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This paper problematizes the meanings, governance implications, and techno-political shortcomings of so-called ‘smart cities’ through pervasive transitions taking place in Europe by presenting a six-dimensional conceptual framework to politicize ‘smart city-regions’ as complex, transcalar, data-driven, multi-stakeholder-focused, experimental, and, supposedly, democratic techno-territorial assemblages. The momentum for smart city-regions is particularly relevant given an increasing number of ongoing reforms of administrative borders and competences of local governments fuelled by devolution in countries such as the UK, Spain, and Italy. Hence, by blending governance with technological and territorial issues, this paper elucidates that devolution should be addressed in the implementation of smart strategies stemming from (i) transcalar overlaps and contradictions; (ii) data literacy, ownership, and management; (iii) multi-stakeholder complex urbanity; and (iv) democratic and digital citizenship. The paper applies this framework to four cases: Bristol and Glasgow (UK) and Barcelona and Bilbao (Spain).
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37 Territorio 83, 2017 ISSN 1825-8689, ISSNe 2239-6330
Problematizing and
Smart City-Regions:
Is Devolution Smart?
Igor Calzada
University of Oxford, COMPAS–Centre on Migration,
Policy and Society
Problematizing transitional smart city-regional scales
through devolution (Dimension 1)
In recent years, the Horizon 2020 Smart Cities and Communities
(h2020-scc) eu policy framework (European Commission, 2017;
European Commission, 2016) has led an increasing number of
European cities and metropolitan areas – as well as natural but
less obvious extensions, city-regions – to promote the benefits
of becoming ‘smart’ (European Parliament, 2014), regardless
of what the term means (Calzada, 2015; Calzada, Cobo, 2015;
Caragliu et al., 2011).
Alongside this trend, according to the European Commission
and UN-Habitat (2016), addressing municipal, metropolitan and
regional governance fragmentation across urban realms is a key
strategic and smart challenge in the emerging European system
of multi-level governance (Henderson et al., 2013; Klinke, 2016).
Having said that, this issue is rather complex given the different
historical and political path dependencies of nation-states and
the uneven dynamics of city-regions in Europe towards a more
democratic, distributed, and bottom-up ‘smartness’ approach
(Habermas, 2015). Thus, this paper introduces the unspoken
but remarkable role that devolution is already playing in smart
city-regional strategies and policies by problematizing the
techno-political implications for citizens and stakeholders in
some European city-regions (Cardullo, Kitchin, 2017; Keith,
Calzada, 2016).
Despite the different city-regional dynamics and particularities of
diverse nation-states, such as the uk, Spain, and Italy (Giordano,
Roller, 2003), we see city-regional spaces beyond nation-states
(Calzada, 2015) as constitutive fields of «tensions between dif-
ferent spatial policy representations, discourses and practices,
embodied by different action rationales and with potentially
different scalar effects» (Fricke, Gualini, 2017: 6). In regards
to the diverse devolution schemes in the uk, Spain, and Italy,
Giordano and Roller argued, (2003: 911-912) it:
«is imperative to compare the experiences of other European
countries which share longer histories of devolution […] have
had difficulties in their respective processes of state formation
[…] have suffered from a sometimes fragile sense of national
Furthermore, the fashionable discourse of smartness has empha-
sized the need to make explicit and thus unpack its techno-po-
litical implications at different scales, including which among
them resonate with the devolution of complex governance
This paper problematizes the meanings, governance
implications, and techno-political shortcomings of
‘smart cities’ through pervasive transitions taking place
in Europe by presenting a conceptual framework to
politicize ‘smart city-regions’ as complex, transcalar, data-
driven, multi-stakeholder-focused, experimental, and,
supposedly, democratic techno-territorial assemblages.
The momentum is particularly relevant given an
increasing number of ongoing reforms of administrative
borders and competences of local governments fuelled by
devolution, as the four cases of Bristol and Glasgow (uk),
and Barcelona and Bilbao (Spain), demonstrate. Hence,
by blending governance with technological and territorial
issues, this paper elucidates that devolution should be
addressed in the implementation of smart strategies
stemming from (i) transcalar overlaps and contradictions;
(ii) data literacy, ownership, and management; (iii)
multi-stakeholder complex urbanity; and (iv) democratic
and digital citizenship
Keywords: smart city-regions; devolution; techno-politics
of data
Riconoscere problemi e individuare politiche per le
smart city-region: può la devolution essere smart?
Questo articolo riflette su significati, governance e di-
mensione tecno-politica delle smart city attraverso l’oss-
ervazione di alcuni cambiamenti in corso, in Europa,
presentando un framework concettuale in grado di definire
politicamente le smart city-region come combinazioni
tecno-territoriali complesse, transcalari, fondate sull’uso
dei dati, multiattoriali, sperimentali e, presumibilmente,
democratiche. Questa riflessione si inserisce in una pro-
fonda fase di riforme di competenze e confini amministr-
ativi, come dimostrano i quattro casi di Bristol e Glasgow
(Regno Unito) e di Barcellona e Bilbao (Spagna). Combi-
nando il tema della governance con questioni tecnologiche
e territoriali, l’articolo sostiene che la devolution potrebbe
concretizzarsi attraverso strategie smart fondate su (i)
sovrapposizioni e contraddizioni transcalari; (ii) proprietà,
gestione e alfabetizzazione all’uso dei dati; (iii) approccio
multiattoriale; (iv) cittadinanza democratica e digitale
Parole chiave: smart city-region; devolution; tecno-politi-
ca dei dati
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DOI: 10.3280/TR2017-083005
To cite this article:
Calzada, I. (2017), Problematizing and Politicizing
Smart City-Regions: Is Devolution Smart?, Territorio
83: 37-47. In the Special Issue ‘From Smart City to
Smart Region. Meanings, Governance, Policies and
Projects’. (ISSN: 1825-8689). DOI: 10.3280/
38 Territorio
problems and, consequently, with politicization understood as
political decentralization. Thus, scaling smart city initiatives and
projects up to or down from the metropolitan and city-regional
scales, provokes frictions, overlaps, related ambiguities and
contradictions (Calzada, 2017), ultimately affecting the daily
lives of (smart) citizens (Gardner, Hespanhol, 2017). These as-
sociated problems are common because of the sheer multiplicity
of stakeholders shaping complex urbanity, the divergent levels
of power, and their sometimes-conflicting agendas. Hence, some
European city-regions are experimenting with how best to govern
urban structures that encompass several municipalities and with
transcalar city-regional governance schemes by drawing from
different government traditions, constitutional frameworks, and
policy cultures.
Paralleling this desire for smartness and referring directly to
metropolitan and city-regional transcalar overlaps and contra-
dictions, this paper highlights the fact that ongoing territorial
and political reforms of administrative borders and competences
of local governments strongly encourage that special attention
be paid to a phenomenon that is always overlooked in ‘smart
city’ mainstream political rhetoric, media dissemination, official
policy discourses, and research agendas (Albino et al., 2015;
Calzada, 2016a; Carrington, 2016): devolution (Casebourne,
2017; Khanna, 2014; Rodríguez-Pose, Gill, 2003; Scott, Copeland,
2016; Travers, 2017). Hence, this paper aims to (i) present a
six-dimensional framework to better explain and politicize
the challenges of the techno-territorial extrapolation of smart
city-regional assemblages by (ii) comparatively depicting and
problematizing four cases: Two in the uk Glasgow and Bristol
and two in Spain Barcelona and Bilbao. Through this frame-
work, the paper suggests that devolution should be increasingly
considered when referring to data (Batty, 2015), software appli-
cations for user engagement (Mariotti et al., 2017; Morandi et
al., 2016), bottom-up decision making among citizens (Thomas
et al., 2016), and user-driven innovation processes in cities and
regions. Thus, the availability of data will be part of the new
condition of cities, which will require new governance mecha-
nisms of connectivity, collaboration, and collective intelligence
(Saunders, Mulgan, 2017) as core elements that rely on plat-
forms, social media, data analytics and literacy, crowdsourcing,
social innovation and engagement (De Koning et al., 2015), and
ultimately, digital democracy (Simon et al., 2017). By assuming
that citizens, regardless of their geolocalized position in a wide
city-regional spatial dimension, will be increasingly considered
decision makers rather than mere data providers, we favour the
use of a more complex, distributed and devolved governance
framework for data management. Ultimately, the paper finds
that whether devolution will be smart in each city-region de-
pends not only on how efficient but also on how democratic and
transparent the use of technology and data will substantially be.
In this paper, the smart city-region is a viable holistic and alter-
native socio-spatial-economic approach to innovatively balancing
a wide range of techno-political quests (Calzada, 2016b; Calzada,
2017; Dierwechter et al., 2017; Herrschel, Dierwechter, 2015):
(i) scaling up to and down from the metropolitan area and
city-region, (ii) politicizing the ownership and data-extraction
logics, (iii) questioning the citizenship roles of actors from data
providers to decision makers, (iv) accepting the multi-stake-
holder complex urban arena, and ultimately, (v) deconstructing
governance tools by devolving power up and down the scales.
The remained of the paper concerns the second, third, fourth, and
fifth dimensions of the six-dimensional conceptual framework
(as shown in figure 1). For the sixth dimension, these previous
four dimensions will be applied to the aforementioned four
cases in table 1. The paper concludes by questioning whether
devolution is smart.
Scaling down and up from the metropolitan to the city-
regional: overlaps and contradictions (Dimension 2)
The politics of metropolitan and city-regional configurations
(Ache, 2017), multi-stakeholder confrontative policy agendas,
and urban digital data are discussed infrequently at smart city
events worldwide (Calzada, 2016a). Consequently, smart city
technologies and initiatives are generally portrayed and posi-
tioned as technical, pragmatic, commonsensical, and non-ide-
ologicalthat is, as rational interventions designed to improve
social, economic, and governance systems. They are inherently
politically and ideologically loaded in vision and application,
reshaping ways how cities are managed and regulated (Kitchin,
2015: 17).
Presently, we can identify ongoing smart city transitions scaling
down and up from the metropolitan to the city-regional levels
as variegated economics and alternatives of potential politics
(Rossi, 2016) related to controversial urban transformations in
Europe. However unevenly, these transformations are pervasive.
In Italy, they are less strongly associated with devolution debates
and implications, particularly in Milano and Torino (Crivello,
Staricco, 2017; Fabbro, 2017; Torrisi et al., 2015); however, in
Spain, they are particularly strongly emphasized in Barcelona
and Bilbao (Blanco et al., 2017; Cruz et al., 2017; Eizaguirre,
2016; González, 2004; González, 2011) and in the uk in Bristol
and Glasgow (Joss et al., 2017; Reed, Keech, 2017).
In spite of some potential for experimentation under the umbrella
term ‘smart city’ in these cases, there is a partial and thus risky
assumption that a smart city concept can evolve automatically
into a smart city-region concept by the simple aggregation of
territories and/or assemblages of the internet of places (Morandi
et al., 2016). Therefore, this paper will elucidate the key multi-di-
mensional elements that should be taken into account to proceed
with the techno-territorial extrapolation of the smart city to the
smart city-region. For clarification purposes, the conceptual
framework has been designed and will guide this paper (figure
1). It is based on an action research methodology developed
while carrying out fieldwork as part of a project funded by the
European Commission Marie Curie Actions, CoFundRegional
Programmes in collaboration with the Bilbao Metropolitan Agen-
cy (Bilbao Metrópoli 30) and the Province Council of Bizkaia
(Bizkaia Talent) in Spain.
This empirical work was carried out by interviewing 20 people
who are involved in city-regional strategy formulation in each
location: policy makers, academics, social entrepreneurs, private
firms, and civic groups, among others. Thus, this paper reflects
the smart city governance transitions and the broader difficulties
of grasping the systemic urban transformation of smart cities
(Calzada, 2016c) at the metropolitan and city-regional scales.
This trend gives rise to the notion of smart city-regional govern-
ance in nation-states (Calzada, 2015). In this paper, smartness
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39 Territorio
Fig. 1 – Six-Dimensional Conceptual Framework to Politicize Smart City-Regions
Source: elaboration by the author
should be taken as an outcome of a city-regional urban transfor-
mation in governance, as will be shown in table 1. Nevertheless,
this notion of smart city-regional governance, rather than being
presented as an amalgamation of metropolitan hubs, revolves
around a conceptual framework developed in the light of the
aforementioned empirical fieldwork.
A broad body of literature is interested in the contradictions and
overlaps occurring between metropolitan and city-regional scales
(Brenner, 2013; Brenner, Schmid, 2015; Ortiz, 2017; Soja, 2000).
According to Fricke, Gualini (2017), the question of what con-
stitutes a metropolitan area and a city-regional unit has fuelled
continuous debate among planners, politicians, and researchers
since the process of urbanization has changed the relationships
between city centres and their surroundings. Additionally, defi-
nition of terms, such as metropolis, metropolitan region, city-re-
gion, urban area, or agglommetion, vary. Despite this conceptual
fuzziness around metropolitanization processes (Katz, Bradley,
2013; oecd, 2012; oecd, 2015; oecd, 2016; oecd, 2017a; oecd;
oecd/kipf, 2016; Ortiz, 2017), city-regions are widely recognized
as pivotal societal and political-economic formations, key to na-
tional and international competitiveness and re-balancing political
restructuring processes into nation-states (Calzada, 2015).
Generally speaking, European city-regions in many countries
have expanded beyond municipal borders, and commuting
distances have increased, further extending the reach of these
economies. To better reflect this new urban reality, more and
more countries have established metropolitan governments and/
or merged municipalities. The keys to good urban governance
are high levels of trust, efficient service delivery, and good stake-
holder and citizen involvement. These features improve policy
effectiveness, which in turn, inspires more trust and involve-
ment, thus creating a virtuous cycle. These aspects are directly
related to devolving and decentralizing powers amongs scales.
However, establishing metropolitan governments could be a
first step towards a forward-looking politics of smartness in
city-regions. According to Herrschell and Dierwechter (2015:
20-22), the ‘fluid’, ‘complex’, and ‘fuzzy’ socio-territorial con-
figuration of city-regions requires a governance approach that
uses innovative transitions to address two aims. The first is to
establish power and policy-making tools, including collaborative
networks, across institutional and territorial divisions between
metropolitan and regional stakeholders. The second aim is to
experiment with new ideas about democratic legitimacy and
political inclusion.
Likewise, in the current smart city-regional universe, technolo-
gies generally enable algorithmic and Key-Performance-Indica-
tors-driven governance and forms of automated management.
These facilitate and produce instrumental, functionalist,
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40 Territorio
technocratic, top-down forms of governance and government,
including planning, which are underpinned by an ethos of civic
paternalism (all for smart citizens without them)(Krivý, 2016).
They often provide ‘sticking plaster’ or ‘work around’ solutions
rather than tackling root and structural causes. By contrast,
a smart city-regional governance model that would foster,
co-create, and co-produce citizen engagement should be open
and transparent in its formulation and operation. Furthermore,
it should be used in conjunction with a suite of aligned inter-
ventions, policies, and investments that seek to tackle issues in
complementary ways and that need to be set within a broader
long-term vision for the city and by the city. However, city-re-
gions could be presented as fractured landscapes with respect
to both the city-regional geography itself and the stakeholders.
The analysed case studies depict a brittle notion, revealing con-
tradictions and overlaps regarding their territorial boundaries in
regard to metropolitan and city-regional dynamics (Herrschel,
Dierwechter, 2015). Thus, the transcalar meaning of smartness
could vary from case to case. Based on the interviews that
were carried out, Bilbao shows a very departmentalized and
vertical formal administrative structure, while institutional so-
cial networks work subtly. In Barcelona, the divisions among
regional, provincial, and city councils are prominent. Although
the attraction and the power of the city fixes the strategy of the
metropolitan area, it also influences the strategy of the regional
government. The cases of Glasgow and Bristol should be un-
derstood in the present post-Brexit context, both of which have
responded differently from a governance perspective: while
Glasgow is clearly fuelling its smart strategies to show leadership
at the city-regional level, Bristol can be seen as an island with a
unique strategic approach to smartness, embarking on an ongo-
ing devolution deal (Travers, 2017). In table 1, the abundance
of municipalities in Bilbao and Barcelona, the slightly higher
populations of Barcelona and Glasgow, and the prominent eco-
nomic context of Bristol are all noteworthy.
Unpacking/Unplugging the techno-politics of data
(Dimension 3)
Given the context of hyper-connected societies (Morozov, 2014),
how can the politics of data be unpacked and used actively to
design and deliver effective public policy that tackle global ur-
ban sustainability issues at the metropolitan and city-regional
scales? How can we design and implement open data platforms
that will not only guarantee citizen engagement, privacy, and
security but also strike a new, broader balance among democracy,
politics, and real-time public deliberation? How can we alter data
politics by considering citizens as decision makers rather than
as data providers? (Keith, Calzada, 2016; Thomas et al., 2016).
Habermas argued that smartness cannot be more technocratic
than democratic (Habermas, 2015). However, these days, the
development of smart urban governance is increasingly based on
the conception that smart cities are merely systems of systems,
systems of data, or systems of algorithms (Finn, 2017). The term
‘techno-politics’ illustrates that it is impossible to make clear
distinctions between technology and politics. Politics uses tech-
nical standards because they can be more effective than laws; at
the same time, that technical expertise is acquiring unintended
political power (Morozov, Bria, 2017; Morozov, Eno, 2017).
Hence, what is needed for a more comprehensive democratic
interpretation of the usage of data and a socially progressive
policy agenda of smartness in city-regions is a multi-dimen-
sional consideration of smart city-regional governance beyond
simplistic amalgamations of administrative units, hypothetical
flows of information and the aggregation of data. By exploring the
side effects of hyper-connected societies, critical techno-politics
views, such as those advocated by Morozov and Harari (2016),
have gained momentum in criticizing and altering the course
of some ongoing smart city initiatives.
In this regard, it is noteworthy that the turning point revealed
by unplugging is understood as either ‘smartly connected’ or
advocating ‘the right to disconnect’ as another updated, subtle
notion and novel trend regarding the ‘right to the city’ (Calzada,
Cobo, 2015). For Morozov, despite a plethora of technological
solutions to social problems, the following key questions re-
mained unanswered: Who gets to implement data? What kinds
of politics of data do technological solutions smuggle through the
back door? Others, like Rossi, promulgate the urban governance
perspective, arguing that the contemporary smart city cannot be
reduced to the economic value generated by partnerships involv-
ing powerful public and private actors, such as multinational
corporations and the state.
Another reason current interest in citizen participation and
interaction is at the centre of the debate about smart cities
is that technological solutions have too often been proposed
without considering the needs of and usability by citizens or
socio-technical misalignment within the city (Calzada, Cobo,
2015). We should thus face the reality of Gartner’s prediction
that 1,6 billion connected devices will be hooked up to the
larger smart city infrastructure by the end of 2016. As Harari
(2015: 1) argues, «We are already becoming tiny chips inside
a giant system that nobody really understands». He argues
that in the era of data, authority will shift from humans to
computer algorithms.
By suggesting a six-dimensional conceptual framework, this
paper aims to rethink the dominant technocratic and technol-
ogy-centric smart city discoursenot by imagining cities be-
yond or before technologies but by accepting that city-regions
are already fundamentally shaped by networked and mobile
ICTs and by acknowledging that city-regions will inevitably
revolve around generating large amounts of data, which will
lead to new governance strategies. In reality, city-regions are
much more complex socio-territorial assemblages that involve
scaling competences and powers up and down from metro-
politan to regional scales, provoking the constant transcalar
interplay of overlaps and contradictions. Thus, city-regions
are shaped by a large variety of actors and organizations with
often-conflicting positions. All this makes truly smart city-re-
gional governance an exceedingly difficult but fascinating and
rewarding scale for investigating the various meanings and
usages of smartness.
Enhancing smart citizenship: from (just) data providers
to decision makers (Dimension 4)
When Habermas (2015) confronted technocratic and democratic
smartness, he made it possible to generalize a category of ‘smart
citizens’. Could smartness be an answer based on Ostrom’s idea
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41 Territorio
Fig. 2 – Bilbao
Source: photo by the author
of the commons (2010; Subirats, 2012), requiring reconciliation
between the conflicting interests of individualism and collec-
tivism? The mainstream literature has thoroughly addressed
a shift. To provide a full understanding of the techno-political
implications of the term ‘smart citizens’ and to put into practice
the full capacities of citizens as the main drivers of urban trans-
formations, this paper underlines a required transition in the
term itself. When citizens are considered users or data providers,
it is assumed that personal data comprise raw material that the
citizens take for granted as another element of the market. This
fact should draw the attention of policy makers insofar as there
are underlying value issues and political decisions involved
(Cardullo, Kitchin, 2017; Kitchin et al., 2017).
Citizens’ own data is an intrinsic part of their urban experience
and their right to the city (Morozov, Harvey, 2016). Why then do
we not naturally consider smart citizens pure decision makers
rather than just passive data providers? Despite willingness to
pursue more democratic than technocratic sustainable futures,
strong inertia resists this alternative path. In fact, the current
round of urban experimentation differs from previous incar-
nations, representing a specific kind of governance ‘fix’ for a
broadly neoliberal system «that is struggling to move towards
more sustainable forms of urban development» (Evans et al.,
2016:10). Perhaps it is worth bringing up Subirats’ interesting
reflection, who based on Ostrom’s influential thoughts on the
commons, suggests breaking with the individualistic vision
as conceived by the capitalist tradition. Subirats notes that
this vision has progressively transferred the idea of rights to
individual people: the prevailing view is that only privatization
leads to growth.
Going forward, further research on the techno-politics of data
will be required to interpret the role of smart citizens as decision
makers rather than data providers.
Experimenting in multi-stakeholder complex urbanity
(Dimension 5)
According to Lewontin (2000) and Leydesdorff and Fritsch
(2006), the triple helix model (made up of private, public, and
civil society actors) enables us to study the knowledge base of
an urban economy in terms of civil society’s support for the
evolution of city-regions. However, we could also argue that
dynamic and pervasive social innovation processes are not
usually included in the analysis of smartness. In the context of
smart city-regional governance, academics (quadruple helix)
and entrepreneurs/activists (penta-helix) are required to transi-
tion from the technocratic and hegemonic smart city paradigm
(Calzada, Cowie, 2017).
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Tabl. 1: Problematizing Transitional Smart City-Regional through Devolution (Dimension 1):
Comparing (Smart) Devolution Cases: Bilbao, Barcelona, Bristol, and Glasgow (Dimension 6)
Problematizing Transitional Smart City-Regional through Devolution (Dimension 1):
Comparing (Smart) Devolution Cases: Bilbao, Barcelona, Bristol, and Glasgow (Dimension 6)
(González, 2011; Uriarte, 2015)
(BITS, 2016; Castro and Martí,
2017; LAT, 2017; Tomàs, 2016)
(Casebourne, 2017; BCC, 2017;
ODI, 2017; Reed and Keech, 2017)
(Clark, 2016; Scottish Cities
Alliance, 2017)
Municipalities 35 36 4 5
Surface (kmq) 500 636 139 368
Density (Inhabit/kmq) 1.820 5.060 3.942 3.171
Population (Inhabit) 910.480 3.218.223 547.993 1.166.928
GDP per capita ($) 38.708 36.157 42.326 37.753
Devolution Scheme:
Dimension 2.
Scaling Down and Up
from the Metropolitan
to the City-Regional
Dimension 5.
Experimenting in Multi-
Stakeholder Complex
    
devolution with the 1979 Statute of
Autonomy and the concierto económi-
co (economic agreement with the na-
tion-state). Led the Biscay Province
Council, which overlaps with both policy
devolution in charge of the Bilbao City
Council and political devolution from
the Basque regional government.
Dimension 5: Top-down led by the Prov-
ince Council/Basque regional govern-
ment. Limited strategy focussed just on
advanced manufacturing or Industry
4.0. Wider sectorial long-term vision of
the city of Bilbao/the district of Zorro-
zaurre as a lab/platform needed for and
open to citizenship.
Dimension 2: In July 2010, the Parlia-
ment of Catalonia approved the Law
of the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona,
which provided for full policy devolu-
tion. In 1998, Barcelona, as sign of its
growing empowerment, approved the
Municipal Charter, which provided a
framework for the devolution of insti-
tutional power in local policy-making.
Dimension 5: Evolving from top-down
mismatch between the regional (Gen-
eralitat) SmartCat brand and the local
authority (city council led by Ms. Ada
Colau with the new brand, BITS).
Dimension 2: England has long been
dominated both politically and eco-
nomically by London. The central gov-
ernment and Bristol have been debat-
ing for some time over the devolution
of more powers to stimulate smart
local growth and to join up local pub-
lic services. The Bath and North East
Somerset, Bristol and South Glouces-
tershire councils voted to proceed with
a devolution deal. As a result, the new
West of England Combined Authority
was established in February 2017.
Dimension 5: Bottom-up with net-
work-driven collaboration among or-
ganizations. A new mayor has altered
the ‘smart’ strategy in Bristol by prior-
itizing social inequality projects.
Dimension 2: Gradual policy and limited
political devolution. According to Clark
et al.     -
lution, 'it should be provide sustained
resources for cities to enable them to
make major investments in city-regional
infrastructure and housing investment,
for example via locally-levied revenues'.
Dimension 5: Top-down led by the tri-
ple-helix (private, public and academic
actors). However, city-regional imple-
mentation presents some shortcomings.
The Scottish Cities Alliance and the Core
Cities city-network confronted their
city-regional and techno-political view.
Smart City-Regional
Dimension 3.
the Techno-Politics of
Dimension 4. Enhancing
Smart Citizenship: From
(Just) Data Providers to
Decision Makers
Dimension 3: Lack of the vision regard-
ing socio-technical misalignment and
the role of citizenship. Pre-data provid-
er. However, FabLab could mean consid-
ering students/entrepreneurs as citizen
makers as an opportunity.
Dimension 4: After a long time without
comprehensive implementation, As Fab-
rik (UIA-EU) is now presented as the
to consider citizens as decision mak-
ers. Very early stage of policy formu-
lation. Institutions should follow this
innovative approach. Work in progress.
Dimension 4: After a large investment
and a smart city strategy (iBarcelo-
na) disseminated through the Smart
City Expo, a well-known international
event, BITS has been recently launched
based on the idea of sovereignty
Dimension 3: Through the Combined
Authority, more decisions and data re-
lated to smart city-regional transitions
will be available locally on areas such
as transport, housing and skills. Previ-
ously, these decisions have been made
by the central government in London
Dimension 4: The EU Replicate Project
( is already as-
sessing new ways of governing open data.
Dimension 3: Institutions are very aware
of the importance and value of data but
do not consider the ethical and tech-
no-political debates over implications
for citizen well-being. Not implemented
at the Glasgow level. Some interesting
initiatives at the city-regional level that
should be connected. From data provider
to decision maker, with different levels of
achievement from hub to hub.
Dimension 4: From Glasgow Smart City
to Scottish Smart City-Region.
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Fig. 3 – Barcelona
Source: foto by the author
Shedding some light on this dimension, the analysed cases show
complex city-regional urbanity insofar as networked interactions
are fuelling not only governance politics, boundaries, and bottle-
necks but also new experimental and entrepreneurial configura-
tions. Actually, the four case studies could be showcased from
this perspective, as we will observe in the following section.
Comparing (smart) devolution cases: Glasgow, Bristol,
Barcelona, and Bilbao (Dimension 6)
Despite the complexity of each metropolitan and city-regional
context, the following comparison carves out the similarities
and differences among cases in the discursive construction of
devolution. Accordingly, the paper will elaborate in the next
and final section whether devolution can be considered smart
in each case by examining its constitutive elements.
To provide some evidence-based comparisons, the empirical
four cases will be presented regarding the importance of a
multi-level governance devolution scheme by guaranteeing the
smart allocation of territorial autonomy and social sovereignty
in owning, managing, and being responsible for financial and
material resources for their smart city-regional projects.
In Bilbao, it is evident that absolute fiscal autonomy and control
of revenue-raising power has allowed the province of Bizkaia
to design a tax system that promotes investment and responds
to economic changes. The paradigmatic landmark is the Gug-
genheim Museum, although the metro system and the water
sanitation project should also be mentioned. Since the Basque
autonomous region is equipped with the power to decide on local
and regional policies, Bilbao combines determined public sector
leadership and an existing entrepreneurial culture.
Bilbao provides an outstanding context for rebranding as an icon
of the smart urban renaissance. Its strategy has been led by a
public-private partnership without an explicit strategy but with
implicit corporate procedures. However, we should note that civic
groups, social entrepreneurs, and academics have been absent
from this strategy so far. Therefore, Bilbao requires well-funded
interconnected niche experiments (for example, Zorrozaurre,
AS-FABRIK) in a limited range of urban contexts by mobilizing
a multi-stakeholder approach.
In Barcelona, after regional elections in September 2015, Ca-
talonia’s elected parliament announced the beginning of the
secession process within Spain and a referendum by October
1, 2017. It could be argued that this announcement took place
after a long period of no communication with the Spanish central
government. It is evident that this situation provokes uncertainty
at the city-regional level in Catalonia and in Spain.
For a long time, Barcelona has been investing in and promoting
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44 Territorio
Fig. 4 – Bristol
Source: photo by the author
itself as the first Spanish smart city, the fourth in Europe, and the
tenth in the world. Currently, due to the appointment of a new
city mayorAda Colau, who represents a radical new citizen
platform called Barcelona in Common the initial smart city
strategy has shifted towards an open source strategy. Nonethe-
less, after interviewing key city stakeholders, we can conclude
that Barcelona is presently ‘digesting’ a transition from the
hegemonic position of a private sector that aimed to produce
universal solutions that could be applied globally with minimal
adaptation to maximizing profit for local authorities now that
co-produced and place-specific smart city solutions are required.
In Bristol, the West of England city-region is already the uk’s
most economically productive area. In September 2015, the
city-region proposed a devolution deal worth £2 bn pounds with
a commitment to form a Combined Authority and to make a £1
bn pound investment. This could triple the level of spending on
major projects for areas such as transport, flood defence, and
housing over the next 10 years.
In April 2013, Bristol received £3 m from uk Innovate. Bristol
has followed open innovation principles led by its flagship
operational organization, Bristol is Open, which is driven by
the triple helix. Bristol has been described as a rebel in the
uk’s smart city agenda, with a very different take. However,
considering its diverse funding model, there may be a need
for the city council to engage the smart city agenda with the
ongoing city-regional process of devolution.
In Glasgow, the smart city debate is not separate from the city
devolution discussion either. The devolution debate is focused
on disagreement with the favourable Brexit vote in the rest of
the uk in demanding direct interlocution between the Scottish
government and Brussels in order for Scotland to remain in
the eu and as a direct way to achieve devolution of power on
welfare and tax policy.
In January 2013, Glasgow won £24 m of funding from uk In-
novate. Why was Glasgow successful? Glasgow was distinctive
in its ambition and its framing of intervention around the city’s
social and health priorities. The question here is whether its
broad infrastructure and institutional support and its urban
governance model have integrated at a broader city-regional
scale, as suggested by both the Scottish Cities Alliance and by
Core Cities. Actually, these are two city networks with entirely
different city-regional political directions.
Conclusion: is devolution smart?
Having presented the six-dimensional conceptual framework
as a way to politicize ongoing smart city-regional transitions
in four cases by underlying the relevance of devolution, we
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45 Territorio
Fig. 5 – Glasgow
Source: photo by the author
will conclude by assessing whether devolution is or could be
considered smart.
In the Spanish cities, infrastructure regimes are organized at an
urban or city-regional scale, at least in Bilbao. Barcelona will
seemingly allow itself access to financial resources by altering
the territorial model and confronting the nation-state. In the uk
cities of Glasgow and Bristol, as the uk Innovate funding demon-
strates, sooner or later, these projects will lead to a city-regional
devolution debate after years of multilevel centralized govern-
ment regarding policy direction, funding, and infrastructure
investment in the uk.
In summary, this paper argues that smart strategies in city-regions
are being pervasively modified as a result of a transition in the
understanding and application of the (techno)politics of data and
the increasing significance of their benefitting from some devo-
lution scheme (Scott, Copeland, 2016). As long as a city-region
facilitates ownership and self-responsibility over investment in
smart infrastructure and resources, awareness of the data issue
will be shared among multiple stakeholders, even encouraging
them to collaborate in their different visions and aims.
Broadly, devolution is a phenomenon that will be affecting
city-regions in their governance structures and forms. According
to Khanna (2016: 64), «the growing power and connectivity of
provinces and cities are driving devolution in the 21st century
as significantly as decolonisation did in the 20th century». In
fact, city-regions no longer need their national capitals to filter
para-diplomatic relations with the rest of the world or to pri-
oritize their smart initiatives and projects. Every location can
compete/cooperate as an investment destination, and central
governments will no longer control how money will be spent
on behalf of their citizens.
To conclude, judging from the four cases analysed, a policy
agenda tailored to devolution seems to be required for and ben-
efitial to encompassing issues such as technological sovereignty;
the political legitimacy of stakeholders without external inter-
ventions; the full capacity to self-govern, enabling distributed
power networks and data literacy; and the responsibility directly
derived from the right of the city-region to retain autonomy to
pursue its own interests.
Hence, the future will probably show an increasing number of
city-regions rolling out smart city-regional strategies in coordi-
nation with more complex and varied devolution schemes to
achieve further democratic developments in which the will of
(smart) citizens is likely be at the centre of the decision-making
processes. This is one possible way to ensure that problematizing
and politicizing smartness through devolution is contributing
democratically to city-making and, in fact, the only way to ensure
that devolution is smart.
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46 Territorio
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Supplementary resource (1)

... To better prepare graduates, teaching research is beginning to organize taxonomies for data literacy (Carlson et al., 2015;Ridsdale, 2015;Calzada et al., 2017). In many of these taxonomies, critical thinking about data is a common feature. ...
... Such is the case of intelligent traffic management with the aim of reducing air, light, and noise pollution; improving the safety and health of citizens through Big Data; or developing a smart economy through sensors that help optimize available resources [13][14][15]. Hence, the development of smart and connected cities will depend on effective measures to guarantee the security of communications and data that will be transferred from IoT devices [16,17]. ...
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Citation: Calzada, I. (2022), "Digital Citizenship Regimes Rescaling Nation-States?", Emerging Digital Citizenship Regimes, Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 23-55.
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Against the backdrop of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) taking effect in the European Union (EU), a debate emerged about the role of citizens and their relationship with data. European city authorities claim that (smart) citizens are as important to a successful smart city program as data and technology are, and that those citizens must be convinced of the benefits and security of such initiatives. This paper examines how the city of Barcelona is marking a transition from the conventional, hegemonic smart city approach to a new paradigm—the experimental city. Through (i) a literature review, (ii) carrying out twenty in-depth interviews with key stakeholders, and (iii) actively participating in three symposiums in Barcelona from September 2017 to March 2018, this paper elucidates how (smart) citizens are increasingly considered decision-makers rather than data providers. This paper considers (i) the implications of the technopolitics of data ownership and, as a result, (ii) the ongoing implementation of the Digital Plan 2017–2020, its three experimental strategies, and the related seven strategic initiatives. This paper concludes that, from the policy perspective, smartness may not be appealing in Barcelona, although the experimental approach has yet to be entirely established as a paradigm. To obtain the full article in open access: To cite this article: Calzada, I. (2018), (Smart) Citizens from Data Providers to Decision-Makers? The Case Study of Barcelona. Sustainability 10(9): 3252. DOI: 10.3390/su10093252. Special Issue: Big Data Research for Social Sciences and Social Impact.
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Growing practice interest in smart cities has led to calls for a less technology-oriented and more citizen-centric approach. In response, this article investigates the citizenship mode promulgated by the smart city standard of the British Standards Institution. The analysis uses the concept of citizenship regime and a mixture of quantitative and qualitative methods to discern key discursive frames defining the smart city and the particular citizenship dimensions brought into play. The results confirm an explicit citizenship rationale guiding the smart city (standard), although this displays some substantive shortcomings and contradictions. The article concludes with recommendations for both further theory and practice development.
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In recent years, two apparently contradictory but, in fact, complementary socio-political phenomena have reinforced each other in the European urban realm: the re-scaling of nation-states through “devolution” and the emergence of two opposed versions of “nationalism” (i.e., ethnic, non-metropolitanised, state-centric, exclusive, and right-wing populist nationalism and civic, metropolitanised, stateless, inclusive and progressivist-emancipatory-social democratic nationalism). In light of these intertwined phenomena, this paper shows how an ongoing, pervasive, and uneven “metropolitanisation effect” is increasingly shaping city-regional political responses by overlapping metropolitan, city-regional, and national political scales and agendas. This effect is clear in three European cases driven by “civic nationalism” that are altering their referential nation-states’ uniformity through “devolution”. This paper compares three metropolitan (and city-regional) cases in the UK and in Spain, namely, Glasgow (Scotland), Barcelona (Catalonia), and Bilbao (Basque Country), by benchmarking their policy implementation and the tensions produced in reference to their nation-states. Fieldwork was conducted from January 2015 to June 2017 through in-depth interviews with stakeholders in the three locations. Despite the so-called pluri-national and federal dilemmas, this paper contributes to the examination of the side effects of “metropolitanisation” by considering three arguments based on geo-economics (“prosperous competitiveness”), geo-politics (“smart devolution”), and geo-democratics (“right to decide”). Finally, this paper adds to the existing research on metropolitan and city-regional politics by demonstrating why “devolution” matters and why it must be considered seriously. The “metropolitanisation effect” is key to understanding and transforming the current configurations of nation-states, such as the UK and Spain (as we currently know them), beyond internal discord around pluri-nationality and quasi-federalism. This paper concludes by suggesting the term “smart devolution” to promote more imaginative and entrepreneurial approaches to metropolitan and city-regional politics, policies, and experimental democracy within these nation-states. These approaches can identify and pursue “smart” avenues of timely, subtle, and innovative political strategies for change in the ongoing re-scaling devolution processes occurring in the UK and in Spain and in the consequent changes in the prospects for the refoundational momentum in the EU.
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This paper is a report on the recent special session of papers presented at the Regional Studies Association (RSA) Annual Conference in Dublin, entitled ‘Beyond Smart & Data-Driven City-Regions: Rethinking Stakeholder-Helixes Strategies’. The session was a collaboration between the Urban Transformations ESRC programme at the University of Oxford and the Future Cities Catapult.
This excerpt describes the intellectual journey that I have taken the last half-century from when I began graduate studies in the late 1950s. The early efforts to understand the polycentric water industry in California were formative for me. In addition to working with Vincent Ostrom and Charles Tiebout as they formulated the concept of polycentric systems for governing metropolitan areas, I studied the efforts of a large group of private and public water producers facing the problem of an overdrafted groundwater basin on the coast and watching saltwater intrusion threaten the possibility of long-term use. Then, in the 1970s, I participated with colleagues in the study of polycentric police industries serving U.S. metropolitan areas to find that the dominant theory underlying massive reform proposals was incorrect. Metropolitan areas served by a combination of large and small producers could achieve economies of scale in the production of some police services and avoid diseconomies of scale in the production of others.
This paper critically appraises citizens’ participation in the smart city. Reacting to critiques that the smart city is overly technocratic and instrumental, companies and cities have reframed their initiatives as ‘citizen-centric’. However, what ‘citizen-centric’ means in practice is rarely articulated. We draw on and extend Sherry Arnstein’s seminal work on participation in planning and renewal programmes to create the ‘Scaffold of Smart Citizen Participation’ – a conceptual tool to unpack the diverse ways in which the smart city frames citizens. We then use this scaffold to measure smart citizen inclusion, participation, and empowerment in smart city initiatives in Dublin, Ireland. Our analysis illustrates how most ‘citizen-centric’ smart city initiatives are rooted in stewardship, civic paternalism, and a neoliberal conception of citizenship that prioritizes consumption choice and individual autonomy within a framework of state and corporate defined constraints that prioritize market-led solutions to urban issues, rather than being grounded in civil, social and political rights and the common good. We conclude that significant normative work is required to rethink ‘smart citizens’ and ‘smart citizenship’ and to remake smart cities if they are to truly become ‘citizen-centric’.
[Full text:] The terminology of 'smartness' is pervasive. This includes the concepts of 'smart growth', which attempts to reconcile competing social, economic and environmental aspects of sustainability, and that of 'smart cities', which has connotations not only of ICT, but of learning, institutional innovation and governance. This essay introduces the concept of 'smart city-regional governance', explaining how notions of smartness can be extended to more explicitly deal with the governance process of finding balanced answers to multiple agendas, and to cover the regional scale in which cities operate. We are left with a broad approach to conceptualising and investigating issues of pressing concern for urban areas in a national and international context. The ideas in this piece are based on the forthcoming book, 'Smart transitions in city regionalism,' co-authored by Tassilo Herrschel and Yonn Dierwechter, and have been shaped by a recent conference organised by the Regional Studies Research Network on 'Smart City-Regional Governance for Sustainability'.
We depend on -- we believe in -- algorithms to help us get a ride, choose which book to buy, execute a mathematical proof. It's as if we think of code as a magic spell, an incantation to reveal what we need to know and even what we want. Humans have always believed that certain invocations -- the marriage vow, the shaman's curse -- do not merely describe the world but make it. Computation casts a cultural shadow that is shaped by this long tradition of magical thinking. In this book, Ed Finn considers how the algorithm -- in practical terms, "a method for solving a problem" -- has its roots not only in mathematical logic but also in cybernetics, philosophy, and magical thinking. Finn argues that the algorithm deploys concepts from the idealized space of computation in a messy reality, with unpredictable and sometimes fascinating results. Drawing on sources that range from Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash to Diderot's Encyclopédie, from Adam Smith to the Star Trek computer, Finn explores the gap between theoretical ideas and pragmatic instructions. He examines the development of intelligent assistants like Siri, the rise of algorithmic aesthetics at Netflix, Ian Bogost's satiric Facebook game Cow Clicker, and the revolutionary economics of Bitcoin. He describes Google's goal of anticipating our questions, Uber's cartoon maps and black box accounting, and what Facebook tells us about programmable value, among other things.If we want to understand the gap between abstraction and messy reality, Finn argues, we need to build a model of "algorithmic reading" and scholarship that attends to process, spearheading a new experimental humanities. © 2017 Massachusetts Institute of Technology. All rights reserved.
Smart cities are known for their top-down focus on technology. This paper argues that emergent aspects of food policy in the UK can be understood as a social movement, which sustains development by way of bottom-up, horizontal networks of urban groups, and business associations. It suggests that as platforms of food provision, such on-line food networks offer a counter-point to top-down smart city development predicated on high-tech infrastructure. Such complex arrangements demonstrate how the city needs to be understood as a networked field of action, not simply an administratively bounded construction. Within the field of action movements emerge, whose activism is successful in influencing policymaking, and in shaping the municipal strategies assembled to build the regional structure of food provision. The caveat this paper highlights is that, although successful in influencing policy and municipal strategies, the activism of these movements has not been as effective as might have been anticipated from such a democratic impulse. This lack reflects the limited power of cities in the UK over the structure of food provision, but also the troubled extension of public participation into a territory marked by corporate and agricultural policy. The paper bases its claims about the nature of urban food policies in cities on a case study of networks in Bristol, including interviews with key activists, analysis social media networks and documents. The evidence supports claims that urban food developments represent a form of social movement, whose activism is democratic in its attempts to be both sustainable and inclusive.