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Living labs and vacancy in the neoliberal city

Cardullo, P and Kitchin, R and Di Feliciantonio, C (2017) Living labs and vacancy in the neoliberal city. Cities, 73. pp. 44-50. ISSN 0264-2751


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© 2017 Elsevier Ltd This paper evaluates smart city (SC) initiatives in the context of re-using vacant property, focusing on the role of living labs (LL). LL utilise Lo-Fi technologies to foster local digital innovation and support community-focused civic hacking, running various kinds of workshops and engaging with local citizens to co-create digital interventions and apps aimed at 'solving’ local issues. Five approaches to LL are outlined and discussed in relation to vacancy and gentrification: pop-up initiatives, university-led activities, community organised venues/activities, citizen sensing and crowdsourcing, and tech-led regeneration initiatives. Notwithstanding the potential for generating temporary and independent spaces for transferring digital competences and increasing citizens' participation in the SC, we argue LL foster largely a form of participation framed within a model of civic stewardship for 'smart citizens’. While presented as horizontal, open, and participative, LL and civic hacking are rooted often in pragmatic and paternalistic discourses and practices related to the production of a creative economy and a technocratic version of SC. As such, by encouraging a particular kind of re-use of vacant space, LLs are used actively to bolster the Smart City discourse, as part of the more general neoliberalization of urban political economy. We discuss these approaches and issues generally, drawing on previous fieldwork and with respect to a case study of Dublin, Ireland.

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