Contextualizing Smart Cities in Australia : The Role of Data in Advancing Sustainable Development
Sammanfattning: The smart city is not a new concept. For centuries urbanists have sought to rationalize city making and explore more efficient means to operate cities. Meanwhile, the exponential utilization of information and communication technologies (ICT) have opened up for a new wave of ‘smart’ development that is rapidly sweeping across the globe contributing to a previously unseen ‘datafication’ of cities. The concept of smart cities is often met by staunch criticism due to, among other things, the influence from corporate actors. Smart cities have also been criticized for not adequately addressing issues related to sustainable development. Despite this recent upswing of smart initiatives and plans, there is still a significant gap in our understanding of what this looks like in situ. While spectacular cases (Songdo, South Korea; Masdar City, UAE, among others) of smart cities have been dissected and covered extensively over the last few years, more ordinary examples of already existing cities transitioning into smart cities are still largely unexplored. Against the backdrop of both the high appraisal and vast criticism of smart cities, a growing literature have recently called for a more nuanced approach, advocating for a focus on the ‘actually existing smart city’ and how smart cities unfold in specific contexts. This study examines the situatedness of smart cities in the Australian context through a grounded theory lens, looking specifically at how the ‘datafication’ plays out and how it influences the realization of the sustainable city. Taking an inductive approach, this study applies semi-structured interviews with key smart cities stakeholders in Australia and participant observations to identify key themes in the smart city sphere in relation to sustainability and data. The findings highlight that smart city initiatives do not necessarily fit into preconceived ideas about smart cities. Secondly, while data is seen almost universally as a valuable source of information to better understand and manage cities, it is not clear that it influences sustainable development. In addition, competing opinions on open data also suggest that this is a fairly contested topic in Australia, which should encourage further investigation of its intended contributions to a more sustainable form of urban development. This study adds to a relatively scarce number of qualitative studies of smart cities in general, and of smart cities in the Australian context in particular.
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