What smartness does in the smart city: From visions to policy

Burcu Baykurt*, Christoph Raetzsch

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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This article examines what smartness does on the ground by examining how its anticipatory media visions have been interpreted and acted on in policy decisions and local implementations since the early 2000s. Using a comparative-historical analysis that draws on fieldwork in aspiring smart cities in the United States and Europe, we argue that the visions of smartness are neither singular nor fixed across time and space. Instead, the role of smartness in diffusing new technologies is recruited and reshaped in the present to lend legitimacy to future public and private interventions. We first demonstrate that the narrative of crisis, often associated with smartness, shifted from a pre-2008 emphasis on sustainability and climate change to a post-financial crisis engagement with entrepreneurship and platformization. We then discuss how the development of smart city initiatives has followed divergent paths in the United States and Europe, with big tech companies dominating in the former and the ‘living lab’ model prevailing in the latter. Our analysis highlights the importance of investigating the complex relationships between anticipatory media visions of smartness and their varying, down-to-earth implementations in the built environment rather than solely focusing on the discursive appeal of techno-idealism. It also explains the enduring appeal of smartness as an urban vision, despite its various shortcomings, by revealing its adaptability to the changing social and political–economic shifts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)775-789
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Civic innovation
  • comparative research
  • Europe
  • living labs
  • platforms
  • smart city
  • smartness
  • socio-technical visions
  • United States


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