Increasingly, digital and data-driven ‘smart city’ technologies are deployed in smart cities, motivated by the claim that these data-driven policies and technologies can provide citizens with additional opportunity to contribute to city-making processes and therefore potentially enhance the democratic aspect of urban development and governance. However, critics argue that these (neoliberal) and technocratic developments are leading to an increased disciplining of urban life as opposed to their initial promise of a more democratic and sustainable smart cities. In an attempt to respond to these rising concerns, many governments promote policies and initiatives to support citizens’ democratic ‘Right to the Smart City.’ However, the effectiveness of these efforts remain unclear.
BOLD Cities researchers Dr. Els Leclercq and Dr. Emiel Rijshouwer engaged in a series of three participatory action research projects with the aim to support citizens’‘Right to the Smart City’ through the development and use of digital platforms. They find that, although (the processes of co-creatively developing) these platforms do actively address citizens’ engagement, empowerment and emancipation in smart city development, their contribution to provide participants with the opportunity to actually and sustainably reframe, reimagine and remake the smart city in a way that benefits them and their communities, is fairly limited. They arrive to the conclusion that time and budget constraints, entrenched technocratic beliefs, as well as vested – traditional – and imbalanced power relationships and divergent views, concerns and objectives prohibit citizens’‘Right to the Smart City.’
As an implication of their findings, they make a plea for ‘Governance Beyond Participation:’ city making processes that do not perceive citizens as participants or clients, but as valued and trustworthy collaborators in the development and the governance of public space.
Dr. Els Leclercq
Dr. Emiel Rijshouwer