Smart eco-cities: experimenting with new urban futures
Location M211
Date and Start Time 01 September, 2016 at 14:00
Sessions 2


  • Rob Raven (Utrecht University) email
  • Matthijs Kouw (Maastricht University) email
  • Simon Marvin (University of Sheffield) email
  • Philipp Späth (Freiburg University) email
  • Andres Luque (Durham University) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Rob Raven (Eindhoven University of Technology, 1), Simon Marvin (University of Sheffield, 2)

Short Abstract

Smart eco-cities' are increasingly part of urban discourse. Urban scholars highlight new risks and social and political implications and criticize its techno-optimism. We invite empirical and conceptual papers building upon perspectives in STS, socio-technical transition studies and urban studies.

Long Abstract

Smart cities' are increasingly part of urban discourses. Driven by an optimistic belief that 'smart' technologies enable efficient and sustainable governance of urban public spaces, energy flows, mobility patterns and so on, city officials and industrial actors around the world collaborate to build the cities of tomorrow. Implementing smart technologies, it is argued, leads to more sustainable and innovative cities, and dramatically improves urban life through better health, greener living spaces, and more democratic modes of governance. Technological solutions are believed to be simply plugged into existing urban settings.

This techno-optimism is criticized by urban scholars, who highlight risks such as increased private control over public spaces, or the neglect of participation and engagement of civil society in formal decision making processes. Some argue for a shift focus from smart cities towards smart urbanism - highlighting social, entrepreneurial and communal aspects of livable and resilient cities. Others question relations between 'smartness' and 'eco'. Generally, there is utter disagreement about what a smart city is or should be, which mystifies public debates and obscures interests at play. Although well-developed in normative sense, academic work on smart cities often dwells on the same examples and has yet to deliver thorough empirical and conceptual analyses of smart eco-cities. This is of great importance, since little is known about the 'actually existing smart city'.

We invite both empirical and conceptual papers building upon and extending perspectives in e.g. STS, socio-technical transition studies and urban studies.


This track is closed to new paper proposals.


Smart City Construction: toward an analytical framework for smart city experimentation

Authors: Frans Sengers (Utrecht University)  email
Philipp Späth (Freiburg University)  email
Rob Raven (Utrecht University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper mobilizes insights from the field of Sustainability Transitions to provide a fresh analytical perspective on ongoing smart city developments

Long Abstract

In recent years, the 'Smart City' has emerged as a popular term amongst engineers, policymakers, architects, scholars and others interested in the proliferation and mainstreaming of connected information- and communication technologies (ICTs) that might reshape the social- and material fabric of cities. This paper mobilizes insights from the field of Sustainability Transitions to provide a fresh analytical perspective on ongoing smart city developments. At the heart of this perspective are the ideas of the city as a complex patchwork of socio-technical systems, the struggle between obdurate stability and transformative change and the notion of experimentation. We argue that an analytical division along the lines of (1) materiality, (2) institutions and (3) discourse provides a fruitful starting point for the analysis of smart urbanism in experimental settings and we illustrate this with examples from the Netherlands and Germany

Tensions and contradictions behind the Smart City in Barcelona: from liberals (2011-2015) to New Municipalism (2015-)

Author: Hug March (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya)  email

Short Abstract

The paper focuses on the case of Barcelona to contrast how the Smart City concept has been implemented by two radically different administrations: liberal center-righ wing (2011-2015) and New Municipalism (2015-onwards).

Long Abstract

The 21st century has been hailed as the urban century and one in which ""smartness" will shape urban responses to global challenges. In the past few years, scholars have been trying to understand "why, how, for whom and with what consequences" the Smart City paradigm emerges in different urban contexts (Luque-Ayala and Marvin 2015:2106). Critical scholarship suggests that behind this ambiguous concept private capital and technocratic elites have found a techno-environmental fix to reshuffle economic growth. The concept, nonetheless, is still in its infancy and tensions and contradictions emerge along the process of "filling-in" it (Carvallho 205). Counterintuitively alternative uses of technologies can be 'game-changing', opening up a progressive, cooperative and citizen-based urban transformation (Hollands 2015; Glasmeier and Christopherson 2015). Barcelona is an interesting case that condenses the contradictory and ambiguous character behind Smart City discourses. The municipality embraced a (corporate) Smart City paradigm in 2011 under a liberal center-right wing government. In 2015, New Municipalism won the local elections with a radically different urban model in mind; however, the current administration has continued many strategies on smartness from the previous one. Through interviews with technicians, newspaper library research and analysis of reports, this paper aims to contrast the continuities and discontinuities in the Smart City implementation between two radically different political projects. More specifically it aims to shed light on what aspects, rationales, actors, and methodologies have been championed in each period, and what contradictions faces the current progressive government in implementing the concept.

From Sustainable to Smart Cities: Complementary or Contradictory Agendas?

Author: Andrew Karvonen (University of Manchester)  email

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.

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.

Smart and eco cities in China and India

Authors: Johanna Hoeffken (Eindhoven University of Technology)  email
Agnes Kneitz (Renmin University)  email

Short Abstract

The development of smart and eco cities in both China and in India has gained high political attention and momentum on the national policy agendas. Following a comparative approach we explore the meaning of smart and eco by analyzing public discourses around eco and smart cities in China and India.

Long Abstract

The development of smart and eco cities in both China and in India has gained high political attention and momentum on the national policy agendas.

Since 2014, China is officially building an "Ecological Civilization" for which eco-cities are believed to be strong pillars. India has announced a "Smart Cities Mission" for similar reasons in May 2015 and has engaged 98 cities to compete in a smart city challenge. Winning cities will be supported in the implementation of their smart city plans.

The proposed paper explores the meanings of "smart" and "eco", which are the key rhetoric lynchpins of these initiatives. In particular, the paper analyses the public discourses around eco and smart cities in China and India. It shows how manifold political, economical, and social aspects influence the shaping of the two concepts and what this might mean for the type and orientation of urban development in these two growing Asian nations.

The paper contributes empirical insights from recent and topical initiatives currently unfolding in China and India. It thus contributes new empirical/conceptual insights about smart-eco city dynamics to a growing body of STS literature on urban development in Asia.

Environmental hacking in the smart eco-city: A road to empowerment?

Authors: Sanneke Kloppenburg (Wageningen University)  email
Ingrid Boas (Wageningen University)  email

Short Abstract

Smart eco-city projects often include digital tools for monitoring and visualising urban environmental issues. Through an analysis of different modes of ‘environmental hacking’ by citizens, this paper critically engages with questions of transparency and inclusion in the design and use of such tools.

Long Abstract

Rapid developments in ICT, including big data and smart sensors, allow for new ways of collecting, sharing, and using data about our environment. In many smart eco-city projects, apps, websites, and digital tools for monitoring and visualising (urban) environmental issues are created, often connected to aspirations of citizen participation in the collection of data. The underlying assumption is that gathering more data helps to address urban environmental issues in better ways, and that citizens will be empowered. In this article we critically engage with such assumptions by focusing on issues of transparency and inclusion. First, we argue how the connecting and integrating of real-time data from multiple sources affords new ways of knowing the environment as a dynamic information system. When the environment is increasingly understood and acted upon through digital technologies, an important political and ethical question becomes who has the power and skills to design and develop these technologies. We analyse different modes of 'environmental hacking' by citizens: from citizen-engagement in environmental monitoring to 'sustainability hackatons' organised by city administrations. We suggest that environmental citizenship and activism in the context of smart eco-cities may well require significant technical skills (programming, coding) as well as the ability to translate issues through tools and visualisations and to make data matter. This also means that claims about the empowering potential of ICT need to be nuanced. What is needed is reflexivity on the normativity and values embedded in technologies for monitoring, measuring and visualising urban environmental issues.

Emerging computational forms of knowing urban environments: Digital citizenship and municipal sensing

Authors: Simon Marvin (University of Sheffield)  email
Andres Luque (Durham University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper looks at the use of digital environmental sensors within smart city configurations, examining transformations on how we interact with resource flows, novel urban subjectivities associated to sensing capacities and implications for how ‘smart’ citizenship is constituted and experienced.

Long Abstract

This paper focuses on the rise of novel computational forms of knowing within the smart city, particularly through the use of digital sensors owned by local authorities as well as citizens. It examines the emergence of new urban subjectivities associated to such sensing capacities, and the resulting implications for how citizenship is constituted and experienced. Urban sensors are transforming how we interact with environmental and resource flows (e.g. water, waste, energy, air) and with the networked infrastructures that sustain them. Using a case study of Barcelona, where sensing is an important and distinctive dimension in its smart city initiative, the paper illustrates how urban ecologies are selectively and carefully incorporated into monitoring and control capabilities. It looks in detail at two processes. First, the Sentilo platform, an open source sensor and actuator platform that is part of Barcelona's smart city architecture. Sentilo agglomerates the data generated by a variety of municipally owned sensors, from parking to waste and air quality, opening possibilities for the recombination of ecological data towards the generation of new urban knowledge. Second, the SmartCitizen Kit, a micro-sensor developed at Barcelona's FabLab and marketed to individuals for the purpose of personalised air quality and noise readings. Drawing upon recent debates about the importance of the bioeconomy as a new focus for economic growth and a vehicle to transcend ecological constraints (Cooper, 2008), we illustrate the way in which the ecologies of the city become subject to micro-spatial monitoring via sensors and its assembly into specialist eco-systems.

Performativity of visions in assembling a climate-smart city district

Author: Darcy Parks (Linköping University, Sweden)  email

Short Abstract

This paper analyses how the vision of a “climate-smart” city contributes to urban change in Malmö, Sweden. I use assemblage urbanism and the sociology of expectations to follow how actors create visions and how visions become performative. I show how actors struggle to maintain the credibility of visions.

Long Abstract

"Climate-smart Hyllie" is a new city district under construction in Malmö, Sweden. The 2011 Climate Contract, an agreement between the city government and the energy company E.ON, envisions Hyllie as a climate-smart demonstration project. This vision proposes a smart grid and a goal of being climate neutral by 2020. Five years later, the smart grid is in its infancy and the climate neutrality goal is at risk. What role has this vision played?

This paper integrates assemblage urbanism and the sociology of expectations to analyse how visions contribute to the active dynamics of an 'actually existing' smart city district. My analytical starting point is that visions are generic expectations that the city government, E.ON and others create and interpret strategically. I follow how visions become performative in attempts to attract resources and build coalitions within the multiple sites and processes where Hyllie is being assembled. I analyse how the credibility of the Climate Contract is interdependent with specific expectations about a smart energy grid, urban wind turbines, and energy-efficient buildings. My study is based on interviews, participant observation and document analysis.

My analysis shows that the Climate Contract is an important resource for E.ON, an international privately-owned energy company, as it tests and commercialises smart grid technologies. However, the contract's credibility suffers due to a competing vision, struggles to enrol other actors, and unfulfilled promises. As a result, proponents of the Climate Contract must re-interpret the vision for climate-smart Hyllie and make new attempts to enrol actors and attract resources.

From Tidal Flats to a Smart City: Reassembling Songdo Using ANT Approach

Author: Chamee Yang (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)  email

Short Abstract

This paper traces a recent history of Songdo, South Korea, where an ambitious "global, smart, and sustainable" city-making project/discourse has been prevailing. Using ANT as the main framework, this paper weaves together the relationships among multiple actors involved in this project/discourse.

Long Abstract

This paper traces a recent history of New Songdo City project (South Korea), a mega urban development project that was supposedly 'global' in its aspiration, 'smart' in its undertaking, and 'sustainable' in its outcome. This project/discourse has set a stage where multiple actors with multiple interests were brought together. The object of this study is to examine the development of social relationships through which certain attributes such as 'smartness' and 'sustainability' have become associated with certain actors and their practices in Songdo. As the site shifted its material configuration from wet tidal flats to a reclaimed land with artificially imposed urban infrastructure, relational dynamics among associated actors subsequently shifted. As it will be shown, different human and non-human actors were differently situated in their uneven encounters with the constant flow of capital, power and mobility.

This paper deploys the model of 'translation' suggested by Callon (1986) and follows the framework of 'flat ontology' by Latour (2005), in order to trace and weave the stories from multiple actors in current Songdo. Moving away both from technologically deterministic optimisms for the smart cities as well as from dystopian criticisms against it, this paper will offer an empirically grounded and historically informed account of a smart city.

Callon, Michel. 1986. "Some Elements of a Sociology of Translation: Domestication of the Scallops and the Fishermen of St Brieuc Bay."

Latour, Bruno. 2005. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.