Present-day discussions on urban governance and future cities are replete with the term ‘smart city’. From Songdo City in South Korea to the municipality of Amsterdam, everybody wants to be ‘smart’. Although there is no single definition of the term ‘smart city’, its interpretations usually involve the intertwining of urban environments and Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Many debates on smart cities tend to adopt a more optimistic understanding of technology as an enabler of more efficient forms of urban life that can simply be plugged into existing urban settings. ICT may indeed have advantageous effects by making cities more sustainable, innovative, and safer. However, ICT may also create or exacerbate social inequality by increasing the gap between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, make cities vulnerable to malfunctioning software and cybersecurity-related issues, or lead to privacy-related concerns.
There is no reason to expect the adherents of the different ideas about the smart city will reach consensus in a straightforward manner. Rather, interests that are often only partially compatible need to be consolidated. The practice of designing smart cities involves an environment of various social groups in which economic, technocratic, and ecological interests play a role of profound importance. Inquiring into the various social groups involved with smart cities and their agendas provides an understanding of the ‘actually existing smart city’ that is often lost in the mists of techno-optimism.
Although the analysis of large amounts of data can certainly have great benefits, it is also of profound importance to study how smart cities can become more inclusive cities, e.g. by looking at how citizen participation can be enhanced in order to unleash the potential of more involved and ‘energetic’ smart citizens.