‘Smart city’: a regressive agenda?

While concepts related to the ‘sustainable’ city have dominated urban planning for most of recent decades, in the past few years the ‘smart’ theme has enjoyed a meteoric rise to prominence. This new agenda is critically examined in a new conference paper by Simon Joss, first presented at the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) Annual Meeting 2016, Singapore, 22–26 June 2016.

The smart concept, in its various usages, seems to offer the possibility of harnessing digital innovations for economic growth and governance reform, as well as improved sustainability and resource management.

However, the paper identifies ways in which the ‘smart’ agenda could be potentially regressive. It explores the relationship between the ‘smart’ concept and others, such as ‘eco’, ‘green’, ‘low-carbon’, ‘knowledge’ and ‘digital’. The analysis suggests that the shift towards digital innovation has been accompanied by a relative retreat from the previous over-arching theme of sustainability. Moreover, an analysis of the recent ‘smart city’ standard published by the British Standards Institute finds an underlying return to a positivist, linear, rational approach to urban planning and governance.

This year’s SHOT Annual Meeting featured a session on technology and the city, which explored how cities have been imagined, designed and built along with the progress of science and technology.

Simon Joss and Rob Cowley of the International Eco-Cities Initiative each presented papers.

Image copyright: Simon Joss – Daejeon ‘smart city’