Roadmaps to Utopia: Tales of the Smart City

Valdez Juarez, Alan; Cook, Matthew and Potter, Stephen (2018). Roadmaps to Utopia: Tales of the Smart City. Urban Studies, 55(15) pp. 3385–3403.



Notions of the Smart City are pervasive in urban development discourses. Various frameworks for the development of smart cities, often conceptualized as roadmaps, make a number of implicit claims about how smart city projects proceed but the legitimacy of those claims is unclear. This paper begins to address this gap in knowledge. We explore the development of a smart transport application, MotionMap, in the context of a £16M smart city programme taking place in Milton Keynes, UK. We examine how the idealized smart city narrative was locally inflected, and discuss the differences between the narrative and the processes and outcomes observed in Milton Keynes. The research shows that the vision of data-driven efficiency outlined in the roadmaps is not universally compelling, and that different approaches to the sensing and optimization of urban flows have potential for empowering or disempowering different actors. Roadmaps tend to emphasize the importance of delivering quick practical results. However, the benefits observed in Milton Keynes did not come from quick technical fixes but from a smart city narrative that reinforced existing city branding, mobilizing a growing network of actors towards the development of a smart region. Further research is needed to investigate this and other smart city developments, the significance of different smart city narratives, and how power relationships are reinforced and constructed through them.

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