Much of the literature on so-called ‘smart cities’ is self-congratulatory in tone. Digital enthusiasts claim that the current revolution in communication technologies will transform cities in the 21st Century in the way electricity changed them in the last. This paper offers a critique of this perspective. It notes that the evidence suggesting that digital technologies can refresh and enhance the quality of democracy in cities is decidedly underwhelming. While international research shows that E-government can enhance citizen access to public services, the evidence that information and communication technologies are enhancing the quality of E-democracy verges on the non-existent. It follows that urban scholars and city leaders who wish to advance purposeful change in the modern city will need to move beyond the limiting confines of the ‘smart cities’ debate. The paper highlights findings from international research set out in a new book - Leading the Inclusive City (Policy Press). This research, which has examined bold place-based leadership in seventeen innovative cities in fourteen countries, suggests that the judgements exercised by civic leaders, not technological advances in and of themselves, are the key drivers of progressive change and urban governance improvement. The paper argues that academic analysis can serve a useful purpose by offering more penetrating assessments of who gains and who loses from ‘digital disruptions’.
Hambleton, R. (2015, April). From smart cities to wise cities. Paper presented at Association of American Geographers