Smartness? Between Discourse and Practice

Smarter and Sustainable Urban Conservation: Myth or Reality?

Ana Roders: Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands

Youfang Peng: Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands


KEYWORDS: Urban Conservation, Smart; Heritage, Sustainability, Architecture

Countries are well aware of the important role of urban conservation in their sustainable development, and there are enough international recommendations and conventions to confirm it. Recently, countries worldwide agreed to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable by 2030 (United Nations, 2015), calling on countries, cities and communities to strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage. Though, the question remains: how can efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage be strengthened? How does this effort affect architecture and urban planning? How is urban conservation contributing to sustainability?

This session aims to enable the debate around the demand for a better understanding of the processes and impacts of architecture and urban planning in urban conservation, and consequently in the sustainable development of cities worldwide. This session welcomes papers that address how to become smarter in urban conservation. Fostering greater knowledge of urban resources and heritage enables an informed and evidence-based approach to architecture and urban planning that fosters respect for cultural identity and the environment. This cultural dimension of the city and its sustainable development perceives cities as a dynamic urban ecosystem, and relies on new forms of urban planning and architecture, linked to an integrative framework for smart urban governance. The challenge set to the authors in this session is to raise understanding and debate on how this integrative approach helps cities to further develop and become more sustainable, in particular while (or not) acknowledging the role of culture in sustainable urban development.


Sustainable Technologies and Creativity: The Alternative(less) Imaginaries of Smartness?

Vesa Vihanninjoki: University of Helsinki, Finland

Sanna Lehtinen: University of Helsinki, Finland


KEYWORDS: Sustainability, Creativity, Imagination, Aesthetics

Urban environments worldwide are becoming more and more saturated with a variety of technologies, giving rise to a whole range of unforeseen possibilities and challenges. Proponents of the so-called “Smart city ideology” emphasize the increase in practicality, safety and effectivity that the novel technologies bring about, perhaps understating the complex questions of values and meanings involved. Technologies are, however, never mere neutral means to an end, but they make the world appear to us in certain ways, and it often is the technologies that allow us to conceive a particular end as an end in the first place. For example, focusing on the measurability and effectivity of various urban functions, such as traveling, may lead one to evaluate urban life exclusively in terms of measurability and effectivity. It is increasingly hard to take a leisurely stroll, when one is used to think moving in the city only from the viewpoint of travel time.

Promoting “smartness” is thus about defining the city and the urban lifeform anew. Traditionally cities have been regarded as cultural “melting pots” and as manifestations of diversity. Accordingly, the multitude of urban experiences (i.e. the manifold intersecting experiential urban realities) has been conceived as a major source of value. Smart city hegemony, in turn, may pose a real threat to this, as the increasing technologicality potentially homogenizes the realm of possible urban experiences, forcing to perceive and evaluate urban lifeform through the rather narrow “smart city lens”. The aesthetics and the imageries of the prevailing smartness paradigm are indeed distractingly one-sided and unvaried, providing only a very limited number of possible alternative urban futures. Such an impoverishment of creativity and imagination is likely to have seriously detrimental impacts on the sustainability of urban lifeform, sustainability being understood as a combination of fostering adaptive capabilities and creating opportunities.