Is Barcelona establishing a sustainable paradigm in Europe by grassroots-led smart urban experimentation through the ‘data commons’ policy?

Authors: Igor Calzada*, University of Oxford, Esteve Almirall, ESADE Business School
Topics: Europe, Social Geography, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: smart cities, smart citizens, experimentation, grassroots innovation, technopolitics, data commons, big data, decision-makers, policy, GDPR, technological sovereignty, Europe, digital strategy, platform co-operatives, social innovation, Barcelona, Catalonia
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: 8222, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Since the newly elected mayor, Ada Colau—representing the left-wing, green, social movement coalition—was appointed in May 2015, Barcelona has been gradually experimenting with shifting the smart policy agenda towards a less technocratic approach. This transition has been shaped through grassroots innovation strategies, and implemented using the Digital Plan 2017-2020 called ‘Barcelona Ciutat Digital: A Roadmap Toward Technological Sovereignty’. Paralleling the timely implementation of this new smart urban experimental framework called ‘data commons’, this paper questions whether the ongoing transition that began in 2015 is sustainable and solid enough, given that the forthcoming municipal elections that will take place in May 2019. Against the backdrop of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that took effect in the European Union (EU) in May 2018, a debate has emerged in cities like Barcelona about the role of citizens and their relationship with data. Hence, this paper will present (i) the implications of the technopolitics of data ownership and (ii) the ongoing assessment of the Digital Plan 2017–2020 through its three experimental strategies (data ownership and technological sovereignty, grassroots innovation and urban co-operative platforms) and the related seven strategic initiatives. This paper will elucidate why smartness may not be appealing in Barcelona, although the experimental approach has yet to be entirely established as a paradigm. Ultimately, this paper will update the main findings recently published in the journal Sustainability (

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