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Gender just urban development in smart city contexts

Local cooperation partner: Univ.-Prof. Dr. Anke Strüver, Institute of Geography and Regional Science
Junior Fellow: Marcella Rowek

Incoming Senior Fellow: Prof. Dr. Sybille Bauriedl, Interdisciplinary Institute for Environmental, Social and Human Sciences, Department of Geography, Europa- Universität Flensburg
Incoming Junior Fellows: Yannick Ecker, Henk Wiechers

Period: March 2020 to February 2021
Symposium: 4 to 6 March 2021


The term "Smart City" describes less the status of a city than the promise to improve the quality of life in cities by means of digital technologies. Digital communication, digital infrastructures and digital connectivity are increasingly penetrating the public and private spaces of work and everyday life. Increasing digitalization thus offers potential for new forms of urban coexistence, while at the same time demonstrating a trend towards universalization and standardization driven by dominant digital corporations (see Bauriedl/Strüver 2018: Smart Cities. Critical perspectives on digitalization in cities. Bielefeld: Transcript).

In the context of smart city strategies and the supply-driven expansion of platform economies in larger cities, the sectors of care work and mobility are particularly subject to strong dynamics. Care platforms increasingly offer a wide range of services (care, food and beverage delivery, cleaning or gardening). Mobility platforms offer more and more means of transport (city cars, vans, bicycles, cargo bikes, e-scooters,) and options (stationary or free floating, driven by oneself, shared or autonomous). Where and how these infrastructures and services expand is an effect of social power relations.

The rapid expansion of online platforms exacerbates existing intersectional inequalities: The commodification of care and mobility services combined with the enforcement of precarious working conditions proceeds along the lines of gender and whiteness and produces exclusive offers in already socially privileged districts. Caring and sharing services reproduce a gendered division of labor and the special demand for care and mobility services in socially marginalized districts is hardly met. The digitalization promises for smart cities do not apply to the city as a whole, but rather to islands of smart privilege, which already have excellent supply infrastructures. In the context of the fellowship, these observations will be examined in more detail for selected European cities based on the following questions: 

Do the promises of smart city discourses (effectiveness, availability, and quality of life through digital technologies) address a gendered and racialized division of labor? Do platform-mediated care and mobility services result in social and spatial privileges and/or social segregation?

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