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The politics of technology adoption : Water metering in Progressive Era Chicago

Sloan, Mellini (2008) The politics of technology adoption : Water metering in Progressive Era Chicago. In Fourth Joint ACSP-AESOP Conference, Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile Hotel, Chicago, Illinois..

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    Abstract

    This paper examines the interactions between knowledge and power in the adoption of technologies central to municipal water supply plans, specifically investigating decisions in Progressive Era Chicago regarding water meters. The invention and introduction into use of the reliable water meter early in the Progressive Era allowed planners and engineers to gauge water use, and enabled communities willing to invest in the new infrastructure to allocate costs for provision of supply to consumers relative to use. In an era where efficiency was so prized and the role of technocratic expertise was increasing, Chicago’s continued failure to adopt metering (despite levels of per capita consumption nearly twice that of comparable cities and acknowledged levels of waste nearing half of system production) may indicate that the underlying characteristics of the city’s political system and its elite stymied the implementation of metering technologies as in Smith’s (1977) comparative study of nineteenth century armories. Perhaps, as with Flyvbjerg’s (1998) study of the city of Aalborg, the powerful know what they want and data will not interfere with their conclusions: if the data point to a solution other than what is desired, then it must be that the data are wrong. Alternatively, perhaps the technocrats failed adequately to communicate their findings in a language which the political elite could understand, with the failure lying in assumptions of scientific or technical literacy rather than with dissatisfaction in outcomes (Benveniste 1972). When examined through a historical institutionalist perspective, the case study of metering adoption lends itself to exploration of larger issues of knowledge and power in the planning process: what governs decisions regarding knowledge acquisition, how knowledge and power interact, whether the potential to improve knowledge leads to changes in action, and, whether the decision to overlook available knowledge has an impact on future decisions.

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    ID Code: 42340
    Item Type: Conference Paper
    Keywords: Water Supply, Technology Adaption, Expertise, Politics
    Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > BUILT ENVIRONMENT AND DESIGN (120000) > URBAN AND REGIONAL PLANNING (120500) > History and Theory of the Built Environment (excl. Architecture) (120502)
    Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > BUILT ENVIRONMENT AND DESIGN (120000) > URBAN AND REGIONAL PLANNING (120500) > Urban and Regional Planning not elsewhere classified (120599)
    Copyright Owner: Copyright 2008 See the author.
    Deposited On: 31 Aug 2011 09:17
    Last Modified: 02 Sep 2011 15:13

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