Smart cities and the problem-solving capacity of urban governance

‘Smart city’ is a reform concept that has gained traction across the world. Harnessing the potential of digital technologies for improving the ways cities are run promises fundamental transformations of urban governance and a step-change in capacity development. But how much of this hype stands the test of empirical analysis? What are the potential benefits, risks and unintended side-effects of smart city strategies? And what does it take to make smart cities strategies work? This course debates these issues and reviews key conceptual debates and explores the practices of smart cities.

By 2020, most of the world’s population is expected to be living in cities. This steady growth in urban population puts pressure on existing services and worsens already existing problems of congestion, urbanization, pollution and unequal social integration. According to the latest urban air quality database, 98% of cities in low- and middle-income countries with more than 100 000 inhabitants have bad air quality, in high-income countries that percentage decreases to 56% (WHO 2016). Traffic congestion and labour market are the issues that EU citizens complain most according to Urban Audit in 2015. Under this situation, governments are propelled to rethink urban governance and to yield the potential of ICT driven innovation to improve the liveability, sustainability, and economy of urban spaces.

‘Smart city’ has not yet an established definition, but it can be broadly defined as a city strategy that uses digital technologies to conceive and implement public service and governance innovations to make cities more efficient, sustainable and to improve the well-being of city residents and business opportunities. With ‘Smart City’ becoming a catchphrase, initiatives and platforms are mushrooming. Although this process should be human-needs driven, various companies and developers of technology such as IBM, Cisco, Intel, Siemens, see genuine business opportunities ‘selling’ their own ‘smart city programs’. Some concerns have thus emerged over the scale of the role of such corporate entities potentially challenging democratic oversight.

This course is for 2nd year MIA and MPP students only.