Bridging European Urban Transformations Workshops: (Un)Plugging Data in Smart City-Regions

Monday, 14/11, 09:00-15:00 (time to be confirmed)

First workshop within the Bridging European Urban Transformations series. Co-organised with the Brussels Centre for Urban Studies (VUB) and Urban Transformations (University of Oxford).


Attention to the application of new information flows and the development of the so-called ‘smart cities’ paradigm is increasing; however, there is still limited understanding of the interconnections between ‘hard,’ ‘smart’ infrastructures and economic, political and social systems on metropolitan and regional scales. Furthermore, this paradigm has often failed to deliver practical tools that can help us to better understand and intervene in our daily realities, while also engaging with the various stakeholders that are important for our cities and regions.

The workshop aims to rethink the dominant technocratic and technology-centric smart city discourse: not by imagining cities beyond or before technologies, but by accepting that city-regions are already fundamentally shaped by networked and mobile ICTs and by critically thinking through the governance consequences of the promises and realities of smart cities. For example, many argue that smart city-regions will inevitably revolve around generating large amounts of data and that this in itself will lead to new insights and governance strategies. But in reality, city-regions are much more complex and shaped by a large variety of different actors and organisations with often conflicting positions. Another strand of debate emphasizes the impact of near-universal uptake of smartphones and other hand-held devices as well as the impact of the Internet of Things i.e. networks of data-gathering sensors and cloud computing. Many use these devices and networks on a daily basis, but what this means for city-regional governance and the power-laden relationships between citizens, governments and companies remains an open question. All this makes truly ‘smart’ city-regional governance exceedingly difficult, but at the same time a fascinating and rewarding scale for investigating the various meanings and usages of ‘smartness’.

Over the last years, various research projects across Europe have started investigating these issues. Most seek to develop not just critical analyses, but also practical suggestions to tackle urban problems such as pollution, health, safety or mobility through the development and use of various types of mobile and networked data. Building on this emerging body of research, the workshop (Un)Plugging Data in Smart City-Regions will bring together a group of European academics and policymakers in order to unpack and question:

1. The kinds of knowledge gained through the production, distribution and use of ‘smart’ data;

2. The role data plays in the constitution of urban expertise and in mediating and transforming the relationships between citizens, governments and companies; and

3. The ways in which data-driven knowledge and expertise tackles and/or reproduces inequalities in city-regions.

More broadly, we aim to explore how new strategies of data collection, storage, and usage harness urban and regional smart governance models to guide city-regional decision-making processes.