A tale of two cities: comparing “smart city” approaches

Marketing materials about ‘smart cities’ seem to be everywhere, to the point that ‘smart city’ rhetoric is verging on being an invasive species. But behind the scenes, many city government employees are working to use, adapt, or implement digital systems to serve city residents best. This presentation discusses some of the organisational issues and policy challenges that public administrators encountered while deploying “smart” technologies in London, England, and Toronto, Canada.

Marketing materials and business communications about the ‘smart city’ seem to be everywhere, to the point that ‘smart city’ rhetoric is verging on being an invasive species. But behind the scenes of the snazzy buzzwords and futuristic photos, many city governments are working to adopt, adapt, and implement new and existing digital systems to serve city residents best. In this presentation, we discuss research about public administration of smart city projects in Toronto, Canada, and London, England. We draw on publicly available documentation as well as interviews with key influencers of government strategies—including policy makers, academics, and private sector designers—to dissect how and why city administrators adopted and implemented “smart” technologies in their cities.

The presentation describes some of the organisational issues and policy challenges that can occur while deploying “smart” technologies. It highlights some of the complex material, infrastructural, political, social, and environmental challenges that have emerged thus far in London and Toronto’s smart city projects, and challenges some of the simplistic rhetoric about the benefits of “smart” cities and “smart” technologies. The presentation closes with a call for more open discussion of these nuanced issues between and amongst people, public sector employees, academics, and the private sector.