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.