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Smart Cities and Green Growth: Outsourcing Democratic and Environmental Resilience to the Global Technology Sector


  • Jenni Viitanen
  • Richard Kingston


Climate change and advances in urban technology propel forward the ‘smart city’. As decision makers strive to find a technological fix, smart city strategies are often based on technological orthodoxies which are conceptually and empirically shallow. The motivation behind this paper is to address the conceptual adolescence which relates to the wholesale digitisation of the city by pursuing a twin argument about the democratic and environmental consequences. The authors draw on interdisciplinary theory and insights from urban studies, infrastructure, informatics, and the sociology of the Internet to critique the way the ‘smart city’ is taken forward. It is concluded that private firms market smart city services and solutions based on an ideological legacy of ‘ubiquitous computing’, ‘universal infrastructure’, and ‘green technology’. Based on evidence from three UK cities—Manchester, Birmingham, and Glasgow—it is argued that the underlying principle of future city strategies is to expand the market for new technology products and services to support ‘green growth’ with disregard for their wider impacts. For citizens, becoming a consumer of the technologies is often presented as progressive ‘participation’ or ‘empowerment’ with unknown or hidden consequences both political and environmental. The city systems become a digital marketplace where citizen-consumers' participation is increasingly involuntary and the hegemony of global technology firms is inflated. What follows is that the city's ‘intelligent systems' are defined through a digital consumer experience that has inherent biases and leaves parts of the city and its population unaccounted for. This renders the city less resilient in the face of future social and climatic risks.

Suggested Citation

  • Jenni Viitanen & Richard Kingston, 2014. "Smart Cities and Green Growth: Outsourcing Democratic and Environmental Resilience to the Global Technology Sector," Environment and Planning A, , vol. 46(4), pages 803-819, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:envira:v:46:y:2014:i:4:p:803-819

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    Cited by:

    1. Amitrajeet A. Batabyal & Peter Nijkamp, 2019. "Creative capital, information and communication technologies, and economic growth in smart cities," Economics of Innovation and New Technology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 28(2), pages 142-155, February.
    2. Szalavetz, Andrea, 2018. "Digitális átalakulás és fenntarthatóság. A technológiaoptimista környezetgazdászok és a pesszimista ökológiai közgazdászok közötti vita újraindítása [Digital transformation and environmental sustai," Közgazdasági Szemle (Economic Review - monthly of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences), Közgazdasági Szemle Alapítvány (Economic Review Foundation), vol. 0(10), pages 1067-1088.
    3. Ebru Tekin Bilbil, 2017. "The Operationalizing Aspects of Smart Cities: the Case of Turkey’s Smart Strategies," Journal of the Knowledge Economy, Springer;Portland International Center for Management of Engineering and Technology (PICMET), vol. 8(3), pages 1032-1048, September.
    4. Andrew Karvonen & Matthew Cook & Håvard Haarstad, 2020. "Urban Planning and the Smart City: Projects, Practices and Politics," Urban Planning, Cogitatio Press, vol. 5(1), pages 65-68.
    5. Dorota Bednarska-Olejniczak & Jarosław Olejniczak & Libuše Svobodová, 2019. "Towards a Smart and Sustainable City with the Involvement of Public Participation—The Case of Wroclaw," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(2), pages 1-33, January.
    6. Romano Fistola & Mariano Gallo & Rosa Anna La Rocca & Francesca Russo, 2020. "The Effectiveness of Urban Cycle Lanes: From Dyscrasias to Potential Solutions," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 12(6), pages 1-23, March.
    7. Martin, Chris J., 2016. "The sharing economy: A pathway to sustainability or a nightmarish form of neoliberal capitalism?," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 121(C), pages 149-159.
    8. Haarstad, Håvard & Wathne, Marikken W., 2019. "Are smart city projects catalyzing urban energy sustainability?," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 129(C), pages 918-925.
    9. Justyna Przywojska & Aldona Podgórniak-Krzykacz & Justyna Wiktorowicz, 2019. "Perceptions of Priority Policy Areas and Interventions for Urban Sustainability in Polish Municipalities: Can Polish Cities Become Smart, Inclusive and Green?," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(14), pages 1-24, July.
    10. Innocent, Morgane & Francois-Lecompte, Agnes & Roudaut, Nolwenn, 2020. "Comparison of human versus technological support to reduce domestic electricity consumption in France," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 150(C).
    11. Mora, Luca & Deakin, Mark & Reid, Alasdair, 2019. "Combining co-citation clustering and text-based analysis to reveal the main development paths of smart cities," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 142(C), pages 56-69.
    12. Trencher, Gregory, 2019. "Towards the smart city 2.0: Empirical evidence of using smartness as a tool for tackling social challenges," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 142(C), pages 117-128.
    13. Pierre-Emmanuel Arduin & Elsa Negre & Camille Rosenthal-Sabroux, 2016. "Knowledge and Decision for Smart Cities Initiatives - Cases of Paris and Nice," Post-Print hal-01292680, HAL.
    14. Wenting Ma & Daan Schraven & Mark de Bruijne & Martin de Jong & Haiyan Lu, 2019. "Tracing the Origins of Place Branding Research: A Bibliometric Study of Concepts in Use (1980–2018)," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(11), pages 1-20, May.
    15. Fromhold-Eisebith, Martina & Eisebith, Günter, 2019. "What can Smart City policies in emerging economies actually achieve? Conceptual considerations and empirical insights from India," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 123(C), pages 1-1.
    16. Munan Li, 2019. "Visualizing the studies on smart cities in the past two decades: a two-dimensional perspective," Scientometrics, Springer;Akadémiai Kiadó, vol. 120(2), pages 683-705, August.
    17. Kummitha, Rama Krishna Reddy, 2018. "Entrepreneurial urbanism and technological panacea: Why Smart City planning needs to go beyond corporate visioning?," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 137(C), pages 330-339.
    18. Mora, Luca & Deakin, Mark & Reid, Alasdair, 2019. "Strategic principles for smart city development: A multiple case study analysis of European best practices," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 142(C), pages 70-97.
    19. Seema Mundoli & Hita Unnikrishnan & Harini Nagendra, 2017. "The “Sustainable” in smart cities: ignoring the importance of urban ecosystems," DECISION: Official Journal of the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, Springer;Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, vol. 44(2), pages 103-120, June.


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