crang is a professor of geography at Durham University. He has worked on the social and spatial effects of information technologies in the urban arena for 15 years. Early books like ‘Virtual Geographies’, work examining the transformation of associative spaces in the city focused on the transformations of proximity that new technologies enabled. With Steve Graham, he then explored the possible rise of the multi-speed city and the effect of technologies on the logistics of everyday life in produce differential social outcomes. This they pursued into asking about the transformation of agency with increasingly embedded calculative capacities in the sentient city. Other work looked at the ways information technologies were leveraged as both infrastructure and functioned as rhetorical devices in the competition between cities functioning as hubs in the global economy. He has also worked on issues of temporality, editing the journal Time & Society for a decade, and issues of social memory and heritage. Studying the representation of cultural landscapes and their mediation in various institutions led to a work on touristic understandings of places. From looking at preservation he has come to be interested in discard, disposal, decay and decrepitude.