Category Archives: events

Video: Seminar 1: Sophia Maalsen – Where is the Smart House in the Smart City?

We are happy to share the video of our first seminar entitled Where is the Smart House in the Smart City? given by Dr. Sophia Maalsen, IB Fell Fellow at the University of Sydney’s School of Architecture, Design and Planning.

Increasing attention is directed to smart cities as their popularity as a ‘fix all’ for the economic, environmental and social challenges facing cities, continues to grow. Contemporaneously, there is a growing amount of literature on the smart home and smart housing, likewise positioned as a smart solution to environmental, economic and social problems. Despite the increased activity in these two ‘smart’ areas, there is little research that addresses smart housing in context of the smart city. Furthermore, in the limited research on smart housing, a comparatively small amount of literature addresses their ‘smart’ nature from a social science perspective. Of the scant literature that addresses both the smart house, even less does so from a social science lens of analysis, with publications predominantly located in the computer sciences and engineering. This is problematic on multiple levels. First, the dominance of computer science and engineering literature on both smart cities and smart houses, privileges technological solutions to city and housing issues and contends that improvement will be an automatic outcome of technology, rather than understanding how people can use the technology for better outcomes. Secondly, the relative absence of housing in smart city discourse makes invisible a key component of the city and its broader web of relations, flows of people, capital, materials and resources. In this seminar, she discusses these gaps in the literature, identifies why this is problematic and suggests areas where the smart city and smart housing intersect.

Video: Right to the Smart City Session 3: Co-creation and City Governance

Catch up with the video of previous sessions: Session 1 and Session 2.


Appropriating ‘big data’: exploring the emancipatory potential of the data strategies of civil society organisations in Cape Town, South Africa
Nancy Odendaal (Cape Town, South Africa):

The smart city strategies of municipalities in South Africa have been grounded in developmentalism, seeking to harness the power of technology to enable improved governance. Cities such as Durban and Cape Town have embraced infrastructure-led approaches that seek to use state-mediated broadband ‘backbone’ development to enable last-mile ICT access to marginalised communities. With the advent of big data, the range of actors in the ICT-local government terrain has broadened to include partnerships with IT-multinationals and management consultants to streamline municipal bureaucratic procedures, enable data processing and contribute to greater efficiency. An important driver is the increasingly urgent need to accelerate the delivery of essential services whilst also encouraging investment and development through greater efficacy, (in processing development applications for example). This is the delicate balancing act that the City of Cape Town is aiming to achieve: broadening its tax base while delivering basic services to a vocal and largely dissatisfied populace. A ‘dashboard urbanism’ is becoming evident as access to a broadened range of data sources fits well with the system of indicators and performance monitoring that is embedded in the managerial South Africa’s local government system. The danger of an overreliance on these quantitative aspects is that it may overshadow the more qualitative aspects of development. Reinforcing a commitment to the ‘numbers game’, rather than paying attention to the finer details of socio-economic development, could perpetuate divides in what is considered to be one of the most unequal cities in the world. Based on exploratory research, this paper explores an emerging trend amongst civil society organisations that seek to collect, generate and process data as a form of empowerment and response to the state’s failure to respond adequately to social development pressures. Strategies range from self-enumeration, to participatory mapping, and online campaigning. This paper concludes on what these qualities of the ‘bottom-up smart city’ are, how it challenges the assumptions of ‘dashboard urbanism’ and such initiatives could potentially contribute to a more rounded appropriation of big data and a deepened and contextualized urban experience.


Smart flows? Commodification, commons and consumption for smarter cities
Anna Davies (TCD)

Defining environmental governance as the sum of the ways we manage our environmental affairs, this paper compares and contrasts efforts to reorient resource consumption in the city onto more sustainable pathways through the utilisation of ICT. Drawing on an experimental transdisciplinary process of collaborative visioning and backcasting conducted in Dublin, Ireland, this paper begins by sketching the ways in which governing actors envisage a smarter system for managing two contrasting resources that are fundamental to cities and their citizens. The first of these, water, remains a public good in Ireland, but it is becoming increasingly commodified. The second, food, is seen as a private good but there are ongoing calls to reconceptualise it as a common good. Both are fundamental requirements for life and considered by the United Nations as human rights, with ‘zero hunger’ and ‘clean water and sanitation’ identified as sustainable development goals in the post-2015 development agenda. The second part of the paper compares and contrasts two of the ways in which ICT is being rolled out in these arenas in Dublin, water metering and surplus food redistribution, and links these developments to the wider governing context that shapes them. The ‘smart’ metering of water in Ireland has been an exercise in top-down, technocratic governance played out with close relations between state and the private sector, resulting in intense reactions and collective actions from an excluded citizenry. Surplus food redistribution in contrast has been led by grassroots action in collaboration with social innovators and the private sector – frequently in the absence of appropriate regulations – in what has been suggested is a hybrid tri-centric governance system shaped by market rules, public regulations and collective actions. Whilst the histories, practices and infrastructures of these two resources are highly differentiated, it is argued that there are possibilities for cross-fertilisation of lessons for both sectors in terms of managing flows and engaging citizens.


Democratic Rationalizations in the Bikeshare Sector
Robert Bradshaw (Maynooth)

With its emphasis on the transformative power of information and communications technologies, discourses on the “smart city” make the promise not only of economic rewards through improved infrastructure management, competitive advantage and job creation but also the empowering of citizens by enabling the co-production of infrastructure, decisions, and policy. Presented in this way the city is framed as a platform which empowers participatory processes. Connecting data, people and knowledge, it is envisioned as a productive hub for the construction of the city by its people. Using a lens derived from Andrew Feenberg’s critical theory of technology, this paper reports on research conducted in Dublin and Hamilton (Canada) which explored these themes though an analysis of the design and implementation strategies mobilized by these cities in the creation their respective smart bikeshare systems. The findings reveal the technologies to be the product of context-dependant, socio-technical assemblages which position citizenship and co-production in distinctive and contrasting ways. While Dublin’s managerialist form of governance produced a technocratic, instrumental design which understands, and perpetuates, citizens as passive consumers of services and information, Hamilton combined institutional expertise and lay experience to create a generative technology which embodies a diverse but complimentary set of goals and ideologies. Understanding the processes by which both these systems we conceived and concretized may help us understand how normative and ethical considerations relating to citizenship can be embedded and preserved in technology production.

Video: Right to the Smart City Session 2: Urban Commons

If you missed the video of the presentation in Session 1 on citizenship, you can watch them here.



Citizens for Digital Social Innovation: Between Smartness and Commoning?
Ramon Ribera-Fumaz (UoC, Barcelona)

Smart City strategies has been widely criticised as top-down post-political forms of governance. More recently, however, the idea of smart citizens empowered by smart technologies has gained prominence in the smart city discourse. For its advocates, the deployment of ICT in urban development promises more informed and efficient citizens, who are able to become active actors of economic growth and urban management and politics. In contrast, in recent years, there have been emerging counter-smart strategies on how to implicate and re-politicise citizens in more democratic forms through the intensive use of technologies. In both cases, it is argued that this is possible thanks to (a) new technological architectures and infrastructures that allow to put the citizen in the middle of urban governance (e.g. open source software, open data, crowdsourcing, Internet of things, low-cost hardware, etc), and, (b) new forms of urban governance such as quadruple helix models, public-private-people partnerships or sharing economy platforms in the case of Smart solutions, and p2p and communing for the later based on those architectures. In particular, these new, a priori emancipatory, forms of social organization are framed and argued through discourses of social innovation and more recently Digital Social Innovation (DSI). This paper explores the deployment of DSI initiatives aimed at empowering citizens in Barcelona. In doing so it contrasts how citizenship and DSI are conceptualised both under the umbrella of Smart City and Urban Commons strategies and what are the limits and potentialities in productively reframe, reimagine and remade citizenship and democracy through technologically driven urban governance.


Datafying the commons: data publics and smart citizenship
Michiel de Lange (Utrecht, Netherlands)

The proliferation of (big) urban data is spurring a research and design agenda that aims to increase and improve civic participation in the smart city. This agenda around civic media attempts to counter or complement the dominant rhetoric of efficiency and solutionism in corporate smart city visions. The promise of data is that it helps to address some of the complex societal ‘wicked problems’ that cities face. A variety of organizations work on fostering a ’data commons’ as a potentially valuable new resource for making decisions about urban futures, ideally with the involvement of people. A well-known example is Code for America and its various offsprings in other places in the world. By now it has become clear that just opening up data is not yet going to do much yet. How can we reimagine data as civic data, fostering engagement among so-called smart citizens with issues of common concern?
My starting point is to understand the ways data shape our notion of urban commons and publics. I discern three dominant theoretical imaginaries of urban publicness, each with their own ’urban interface’. This allows me to explore how data-driven urbanism may constitute new commonality and publicness.
First is a rational view of urban publicness. This entails a deliberative and supra-identitarian search for commonality, while ignoring difference. In terms of urban interfacing, this type of public is situated in early metropolis coffee houses with reading and debating tables.
Second is an emotional foundation of publicness, based on experiencing and consuming co-presence and difference though sensations, affect, and embodiment. Personal preferences are not something to be overcome but at the heart of this communal spectacle. The urban interfaces here are the sensual gazes and bodies of modern metropolitan flaneurs revelling in a dramaturgy of staging and watching.
Thirdly, a ritual publicness emerges from everyday symbolic interactions such as civil inattention, typically in spaces of mobility in the late modern city. The urban interface here is ‘code’: scripted common behavior between urban strangers.
The next step is to consider how data may support new kinds of publicness and civic participation. I so by building on the ownership framework developed in earlier work, which bears strong similarities to the Lefebvrian idea of the right to the city. Both refer to a non-contractual collective sense of common stewardship, and the right to appropriate. A series of short cases illustrate how data can play in role in:
1. Creating data-driven networked publics
2. Articulating an otherwise abstract issue through data
3. Engaging people with an issue by sensing and/or narrating through data
4. Providing a horizon for action
5. Pooling resources in reciprocal ways.
In the final part I reflect on the some of the challenges and questions that arise from the above. Issues that are addressed include the tension between self-description vs other-ascription, agency and the governance of/by platforms, splintering urban publics, and institutional legitimacy of governing civic data. This section ends by tentatively exploring how this affects existing imaginaries of data-driven urban publicness, and may impel us to imagine new ones.


Smart Commons or a smart approach to the Commons?
Paolo Cardullo (Maynooth)

The paper offers a critical evaluation of smart cities (SC) in relation to the urban commons. This is intended as the space produced through practices of urban commoning, processes of cooperation and social reproduction, and entitlement rights. Both supporters and critics of the SC often claim to tap into the ‘collective intelligence of the crowd’, a socially accrued value which we can refer to, at its best, as a ‘smart commons’. However, this view hides the social relationship the commons implies because the maintenance of the commons is intrinsically linked to the everyday materiality of social reproduction. Instead, the paper suggests a ‘smart approach’ to the commons, which takes into account both the city as a commons and the way in which urban commons is produced under advanced capitalism. The ‘communal city’ would re-imagine the exchange of value and utilities between SC and its citizens and it can develop, the paper argues, only by taking into account established and expanding collective rights and entitlements such as: shared ownership of critical infrastructures, ‘rent’ and mechanisms of remuneration for digital labour, and processes of governance with Lo-Fi or non-tech practices of urban commoning which produce collectivities rather than interconnected individuals.

Video: Right to the Smart City Session 1: Citizenship and the Smart City

We will start to release the video of the presentations at our Right to the smart City workshop in September. You can find the video of Introduction and papers in Session 1 on citizenship below. Stay tuned for all other presentations that will be released on the coming Wednesdays!



Citizenship, social justice, and the Right to the Smart City
Rob Kitchin (Maynooth)


SESSION 1: Citizenship and the Smart City

Whose Right to the Smart City?
Katharine Willis (Plymouth, UK), Ava Fatah (UCL, UK), Ana Baltazar (UFMG, Brazil) & Satyarupar Shekhar (CAG, India)

This paper works with Lefebvre’s ‘Right to the City’ (1996) framework in order to consider the role of everyday and people centred agency in ‘smart’ urban transformation. According to Townsend the smart city can be defined as: ‘places where information technology is combined with infrastructure, architecture, everyday objects, and even our bodies to address social, economic, and environmental problems’ (2013, 15). Yet, authors such as Sassen (2012), Marvin et al. (2016), Kitchin (2015), Aurigi 2012) and Rose r than challenge it . Therefore, we focus on some of those excluded by smart city projects; the urban poor, street traders and those who live in informal settlements and explore the way in which they access and participate in the city. We will draw on empirical work undertaken in India and Brazil where we have investigated the way in which smart city projects (such as the India Smart City right to the oeuvre, to participation and appropriation’ in urban space.


Whose right to (define) the smart city? Extending our critical pointers beyond citizen participation
Jiska Engelbert (Erasmus, Rotterdam)

As critical scholarship points out, the smart city is a project that often serves the interests of private, non-democratic “stakeholders”. These interests converge in the political economy of the smart city, which typically excludes citizens and their democratic interests altogether, or marginalises them through a narrow, neoliberal conceptualization of “participation”. But is it enough to overcome this deficit by proposing better kinds of citizen participation and decision-making in smart city initiatives? This paper argues that we should also pay much more critical attention to the very basis of many—if not most—smart city initiatives: the different EU funding schemes that finance and steer them.
First, because schemes like the Framework Programmes, Horizon 2020 and Joint Programming Initiative(s) are constituted by, but particularly constitutive of smart city discourses and (research) practices. For example, they have been crucial in delineating which problems the smart city is to solve (“people-planet-prosperity:); in appropriating and normalizing methods like urban living labs and hackatons; in assessing the success of smart cities according to their ability to be “scaled up”, as well as in the production of inter-city networks and consortia, like “Lighthouse Cities” and, generally, Private-Public-Partnerships.
Second, because the EU’s growing research agenda on smart cities needs to be understood in relation to the EU’s/EC’s ambitions to influence urban governance policies, as for example evidenced in the 2016 “Amsterdam Pact”. Not only are these ambitions interesting—and problematic—given the EU’s lacking mandate to influence beyond the national level; these informal collaborations between the EU and ‘city makers’ also pave the way for circumventing formal local political structures and political accountability.
This paper explains how these two dimensions of EU funding programmes work, how they intersect, and how they warrant the notion of a (smart) city in which citizens are stripped from their political rights and in which problems are stripped from their political meaning. The paper concludes with a reflection on possibilities for disrupting this dynamic, which focuses particularly on the pivotal role that academic researchers—who are more reliant on EU funding than ever before—(should) play.


Participation in the Smart City: An Ethnographic Study of Citizen Engagement in Dublin
Réka Pétercsák & Mark Maguire (Maynooth)

‘Smart City’ solutions appear on all fronts of public life: they can take the shape of an e-government portal, an online community activity forum, a mobile application for urban travel, or a set of sensors that collect data about city life. Despite the extreme difference in function, these services all operate on the same principle: their smartness lies in their responsiveness, in their ability to recruit and engage with users. The Smart City, then, requires the (digitally) engaged citizen who interacts with it, actively creating and shaping the services they use. Of course, creative practice has always been central to urban theory. From Aristotle to Jane Jacobs, synekismos names the generative power of cities and offers a key to unlock the mechanisms through which urban life is regenerated continuously. However, while smart cities smoothen ‘equal access’ for some, others experience a world of striations, and in some cases previously accessible settings are closed off. Practicing citizenship thus becomes a question of aptitude, or even expertise, conditioned by new tools, ideologies and socialities.
In this paper, we show the contestations and contradictions of this multi-faceted city-citizen relationship illuminated through an anthropological research project. In 2015, we ethnographically tracked the creation of a community project prototype, mapping communities and their social activities within an EU-funded urban resilience framework. Our focus was on observing the practices through which citizen-experts negotiate their imagined city-scape. We tracked how different meanings, values, ideologies clash and collapse until the prototype took its final form as a digital innovation dashboard.
We attend to digital mapping, counting, and the visualising platforms that mediate the city-citizen relationship within the synekismos of urban life itself. Our specific interest is in how citizens participate in the problem-spaces that emerge between specific assemblages and the broader apparatuses for governing cities. We draw from the work of Benedict Anderson (1991) to explore knowledge production and ontogenetic social space, and we draw especially from the work of Paul Rabinow (2003, 2007) to explore the problem-spaces of the contemporary. Ethnography shows the ways in which citizens participate in the smart city participants but become expert navigators of the contemporary. Anthropologically, we draw conclusions about the contemporary production of space, together with the production of new asymmetries.


Against the romance of the smart community: The case of Milano 4 You
Cesare Di Feliciantonio (Maynooth)

In her seminal book (2002), Miranda Joseph deconstructed the hegemonic representation of communities as homogeneous, natural and spontaneous, highlighting the complex ways they are imbricated in capitalism. Building on her work, in this presentation I aim at discussing the preliminary results of my ongoing research about the ‘Milano 4 You’ development project, located in the municipality of Segrate and destined at creating the first ‘smart district’ of Italy. Which idea of community is portrayed in the development plan and the advertising material? How does ‘smartness’ marks a shift from the idea of gated community embodied by the ‘Milano 2’ district located in the same municipality? By trying to answer these questions, the presentation shows how the idea of a ‘smart community’ is primarily mobilized to support the dynamics of land rent.

Seminar 2: Tweeting the Smart city by Prof Gillian Rose

We are very excited to announce that our next seminar will feature Professor Gillian Rose (Oxford University), jointly organised with Social Sciences Institute and Geography Department. The seminar is entitled: Tweeting the Smart city: The Affective Enactments of the Smart City on Social Media and you can find further seminar details below. We look forward to seeing many of you in the seminar!

Time: 13:00 to 14.30, Thursday, 26th October
Venue: Rocque Lab, Rhetoric House, South Campus, Maynooth University (Building #17 on the campus map)
Digital technologies of various kinds are now the means through which many cities are made visible and their spatialities negotiated. From casual snaps shared on Instagram to elaborate photo-realistic visualisations, digital technologies for making, distributing and viewing cities are more and more pervasive. This talk will explore some of the implications of that digital mediation of urban spaces. What forms of urban life are being made visible in these digitally mediated cities, and how? Through what configurations of temporality, spatiality and embodiment? And how should that picturing be theorised? Drawing on recent work on the visualisation of so-called ‘smart cities’ on social media, the lecture will suggest the scale and pervasiveness of digital imagery now means that notions of ‘representation’ have to be rethought. Cities and their inhabitants are increasingly mediated through a febrile cloud of streaming image files; as well as representing cities, this cloud also operationalises particular, affective ways of being urban. The lecture will explore some of the implications of this shift for both theory and method as well as critique.


CFP After the smart city? The state of critical scholarship ten years on

CFP: AAG Annual Meeting, New Orleans, USA, April 10-14 2018: deadline October 6th.

 ”After the smart city?: The state of critical scholarship ten years on”

Today, the smart city imaginary is a recurring theme within critical urban geography and implies a particular set of rationalities. While it tends to centre upon digital technologies as a means to solve complex urban problems, it is also an entrepreneurial branding and boosting technique for cities. The implementation of smart city strategies transforms how cities operate and has resulted in an array of well-documented critiques around control, privacy, and technological determinist or solutionist visions of the urban.  Furthermore, these data and software-driven solutions are often instrumental: merely treating symptoms, while failing to address the underlying problem. This has led to the idea that smart technologies are a solution looking for a problem.

This session seeks papers that explore approaches, policies, and practices that actively invoke and negotiate these issues, while also situating the smart city within wider, ongoing debates in and beyond urban geography. Thus, this session is not prescriptive and welcomes scholars interested in the smart city, data and digital transformations, digital infrastructure, technocratic and algorithmic governance, and the political economy of cities. In particular, we are interested in thinking through the ‘place’ of smart cities today: what have critical investigations of the topic achieved and where do we go from here?

Areas of potential interest for research papers may include, but are not limited to:

  • The nexus between governance, policy, technological innovation, and power;
  • How smart city initiatives are placed upon existing urban infrastructure and service provisions and the resulting consequences.
  • The role of the smart citizen.
  • The splintering effects of digital technologies.
  • The effects of technologies on everyday processes and environments.
  • Urban entrepreneurialism and the Smart City.

Please send titles and proposed abstracts (250 words max) to Aoife Delaney ( and Alan Wiig ( no later than Friday 6 October 2017.