What Is A Smart City Anyway?


AS220This past June was a bright month of creativity in Providence. The City hosted its annual PVD Fest, which was an expansive network of creative programming produced by community members  and led by the City of Providence and its Department of Arts, Culture + Tourism. An overwhelming amount of cultural, artistic and creative community programming took place, including opportunities that gathered folks in conversation around critical topics like race, gender, technology and access.   

PVD Fest kicked off with the Ideas Conference, centered on the topic of “Smart Cities.” I moderated a panel titled “Big Data + Artist Activism,” alongside K. Funmilayo Aileru, Sasha Costanza Chock and Alexandrina Agloro. During the conversation, Aileru asked, “What is a ‘smart city’ and who decides that?” The four of us reflected on issues related to access, ownership, privilege and imagining/creating inclusive futures.

One of the many reasons I’ve been at AS220 for eight years now is because of its commitment to access and the stewardship of creativity. I’m surrounded with people who ask the questions: “What are we doing and who are we doing it for?” “What does access mean?” “How are we accessible and how are we not?” Questions we all should be asking ourselves, to guide how we move in the world.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of AS220 owning its Empire Street building, our flagship home for the arts. This space houses most of our programs: the Main Stage and Main Gallery, AS220 Foo(d) and Bar, black box theater, dance studio, dark room, a communal floor with 11 artist live/work studios and a community of brilliant resident artists, and our heartbeat AS220 Youth, a program dedicated to dismantling the pipeline to prison by empowering beyond-risk and incarcerated youth through arts, culture and professional opportunities.

AS220 owns, runs and operates three historic buildings downtown. Aside from a vast array of artistic programs, AS220 provides affordable housing for creative people, houses various local businesses as tenants and runs its own maker space, the AS220 Industries. Our mission stands strong as it grounds our work to lift up creative people, nurture leaders and be a generative space where any and all can realize their creative potential. We stand as a model of socially responsible urban development that centers art and culture.

At this time, AS220 unpacks what ACCESS means: How are we accessible and how are we not? How can we remain adaptive and responsive to the needs of our dynamic communities in a world that is ever changing and evolving? To provide space that truly supports people of all physical abilities, and is centered on racial and gender justice? As a creative community, we are excited to renew this long-standing home for the arts by upgrading our performance venues, adding gender-neutral bathrooms, installing an elevator and making upgrades that can ensure our spaces are ADA accessible.

To me, this is what a “Smart City” should be. Spaces that are accessible to all. Spaces that center people.

For more info, visit allaccess.as220.org


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