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Socio-technical Challenges to the Smart City: a citizen-centric perspective

Sonderland Saga, Regine (2019) Socio-technical Challenges to the Smart City: a citizen-centric perspective. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

By 2050, approximately 70% of the global population will be living in cities, catalysing both socio-economic and environmental challenges. Therefore, in order to ensure sustainable growth, cities around the world are adopting the concept of ‘smart cities’. There is consensus that the smart city has the potential to address the urgent need for sustainable urbanism through innovations and ICT systems that are both designed to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, and that can provide high-quality living for its citizens. However, the concept has been broadly critiqued for being driven by technocratic agendas and not actually meeting the needs of the citizens. While recent initiatives claim to include citizens in smart city developments through collaboration and co-creation, there is significant debate regarding the extent to which this has stimulated a more inclusive approach. Consequently, to create a more citizen-centric smart city there remains a need to introduce citizens' perceptions and improve engagement. Institutions such as universities are playing an increasingly important role in the urban sustainability challenge and energy transitions in smart cities. Through conducting a survey of students (n=1007) living in the smart city district of Manchester, UK, this research found low awareness and understanding of the smart city concept, with three-quarters of respondents reporting they had never heard of the smart city. Moreover, interviews with smart city implementers (n=12) revealed contesting perceptions of ‘smart’. Whilst both students and implementers placed technology at the heart of the concept, students understood it as a city that would ensure protection of the environment whilst implementers adamantly claimed it would increase quality of life of citizens. However, when implementers described the role of citizens in the smart city, this research found that their perceptions were underpinned by a tokenistic rhetoric. Furthermore, by adopting a co-creational approach with citizens, this research explored the potential for smart solutions to overcome a split incentive scenario energy challenge. An Innovation Challenge (n=13) and focus groups with students (n=49) found encouraging indications that provision of contextualized information using intuitive visual cues which, coupled with gamification, could change students’ energy behaviours in halls of residence where financial drivers do not exist.

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