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The Interstitial Smart City: Beyond Top-down and Bottom-up Smartness

Authors: Ryan Burns*, University of Calgary, Preston Welker, University of Calgary
Topics: Urban Geography, Political Geography, Geographic Information Science and Systems
Keywords: smart cities, community associations, urban politics, digital geography
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The critical research agenda on smart cities has tended to assume a largely top-down orientation in which municipalities, regional governments, and the nation-state enact programs to embed ICT in the urban landscape. Exemplifying the neoliberal reforms that contextualize smart cities, such state actors serve to "roll out" frameworks for private capital accumulation, positioning private companies also as governmentalizing institutions. The extension of this idea, then, is to seek social justice by either contesting these top-down exercises of (digital) power or by reconceptualizing the smart city "from below".

In this paper, we argue that such conceptions overlook the "interstitial" actors that influence the ways in which the smart city manifests. We draw on an ongoing research project in Calgary, Alberta, to show that a range of pseudo-governmental actors that are, properly, neither top-down nor bottom-up, play an important role in envisioning, implementing, and contesting how "smartness" is framed. For Calgary, these actors are most prominently community associations and non-profit organizations, which wield considerable influence in the city's smart city programs. At the same time, the spectre of individuals and groups equally in the "interstices" of the smart city, namely, those marginalized in the digital divide, drive the way in which smartness is articulated and pursued. Conceiving of the digital divide involves thinking about what work smart city programs, and digital technologies more broadly, are able to perform. By illuminating these interstices of the smart city, we remind scholars of the complex convergences of urban politics and digital technologies.

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