Making the City Smart Together

Jonas Breuer: imec-SMIT/Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium

Shenja Van der Graaf: imec-SMIT/Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium


KEYWORDS: Smart City, Smart Citizenship, Participatory Design, Co-creation

With the recent ‘smartening up’ of our cities, and public sphere generally, ICT in its various manifestations has become paramount to the governance, operation and experience of the urban. ICT, increasingly associated or interchangeably used with algorithms and artificial intelligence, draws attention to how public space is ‘translated’ into ‘code’, and how ‘code’ is said to ‘reshape’ public sphere (Kicthin, Dodge, 2011). In this view, the smart city imaginary, with a distinct set of rationalities, has become a recurring theme within critical urban geography (White, 2016; cf. Mansell, 2012), centre-staging digital technologies to tackle complex urban issues with a focus on pragmatic and functional aspects related to efficiency, safety and the like, conjoined by questions and critiques about privacy, control and ownership, but shaped mainly by mere solutionist visions unable to address the underlying complexity of issues at hand.

Against this backdrop, we seek to further the critical debate about smart citizenship and the role of citizens, urging cities and governments, at minimum, to anticipate and mitigate (un)intended consequences when the ‘human outlook’ is downplayed. We put forward the notions of participatory design and co-creation to further investigate what we consider to be a weakness in understanding today’s smart cities. A structured perspective is missing on how to systematically involve citizens, and achieve an equilibrium between diverse interests involved in the complex multi-actor and multi-sector setting of the city. Here, assigning an active, co-equal and structural role to all actors remains challenging in practice, despite the wide range of available technologies and digital public services.

This session seeks to discuss systematical involvement of citizens through participatory design and co-creation approaches. We encourage participants to explore existing concepts, propose new ones at a theoretical level, or to present a meaningful empirical case study that showcases the application of a related concept.