Commoning the smart city
Location Bowland North Seminar Room 2
Date and Start Time 27 Jul, 2018 at 16:00
Sessions 1


  • .ginger .coons email
  • Nicole Foster (University of the West of England) email

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Short abstract

Smart cities construct inhabitants as consumers. They aggregate and exploit individual preferences and behaviors to create rational, efficient cities. Hackability could subvert 'smart' initiatives. This panel explores tensions between the smart and the hackable in the context of the digital commons.

Long abstract

Engineers, planners and policymakers espouse faith in technocratic solutions to urban ills. 'Smart city' narratives suggest that positive outcomes can be achieved by creating personalized experiences of the city. Instead of a generalized conception of the public, city inhabitants are constructed as diverse consumers representing market sectors. Interactions with public services and spaces can be tailored to produce efficient behavior and pleasurable, engaging experiences, making concerns regarding surveillance and social engineering more difficult to identify and contest. Because the 'smart city' is based on aggregating and exploiting individual preferences and behaviors, realizing the ideal of an urban commons becomes even more elusive.

The 'hackable city' (frequently constituted as bottom-up organizing) could provide a subversive corrective to 'smart city' (top-down, centrally-managed) initiatives. However, the radical potential of these practices remains uncertain. While do-it-yourself urbanists and civic hackers can be seen as challenging these narratives through the appropriation of technologies and spaces by encouraging unsanctioned uses of public spaces, such projects are not subject to participatory planning processes and may reflect elite consumption preferences. 'Hackable city' interventions could prove to be exclusionary.

We invite contributions which critically explore the tensions underpinning smart and hackable city technologies, public space and its relationship to the commons. How might engagement with technically-mediated public spaces undermine or constitute a commons? Do hackable city interventions empower public space users to become producers? We especially seek work that complicates implicit dichotomies like bottom-up and top down, or hackable versus smart, engaging with the grey space between extremes.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


University students' perspectives of a Smart City: integrating needs and aspirations

Authors: Regine Sonderland Saga (Manchester Metropolitan University) email
Paul O'Hare (Manchester Metropolitan University) email
Rachel Dunk (Manchester Metropolitan University) email
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Short abstract

The dominating interpretation of Smart Cities reflects a technocratic viewpoint. It has been broadly critiqued for limited inclusion of citizen's narratives to create a 'more just' Smart City. This paper explores university students' understandings and perceptions of the Smart City.

Long abstract

There is consensus that the Smart City addresses the urgent need for sustainable urbanism through innovations and ICT systems designed to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, and provide high-quality living for its citizens. However, this interpretation has been critiqued for reflecting a technocratic viewpoint with limited consideration of public understanding and aspirations. While recent initiatives claim to include citizens in Smart City developments through collaboration and co-creation, there is substantial debate regarding the extent to which this has stimulated a more inclusive approach. Thus, to create a 'more just' Smart City there remains a need to introduce citizens' narratives and perceptions. Here, we present results from a survey of students living in a Smart City district (n=1000). We found low awareness and understanding of the concept, where three-quarters of respondents had never heard of the Smart City. However, when asked what they thought made a technology smart, respondents identified a number of themes including: adaptable, advanced, connectable, easy and efficient. This suggests that a more inclusive and visible Smart City would help citizens to translate and extend their understandings of smart technologies to the city context, seeking to empower citizens in order to ensure that their needs and aspirations are met.

Towards the smart city 2.0: smartness as a tool for tackling social problems

Author: Gregory Trencher (Tohoku University) email
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Short abstract

This paper examines Aizuwakamatsu Smart City in Fukushima, Japan in a socially stressed region to demonstrate how a 'smart city 2.0' can transcend top-down techno-economic ambitions to use technologies and data as tools for tackling endogenous social challenges and addressing resident needs.

Long abstract

While scholars critique the dominating corporate model of the smart city for failing to deliver on social agendas and authentically respond to the needs of citizens, many point to a potential to move beyond narrow environmental and economic objectives and tackle social issues. But concrete empirical evidence of this potential is visibly lacking. In parallel, researchers have brought attention to the emergence of a so-called 'smart city 2.0'. This is framed as a decentralised, people-centric approach where smart technologies are employed as tools to tackle social problems, address citizen needs and foster collaborative participation. This contrasts to the techno-economic and centralised approach of the dominating 'smart city 1.0' paradigm, which is primarily focused on diffusing smart technologies for corporate and economic interests.

Utilising this dichotomy as an analytical framework, this paper examines Aizuwakamatsu Smart City in Fukushima, Japan to demonstrate how a smart city can be framed and implemented as a tool for tackling endogenous social challenges. Findings unearth a myriad of novel approaches to utilising data and ICT to respond to citizen needs, improve livelihoods and widely share smart city benefits. Yet they also point to a need to transcend polarised discourses of a 'smart city 1.0' verses 'smart city 2.0' or 'top-down' verses 'bottom-up' approaches and appreciate the hybrid, messy reality of on-the-ground smart cities and the co-existence of contrasting yet complementary visions and approaches.

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Could smart community improve healthcare efficiency?

Author: Tim Woolliscroft (Sheffield Hallam University) email
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Short abstract

This study engages with bottom up vs top down ideas in relation to healthcare efficiency. Smart community theory is developed through a framework that opens up divisions within top-down and bottom-up ideas. It concludes that the most desirable approach would focus on the collective bottom up ideas

Long abstract

This critical sociotechnical study brings together insights from smart community, smart city and digital health literature to compare them with primary research. Smart community is defined as human and non-human agents collaborating with the stated aim of significant positive change. This definition emerged through mapping the evolution of the concept over the last three decades.

Whilst smart city and community literature has acknowledged differences between top down and bottom up approaches divisions within top down and bottom up approaches are rarely given much consideration. To address these limitations a framework was developed that subdivides top down into private vs government led and bottom up between individual and collective approaches. The study concludes that the most desirable approach to improving healthcare efficiency would be to focus on the collective bottom up sector of the framework.

The study's approach brought together ideas from literature and primary data through a process of theory informed critical reflexivity. The approach was driven by the research philosophy: critical systems thinking, and a critical systems heuristics methodology. At the methodologies core was the facilitation of 3 workshops that focussed on creating rich pictures of what future systems might look like based on the smart community concept. These were complimented by 30 semi-structured interviews. These resulted in the creation of 300 hours of interview transcripts, 8 rich picture diagrams and an asset map of the current system. The interpretation of this data applied Bourdieu's Practice Theory to help understand and highlight power dynamics in existing and proposed solutions.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.