Taylor Shelton presenting our research on the participation of citizens in smart city efforts in Maynooth.
Amidst ongoing critiques of emerging smart city visions and policies has been a reflexive shift towards placing citizens at the center of these often technology-driven modes of urban planning and governance. From the writings of Anthony Townsend, Dan Hill and Saskia Sassen, among others, there has been a growing critical engagement with the smart city idea that seeks to position these new technologies in a more productive relationship, driven by the needs and goals of everyday citizens, rather than large technology companies. Indeed, as Kitchin (2015) has noted, these various critiques have actually led many of the leading corporate smart city advocates to tailor their more recent pitches towards a more citizen-centric framing. This paper reflects on ongoing research on and participation in a series of nascent smart city initiatives in Atlanta, Georgia and Louisville, Kentucky, asking: How are citizens and ideas of citizenship mobilized in the making of smart city policies and strategies on-the-ground in particular localities? How are citizens made, or allowed, to participate in the transformation of urban governance in an era of ‘smartness’? More specifically, this paper explores the ways that citizens are imagined within smart city policymaking exercises as central to both the means and ends of the smart city idea, despite their notable absence from such discussions. At the same time as the perspectives of everyday citizens are marginalized within official smart city policymaking, community-based organizations are seeking to use data as a way of engaging directly with the broader political structures from which these smart city initiatives emerge, albeit almost entirely separate from such conversations around smart cities. Instead, citizens and community organizations tend to frame their work around more conventional areas of urban policy – housing, jobs, education, transportation, environmental quality – rather than omnibus smart cities concept, speaking more directly to the specific concerns of their neighborhoods and everyday lives.