“Smart city” claims

A “smart” public transportation network is one where schedules and real-time data are delivered on demand to smartphone users. Such an effective and “smart” system enables a traveller to transition from bus to train to tram without having to wait due to missed connections. The system adapts its information flows to the traveller’s changing needs and circumstances.

Effective public transportation is one indicator of a “smart city.” Digital retail is another. Market competition provides strong incentives for retailers to adopt an anywhere any-time “smartness” to browsing, selecting, comparing, delivering, upgrading, maintaining, repairing, and recycling consumer products. The smart city idea extends such convenience and efficiency to city sanitation, health care, education, and governance, as well as consumer monitoring of metered local and city-wide water, gas and power networks – i.e. smart grids.

A smart city filters, delivers and displays information in ways that are convenient to service users and decision makers. Smart cities might display relevant information via a screen “dashboard” described by critic Shannon Mattern as

“an assemblage of tickers, gauges, feeds, and widgets that register whatever is measurable and trackable within the smart city” (16).

She adds: “thereby revealing its instrumental logic” (16).


A smart city is also a place where people have smartphones that draw on rich infrastructures for communicating and exchange. The “Internet of Things” (IoT) provides another lens through which to understand the smart city where not only phones, tablets and desk computers but everyday products and services are connected via the Internet. These include

“Smart toasters, connected rectal thermometers and fitness collars for dogs”

according to a light hearted summary in Wired, with the  potential and challenges they imply.

But the “smart city” doesn’t only process and display information. It will use data sourced from traffic movement, pedestrian flows, air temperature, sunlight and myriad scanners and sensors to activate elements of the built environment: adjust traffic lights, open and close access points, activate shading, turn up the heating, direct flows through grids, and send messages to people, machines, networks and systems.

This is an upbeat account, at least from the point of view of developers and citizens able to take advantage of these resources. For alternatives see articles by Simon Joss (The smart city as global discourse) and Shannon Mattern (The City is not a Computer) in the bibliography, and my post: Hacking the city of the future.


  • Berger, Lars T., and Krzysztof Iniewski. 2012. Smart Grid Applications, Communications, and Security. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley
  • Burgess, Matt. 2018. What is the Internet of Things? WIRED explains. Wired Magazine, 16 February. Available online: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/internet-of-things-what-is-explained-iot (accessed 22 October 2021).
  • de Lange, Michiel. 2013. The smart city you love to hate: Exploring the role of affect in hybrid urbanism. In Dimitris Charitos, Iouliani Theona, Daphne Dragona, and Charalampos Rizopoulos (eds.), Proc. The Hybrid City II: Subtle rEvolutions: http://www.bijt.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2006/2001/Michiel_de_Lange-The-smart-city-you-love-to-hate-exploring-the-role-of-affect_Hybrid_City-Athens_styled_edit-v2002.pdf (accessed 2011 April 2015). Athens, Greece.
  • Green, Ben. 2019. The Smart Enough City: Putting Technology in its Place to Reclaim Our Urban Future. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
  • Greenfield, Adam, and Kim Nurri. 2013. Against the smart city (The city is here for you to use Book 1). New York, NY: Do Projects
  • Hnilica, Sonja. 2019. The metaphor of the city as a thinking machine: A complicated relationship and its backstory. In Sergio M. Figueiredo, Sukanya Krishnamurthy, and Torsten Schroeder (eds.), Architecture and the Smart City: 68-83. London: Routledge.
  • Joss, Simon, Frans Sengers, Daan Schraven, Federico Caprotti, and Youri Dayot. 2019. The Smart City as Global Discourse: Storylines and Critical Junctures across 27 Cities. Journal of Urban Technology, (26) 1, 3–34.
  • Mattern, Shannon. 2021. A City Is Not a Computer: Other Urban Intelligences. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press
  • Willis, Katharine S., and Alessandro Aurigi. 2018. Digital and Smart Cities. Abingdon, England: Routledge

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