I'm back! After a very quick trip to Denver for the annual American Association of Geographers Conference, I'm home and settling in for a few key deliverables at the NCO.
It was an exciting trip, and my first opportunity to visit both Denver and the AAG. Before I close the book on AAG2023, then, I thought I might note a few of the things that stood out to me as a first time visitor.
Denver Closes Early
My flight to Denver was delayed by about an hour, which meant I arrived in the city a bit later than anticipated. By the time I made it downtown (via the train), it was 9pm local time. No trouble, I thought. I'll check into my hotel room and then grab a late dinner.
As I hustled my way to the hotel, however, I very quickly noted a problem. Everything around me was winding down. Bars were cleaning up, the streets were emptying, and the city was becoming quiet. The whole scene was especially odd considering that the Colorado Avalanche and Pittsburgh Penguins had just finished a high-energy hockey game nearby.
So, naturally, I asked the concierge what was going on. "Everyone's gone back home," she said, "our bar is open to 11pm, though, if you'd like to eat here." Work was done - why stay downtown?
A few other conversations confirmed the sentiment. Despite the imposing buildings, dedicated bus lanes, and Lyft scooters peppered throughout, there isn't a critical mass of residential in downtown Denver. Wide streets and ample parking drive the point home further - it's a commuting core.
The whole thing reminded me of how inseparable transit and housing policy really are. It doesn't matter if you provide great rapid transit if nobody's got a reason to stick around.
Geographers Leading the Way
I'm a political scientist by trade, so visiting a geography conference was also an opportunity for me to compare across disciplines. I was especially excited since a lot of the books I read are written by geographers, and I wanted to see if my initial impressions about our differences held up to further scrutiny.
"Only political scientists wear suits to conferences," said a friend reproachfully.
I don't think that's actually true (and I never regret breaking out the suit when I can), but I do think there was something electric about just how much falls under the geography umbrella. From dairy farmers and coal plants to rent control and psychoanalysis, one day of topically focused sessions (I wasn't picking at random) meant that I was traversing methods and borders at warp speed.
It was unconditionally generative, freed from some of the methodological quibbles or reveries for the literature that I've seen bog down similar presentations at conferences closer to my disciplinary home - a reminder that in a world of mass production you can't necessarily triangulate yourself in relation to everyone ever and that sometimes it's okay to get creative just to see what happens.
Smart Cities, Moving On
I chose to present some of my dissertation research, focusing on Sidewalk Labs' mobilization of 'real-time' in their smart city vision. It was well-received, and flowed with the rest of the session.
For all of that, however, the project also felt somewhat antiquated. In my session and others, the smart city seemed like a sponge wrung dry - diagnosed well and replaced by even more ambitious (and managerial) projects pertaining to AVs, AI, and so on.
I don't think the smart city is fully dead, of course. It certainly isn't dead here in Canada. But I do think it was a valuable reminder that many of the ideas associated with smart urbanism are marching forward under different flags - and that at some point the fight moves beyond concepts and labels to be fought over specific technologies in specific places and times.
I can't wait to visit next year and see everyone again.