Problematizing data-driven urban practices: Insights from five Dutch ‘smart cities’

Paper by Damion J.Bunders and KrisztinaVarró: Recently, the concept of the smart city has gained growing popularity. As cities worldwide have set the aim to harness digital technologies to their development, increasing focus came to lie on the potential challenges and concerns related to data-driven urban practices. In the existing literature, these challenges and concerns have been dominantly approached from a pragmatic approach based on the a priori assumed ‘goodness’ of the smart city; for a small group of critics, the very notion of the smart city is questionable. This paper takes the middle-way by interrogating how municipal and civil society stakeholders problematize the challenges and concerns related to data-driven practices in five Dutch cities, and how they act on these concerns in practice.

The lens of problematization posits that the ways of problematizing data-driven practices contribute to their actual enactment, and that this is an inherently political process. The case study shows that stakeholders do not only perceive practical challenges but are widely aware of and are (partly) pro-actively engaging with perceived normative-ethical and societal concerns, leading to different (sometimes inter-related) technological, legal/political, organizational, informative and participative strategies. Nonetheless, the explicit contestation of smart city policies through these strategies remains limited in scope. The paper argues that more research is needed to uncover the structural-institutional dynamics that facilitate and/or prevent the repoliticization of smart city projects….(More)”.