Leonie Büttner, Europa-Universität Flensburg

Smart technologies for urban infrastructures: The transformation of energy and transport systems in European cities

In the face of increasing pressure to transform urban infrastructures due to ageing and sometimes under- and over-utilized networks, increasing stresses from extreme events, and changing societal demands such as the goal of decarbonisation, governments and city administrations worldwide are advocating for the incorporation of digital technologies in our cities. Smart meters to measure energy consumption in real time, intelligent transport systems to avoid traffic jams or mobility apps to facilitate multimodal transport determine current debates on the transformation of urban infrastructures. The future city is imagined as a networked metropolis in which infrastructure systems are designed to be as efficient and effective as possible through information and communication technologies, in other words: to be smart. But what exactly lies behind the idea of a smart city? Moreover, how do urban infrastructures and life change when city administrations place smartness on their agenda?

In this geographical PhD project, I am dealing with the question of how urban energy and transport networks are reconfigured by the ‘real existing smart city’. The project aims to understand and make tangible the underlying ideological assumptions behind smart city technologies in order to draw conclusions about the political and social impact of digital technologies on urban space. What logics, rationalities and interests drive urban digital transformations in European cities? Thus, the PhD project goes beyond the discursive level and deals with the material politics of the smart city. In doing so, I draw on Michel Foucault's theorization of power and governmentality. By using governmentality as an analytical framework, the aim is to examine the multiple and often contradictory political rationalities and governmental technologies that underlie the smart city and which produce and control different subjectivities in cities. As smart urbanism is depending on the urban context operationalized, contextualized and materialized in many ways, the PhD project is grounded on qualitative case study analyses.


Keywords: smart city, smart urbanism, governmentality, technopolitics, urban/network infrastructures, urban development, smart energy, smart mobility, digitalization