The ‘actually existing’ smart city is not a monolith. It is not directed by a universal logic, nor does it develop in a standardised way. As recent research has argued, the spatial, material, and political contexts of cities have major influence over what smart urbanism looks like in practice. This paper adds analytical depth to, and broadens the geographical scope of, research on the variegated modes of making smart cities. Based on empirical research in multiple Australian cities we use three case studies to explore three different modes of smart urbanism, each one centred on the interests of a different key actor: corporate-centric, citizen-centric, and planner-centric. These different modes can, and do, co-exist in the same city. At times, they are competing logics that fight to pull the city in different directions. Yet, they can also work together to shape smart city initiatives. In describing these different modes, we pay particular attention to the ways that these projects and strategies must contend with the already existing spatial, cultural, and political contexts of each place.
To paraphrase Tolstoy, each smart city is smart in its own way. The ‘actually existing’ smart city is not a monolith (Shelton et al. 2015). It is not directed by a universal logic, nor does it develop in a standardised or linear way; even withstanding the attempts by its most powerful advocates to roll out the smart city as a singular sociotechnical imaginary (Sadowski and Bendor 2019) with solutions and services, values and visions, that can be plugged in anywhere, anytime, thus reconfiguring an existing urban environment into a smart “generic space” (Greenfield 2013). Rather, as a recent wave of research has argued, when the real smart city takes shape it often does so in ways that are retrofitted and piecemeal (Dowling et al. 2019). The initiatives have an ad hoc quality: existing stuff is upgraded and replaced, here and there, based on what resources are available, what is achievable, and what opportunities arise. The strategies are often post hoc: they are not always established beforehand but are developed during implementation (if not afterward) to give coherence to a constellation of projects and outcomes that are already in place.
his is not surprising considering that these initiatives and strategies must contend with the different spatial, cultural, and political contexts of the host city, which in turn have major influences over what smart urbanism looks like in practice (Bulkeley 2016 et al.).1 For example, by studying the development of smartness in the Indonesian cities of Jakarta and Surabaya, where informalism is a defining feature of urban planning and life, we can see how smart initiatives unfold in an improvisational way because the models developed in Western countries “need to be adapted for cities in emerging economies” (Offenhuber 2019: 1565). Whereas in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, spatial media technologies like Google Maps are actively trying to overcome informalism in the favelas by rendering this territory as legible and calculated, thus incorporating it into the economic operations of capital (LuqueAyala and Neves Maia 2019). Or, if we look at Singapore, we can see how the smart city-state, or Smart Nation initiative as it is called, are deeply entangled with “the neoliberal-developmental logics of the state, thereby facilitating authoritarian consolidation in Singapore” (Ho 2017: 3101). Whereas in Barcelona we can see a transformation underway as the city makes a radical shift from embodying the corporate model of smart urbanism due to its close partnership with Cisco to being at the vanguard of developing digital platforms for enacting participatory democratic versions of smartness (Charnock et al. 2019; Lynch 2019).