The African Centre for Cities was pleased to host the eminent scholar of Visual Geography, Prof Gillian Rose. Gillian Rose is Professor of Cultural Geography at The Open University, UK, and a Fellow of the British Academy. Her current research interests focus on contemporary digital visual culture, urban spatialities and visual research methodologies. Her most recent funded research (with Monica Degen) examined how architects work with digital visualising technologies in designing urban redevelopment projects, and she is extending this work into the digital mediation of urban spaces more broadly, particularly in the context of ‘smart cities’.

Prof Rose presented a fascinating consideration of the way smart cities are being articulated in a wide array of cities. According to Rose 'digital technologies of various kinds are now the means through which many cities are made visible and their spatialities negotiated. From casual snaps shared on Instagram to elaborate photo-realistic visualisations, digital technologies for making, distributing and viewing cities are more and more pervasive. This talk will explore some of the implications of that digitisation for the cultural politics of representation. What and who is being made visible in these digitally mediated cities, and how? What forms of urban materiality, spatiality and sociality are pictured and performed? And how should that picturing be theorised? The talk will suggest that cities and their inhabitants are increasingly visualised through a mobile fluid ‘digital visuality’, which is in fact evident across a number of visual practices. It will also propose that critical accounts of such visuality should focus less on readings of images and more on considering the (geographically-specific) flows and frictions of images'.

Her presentation offered an important contribution to how cities are imagined that aligns with the objectives of Mistra Urban Futures concern for generating justice-centric cities. Too often urban studies focuses solely on the quantitative substance of understanding cities. This presentation reminded us to think about how futuring sustainable cities can manifest in contested visual representations of what the future of cities hold in store. The seminar triggered exciting discussion about what smart cities mean in the global South in relation to the global North, and how articulations of cities coincide with the production of visual materials that are globally produced in unprecedented ways given new technologies and urban imaginaries.

More information: Rike Sitas, Mistra Urban Futures, Cape Town