Smart Cities/Smart Citizens

Authors: David Roberts*, University of Toronto
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, Social Geography, Canada
Keywords: smart cities, citizenship, urban, expertise, citizen engagement
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: 8222, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Through the infusion of smart technologies into public spaces, governance systems and infrastructures, the architects of ‘smart cities’ have begun altering the way urban residents work, live, and play in cities throughout the world. We argue that a revised form of urban citizenship and urban politics emerge from the ‘smart city’ paradigm. Through an analysis of public discourses on the ongoing Google’s Sidewalks Lab experiment in Toronto, which began in Fall 2017, we observe that the smart urban citizen is idealized as a ‘partner’ in the development of the smart city and invited into actively participating in public engagement processes and the uptake of smart technologies. The participatory smart citizen thus contributes directly to the privatized production of lived urban knowledge through encounters with smart technology. We caution that the tech-mediated urban citizen is substituted in the smart city for the democratic urban citizen. As critics have noted, the code for how these ‘smart cities’ operate is closed and, in many cases, proprietary, thus shielding the logic and conditions of its production from public critique via democratic processes. Strategic decisions and agenda setting in the smart city are also often subordinated to the neoliberal logics of smartness, with their focus on efficiency, techno-primacy and corporate ‘expertise’. Thus, through their use of carefully crafted modes of public engagement, architects of the smart city mine the smart citizen for knowledge and experience at the same time that they chip away at the smart citizen’s political capacity to be democratic subjects.

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