Accepted Paper:

From Sustainable to Smart Cities: Complementary or Contradictory Agendas?  


Andrew Karvonen (KTH Royal Institute of Technology)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyses the convergence of the smart and sustainability agendas as they relate to urban development. It reveals their complementary and contradictory aspects and argues for an emancipatory politics of the city to challenge the uncritical embrace of technological innovation.

Paper long abstract:

The smart city concept has rapidly risen to prominence within urban policy and governance discourses and is 'on its way to become [the] leading driver of urban sustainability and regeneration initiatives' (Jong et al. 2014: 12). An implicit assumption is that smart networks and devices have the potential to deliver more sustainable urban futures via technological innovation. This paper examines the convergence of the smart and sustainability agendas as they relate to urban development to reveal their complementary and contradictory characteristics. Using ideas from socio-technical transition studies and urban studies, the analysis centres on the promise of technological innovation to address contemporary urban issues. The reliance on digital technologies to optimise collective services and infrastructure networks and make cities function more efficiently extends dominant notions of ecological modernisation and green growth that rely on economic markets, competition, and globalisation to realise urban sustainability. Meanwhile, more radical forms of sustainable urban development based on notions of justice, equity, and democracy are addressed in smart city projects through the promotion of citizen-led design, co-creation, and participatory planning and data gathering processes. However, it is unclear how the inclusion of residents and users is influencing the technological agenda of smart cities and for some critics, these are tokenistic gestures to appease advocates of transparent, democratic, and deliberative urban development. Overall, the analysis reveals that the the urban politics of the smart-sustainable cities agenda tends to reinforce and accentuate dominant notions of neo-liberal sustainability at the expense of more emancipatory urban development.

Panel T008
Smart eco-cities: experimenting with new urban futures