Urban Planning and the Knowledge Politics of the Smart City

Cook, Matthew and Karvonen, Andrew (2023). Urban Planning and the Knowledge Politics of the Smart City. Urban Studies [Early Access].

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/00420980231177688


Smart cities promote computational and data-driven understandings of the built environment and urban development has the potential to reconfigure urban planning and governance practices in profound ways. Smart urbanisation is often presented as a politically neutral and socially beneficial approach to achieve urban sustainability goals but the emphasis on data gathering and algorithmic analysis and decision-making has the tendency to restrict how urban stakeholders know and act upon cities. In this article, we apply Artistotle’s intellectual virtues of techne, episteme, and phronesis to critique current practices of smart cities, data-driven urbanism, and computational understandings of cities as they relate to urban planning theory and practice. We argue that the rise of smart cities represents a partial return to early- to mid-twentieth century positivistic knowledge politics and the reassertion of technical experts as the drivers of urban change. However, we also highlight the recent emergence of citizen-centred smart cities as an opportunity to promote value rationality in urban planning activities. We conclude that there is a need for greater integration of techne, episteme, and phronesis in the pursuit of smart cities to ensure that digitalisation does not foreclose on certain ways of knowing cities but instead, provides a foundation to support a progressive knowledge politics of urban development.

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