Skip to main content
"Free wifi" featuring wifi icon and city lights in background
Research_

Smart publics

Exploring the social implications of smart street furniture
Coming soon to a city near you: smart street furniture with sensors, chargers, digital screens and wifi hotspots that allow you to interact with your familiar urban spaces in new ways.

What happens when urban infrastructure becomes smart? Who will control what is sensed, what is screened, and how people are connected? Where do these devices fit in the history of your city? What are the benefits and risks of these new kinds of street smarts?

In this joint project, supported by a University of Sydney-University of Glasgow Partnership Collaboration Award, we will research how new devices, such as smart benches in London and InLinks in Glasgow, will fit into existing cityscapes. We will scope, research and historically contextualise smart street furniture to understand whether and how these depart from and challenge values, uses and governance frameworks of pre-existing urban forms, remaking publics and cities in the process.

Smart publics: the social, design and governance implications of repurposing street furniture and pay phones with smart benches and smart kiosks, builds on research on smart cities by the research collaborators including a study on smart wifi kiosks in New York City by Dr Justine Humphry.

This project will address real-world issues and contribute to two of the University's key research themes, the future of technology and society, in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and smart urbanism in the Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning.


Steel bench with cutout in shape of human

Colonising the public?

Smart street furniture and the techno-politics of urban media

Friday 6 September 2019
3pm-4.30pm
Seminar Room S226
John Woolley Building A20
The University of Sydney

This seminar introduces the Smart Publics research collaboration between the University of Sydney and the University of Glasgow on the social, design, and governance implications of smart street furniture, drawubg on fieldwork in Glasgow, London and New York. We situate this research in a critical account of the privatisation of public space in cities and the role of smart urbanism as a trend accelerator. We explore these issues in the context of smart upgrades to street furniture like kiosks and benches, which are hybrid urban media objects purportedly installed to address barriers of access to information-communication networks. Yet we argue that these emerging forms of street furniture raise serious risks related to surveillance, data harvesting, and targeted advertising – which are unevenly distributed among users.


Our people

  • Dr Justine Humphry, Lecturer in Digital Cultures, Department of Media and Communications
  • Professor Robyn Dowling, Dean, Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning
  • Professor Gerard Goggin, Department of Media and Communications
  • Professor Heather Horst, Department of Media and Communications
  • Dr Sophia Maalsen, Lecturer, Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning
  • Dr Chris Chesher, Senior Lecturer in Digital Cultures, Department of Media and Communications
  • Dr Jathan Sadowski, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning
  • Professor Bridgette Wessels, Professor in the Sociology of Inequalities, School of Social and Political Sciences
  • Professor Simon Joss, Professor in Urban Studies, School of Social and Political Sciences
  • Dr Peter Merrington, Research Associate, School of Social and Political Sciences
  • Dr Justine Gagneux, Tutor, Affiliate, School of Social and Political Sciences
  • Mr Matthew Hanchard, Research Associate, School of Social and Political Sciences
  • Professor Emerita Sara Eriksen, Blekinge Institute of Technology, Sweden

Past events

Explore our previous activities.

Wednesday 3 July 2019, University of Glasgow

Smart cities are starting to materialise in urban environments, unevenly and in various forms. The placement of sensors, chargers, digital screens and wi-fi points in streetscapes and objects interacts with people’s relationships to the urban environment, to one another and to services accessed in daily life. These hybrids, including smart benches, data points and smart vehicles are thoroughly interconnected with the city itself. Drawing on research in Germany, Australia, the United States and the UK, this roundtable will explore some of the key issues around smart developments such as mobilities, algorithms, governance and citizenship.

Find out more.

Team leader

Headshot of Dr Justine Humphry
Dr Justine Humphry
Academic profile