The Smart City – how smart can ’IT’ be? : Discourses on digitalisation in policy and planning of urban development

Abstract: Cities are facing many challenges; challenges linked to world-wide trends like urbanisation, climate changes and globalisation. In parallel to these trends, we have seen a rapid digitalisation in and of different parts of society. Cities and local governments have been appointed an important role in overcoming these world-wide challenges, and subsequently, in policy practices digitalisation is perceived as an important dimension in delivering better and sustainable services to its citizens. As a result, the smart city has emerged as a concept and approach to contemporary urban planning and development. There is still no common understanding of the concept and what components and dimensions it covers. However, in all definitions digitalisation constitutes one dimension, but the role and function of it is still not clear.In this study I have examined how different stakeholders talk about digitalisation in policy and planning practices of urban development. The aim has been to identify and analyse different repertoires of discourses on digitalisation to advance our knowledge on how goals related to the smart city and digitalisation are put into practice. The results are based on a qualitative and interpretative case study with a social constructionist approach. An analytical framework based on discourse analysis, stakeholder theory and (new) institutional theory has been constructed to analyse the case.Main results show that repertoires on digitalisation are limited in both policy and planning of urban development. In these practices, digitalisation is primarily seen as a means or as a communication infrastructure in relation to two city services/functions; i.e. services related to governance and to environment. Results also show that practices of urban planning and development are institutionalised, where different stakeholders’ salience and stakes in urban development and in digitalisation differ, but it is clear that digitalisation is a secondary issue. Implications of these results are that the taken-for-granted discourses in policy and planning practices of urban development limit both practice and research when developing a smart city.

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