Urenio Watch Watch: Intelligent Cities / Smart Cities

From smart cities to smart social urbanism: A framework for shaping the socio-technological ecosystems in cities

This paper suggests a shift of focus in the development of digital initiatives from city to society, towards the cultivation of smart social urbanism. The authors explore “smart urbanism’ in ten cities of Israel, analysing them in terms of  participation, democratisation and innovative urbanism. They suggest that most municipalities are still at an early stage of digitization implementation and have the ability to shape and form a vision for the cities as socio-technological ecosystems in an equitable manner.  

Based on interviews with leading figures in municipalities, smart city consultants and key figures in technological companies, the aim of this paper is to assess the efforts of cities to become smart by responding to the following questions:

  1. What is guiding the decision-making process in developing technological initiatives?
  2. Does context play a role in implementing technological initiatives?
  3. How are the residents perceived, and what tools are being used to address residents’ digital differences?

The key argument of this paper is threefold: first, in the process of becoming a smart city, the roles of public and private actors are blurred, influencing the process of decision making. Second, despite contextual differences, cities adopt similar digital initiatives. Third, technological initiatives that focus on social needs and address inequality in the digital age are still at the margins.

The concept of smart social urbanism offers guidelines for developing digital vision for cities, while its framework is based on transparent decision-making processes, sensitivity to the local context and social needs.  Smart social urbanism suggests a framework for shaping the socio-technological ecosystems in cities based on the premise that municipalities should constructively lead the process of city digitization. In doing so, they should address the three anchors of smart social urbanism: a structured decision-making process, sensitivity to the urban context and sensitivity to the needs of an urban society.

This paper is based on a qualitative methodology, through in-depth interviews with leading figures in 10 municipalities of Israel, smart city consultants and key figures in technological companies. The interviews focus on policy and development strategies for digital processes. The findings show that cities adopt the same basic digital initiatives, although they are different socially, spatially and politically. According to the authors, this dynamic is, in part, a result of the smart city model itself, which is based on the idea that “one size fits all’, and ‘the acceleration in cross-border policies’ codified as ‘best practices’, all rooted in the smart city industry (i.e., global conferences, communities of practice, entrepreneurs, consultants).

The paper includes four parts. The first part analyses the way that digitization processes and initiatives are introduced in the cities and modify them. The second introduces the research methodology and the empirical field. The third presents the empirical analysis and focuses on three key issues: the decision-making process, the urban context and social needs. The paper ends with a call to address and develop digital visions that shift the focus from city to society and emphasize smart social urbanism.

You can find the paper here.