Book Review

Inside Smart Cities

Place, Politics and Urban Innovation
Andrew Karvonen, Federico Cugurullo & Federico Caprotti (ed.)

This collection of 18 case studies dealing with 27 smart cities is a welcome surprise. The editors view smart innovation as recursive: smartness changes cities and cities change smartness through iterative processes. Instead of a universal definition of ‘smart’, they recognise the importance of specific contexts. They challenge the notion of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) providing universal, rational and a-political solutions to contemporary urban problems, but agree that it can contribute to resource efficiency, surveillance and security, citizenship and participation, evidence based policy making, behavioural change and social cohesion.

Chapters are grouped into four themes: processes of grounding and contextualising; integrating and aligning; contradicting and challenging; experiencing and encountering with smart as unifying characteristic. The studies make the case for functional objectives of technological innovation, but their socio-cultural claims are less convincing. Some argue that urban change has always taken place under a combination of pressures, including technological innovation, and the preservation of ruling powers and entrepreneurial opportunities to make money. Although noted, the socially divisive nature of ICT provision does not come under much critique.

Starting with practice, smart approaches have been applied to less mainstream concerns: the safety of women in Seoul, innovating for an ageing society in Japan, relationship between smart urbanism and greening in Manchester and Bristol. The changing nature of smartness in urban transformation has been explored for other places in different contexts. The changing relationship between smart ICT-based urbanism and people-centred urban development is addressed in Barcelona. Perhaps the most provocative chapter on failing public participation was ‘Acknowledging the idiot in the smart city, experimentation and citizenship in the making of a low carbon district in Santiago de Chile’.  

Two chapters address more theoretical aspects. An anthropological analysis argues that the relationship between collaboration and subsidiarity amongst members of the smart city consortium in Munich constitutes ‘smart equivocation’. ‘Smart innovations at the margins’ are observed in other places with enormous inequalities and growing spatial fragmentation. Access to mobile phones as tools for cyborg activism dominates ‘digital urbanity on the move’ and places space at the intersection of policy-driven urban techno-visions and bottom up solutions. The book claims to be the first comprehensive reflection on how smart city initiatives are realised in different locales and aims to explore what contribution smartness could make to a more socially equitable, environmentally friendly and economically robust urban future.

URBAN DESIGN 153 Winter 2020 Publication Urban Design Group

As featured in URBAN DESIGN 153 Winter 2020

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Inside Smart Cities Publication Urban Design Group
ISBN 978-0815348689
Reviewed By
Judith Ryser