Smart Cities

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Smart City is an integrative approach to utilize the opportunity of digitalization and new technologies to overcome urban issues. Despite the integrative approach, most practices in cities globally focus on mobility management and security. However, smaller scale initiatives also show efforts to boost local communities, citizen based data experiments and impact analysis and more performance based interventions. Issues focused on by Smart City projects is climate change mitigation (energy transition, sustainable mobility), Accessibility (smart mobility, mobility management) and even climate change adaptation and health. Smart City approaches often include a learning curve where data is gathered before and after a spatial intervention, and subsequent interventions are planned or adjusted

General introduction to approach

The paradigm of smart cities is not without critique. It is often believed that Smart Citie adepts focus to much on finding technologies for complex socio-economicial and environmental problems. Whilst technology has a big role to play in climate change mitigation and adaptation, and data based solutions for smart cities can contribute a great deal in lowering emmissions, smog and polution, the root causes are often behavioural, economical and political. Consequently, Smart Cities is an approach that is subject to scrutiny as it a technology based approach that lacks a clear vision or political colour (see also Hollands, 2008 In extreme form, the appproach can even result in missuse of new technological possibilities leading to privacy issues or even empowering private tech companies or (non democratic) governments. At the same time, there are examples where technology empores citizens and marginalized groups. Citizen based science projects in real urban environments can create to new forms of learning, empoering and co-creating urban space. It is the latter opportunity of the approach that brings us opportunities of bridging the gap between government, private companies and citizens in adressing environmental and justice issues progressivaly. When we use 'Smart City Technology' in this way, we are indeed Smart about cities, as the title of Hajer & Dassen (2014) book states.

Shapes, sizes and applications

Although Smart City is used througout urban scales, less or more based on digitalization and data and with abundent and without citizens involvement, two directions can clearly be distinguished: the top down smart city and the bottum up smart city (Khansari, Mostashari and Mansouri 2013

Top Down: Governments use data collection to increase efficiency in the urban system, be it on transportation, waste collection or law enforcement. Bottom-Up: Citizens use new technolgies and data collection to increase knowledge and influence on their urban environment.

Example on neighbourhood scale: In practice, city governments using Smart City solutions can also choose to work closely with communities or stakeholders. By learning about an issue together, citizens understand the impact of their behaviour on their environment and city officials increase opportunities for support of interventions. The case of Dutch city Zwolle is interesting in this regard. As part on their 'Smart Zwolle' program (, the city wanted to utilize citizens and technology to find durable solutions for flash floods. But citizens can also play their part. So the city used citizens to gather data on rain water, humidity and other indictors and worked with the community on solutions that would benefit the neigbourhood in being less prone to flash flooding ánd couple this with other imrovements like greening the neighbourhood and increasing flora and fauna. The proces took time but als increased community spirit and collective learning.

Relation to Urbana themes: Cities, sustainability, and justice

Smart Cities focuses on finding new technological solutions for urban issues, mostly making use of data management and digitalization. Sustainable development is often mentioned in relation to more efficient mobility management, reducing smog levels and increasing renwable energy supply and smart grid management. While smart city aproaches could decrease injustice by including participation of marginalized groups, or even using data to expose injustice, this opportunity is not often brought to the fore.

Urbana could use Smart Cities as a way to investigate the opportunities of digitalization, data-based urban solutions and worst- and best practices of Smart Cities globally as a way to positivaly use technoligical possibilities for sustainable and just cities.

Narrative of change

Smart Cities aim to utilize new digital technologies to make cities better. The lack of fundamental vision is critical as it is not always clear 'better for who'. Nevertheless, technological advancement and the interconnectedness of people and assets changes the way people live and how cities function. Smart Cities tries to use these technologies for the urban issues of today, be it bottom-up or top down, inclusive or exclusive.

Transformative potential

The transformatie potential is significant. Already, cities change rapidly due to digitalization due to new last minute logistical services, decentralization of the energy grid, traffic management, ads based on geographical locations, platform and sharing economy changing impacting the housing and taxi market. New technologies can be rather disruptive but could also be used positivily and more progressivly for smart, sutainalbe and just cities.

Sidenote: see how one person creates a traffic jam:

Summary of relevant approaches

Smart Zwolle: Citizen Based Science program for climate adaptaition in Flash Flood prone neighbourhoods: Antwerp Smart Zone: Companies, citizens and the city work together to test new applications in real life:


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