UCL School of Management

29 November 2021

Veins and wires: reflections on urbantech transformation

Panoramic view of multiple roads crossing and intersecting each other in a city

Source: Pexels 

What kind of urban environment would you like to live in? In their latest article in The European Business Review, UCL SoM’s Dr Rikke Duus and her co-authors, Dr Mike Cooray from Hult International Business School (Ashridge) and Marius Sylvestersen from the University of Copenhagen, critically reflect on how digital technologies are accelerating and changing the nature of urban spaces.

The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly demonstrated how citizens’ behaviours and priorities can change almost overnight due to restrictions on movement and socialization. Across the world, citizens have accelerated their use of digital technologies to stay connected and to gain access to essential services, including food delivery, virtual healthcare, and online education, while digital platforms have also been a lifeline for many to continue their work from home. This is a critical time to actively re-think the evolution of the city and the role of technology in the design of future urban spaces. Should these future urban spaces be held together by veins or wires?

Informed by research into urban development, digital transformation and citizen engagement, the article brings forward examples from around the world to identify some of the boundaries of our technology-textured living. It illuminates how the creation of our urban spaces takes place at the delicate intersection of personal privacy on one hand and the dream of the utopian ‘smart’ city on the other.

The article reflects on four key themes related to (1) the pursuit of the ‘smart’ city, which is often a utopian tech-driven ideal that fails to deliver a heightened quality of life for citizens; (2) the visibility of human-tech tensions occurring when the ‘sensing city’ creates fear and discomfort for its human inhabitants; (3) the rise of legal frameworks that seek to protect citizens from living in a surveillance society that lacks transparency and opportunities to engage through participatory democracy; and (4) the re-centering of citizens by city governments to ensure efforts in city transformation are realigned to create enhanced citizen well-being, quality of live and more liveable cities.

The article was published in The European Business Review, Sept-Oct 2021 issue.

Last updated Friday, 17 December 2021