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Smart Cities in the Making: Learning from Milton Keynes

This is a research project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, grant number ES/N014421/1.  It will run for two years from 1 January 2017.  The research team is led by Prof Gillian Rose, with Dr Nick Bingham, Prof Matt Cook, Prof Parvati Raghuram, Prof Sophie Watson and Dr Oliver Zanetti, and two research associates. The team will look at the development, and rollout, of 'smart' policies and technologies in smart cities using the smart city of Milton Keynes as their research field. 

About the Project

The past decade has seen the widespread emergence of 'smart cities'. Smart cities are generally understood to use the data produced by digital technologies to enhance their sustainability (by encouraging more efficient use of resources), economic growth (through innovating new products and markets) and openness (by enabling greater citizen participation in city governance). 'Smart cities' are a global phenomenon at the heart of how many cities are planning for future growth, and the UK is no exception. Over half of UK cities are implementing smart projects, and the government's Information Economy Strategy aims to make the UK a global hub of smart city delivery by capturing 10 per cent of the global smart city market by 2020.

Smart technology in UK cities takes many forms, from smart grids, to sensors and chargers embedded in the built environment, to smartphone apps, to online open data repositories and dashboards. Smart cities are much, much more than their technological devices, though: a smart city also requires smart urban policy-making, it produces smart products, it has 'smart citizens' and it has visions of what smart is and should be, and all these things converge and diverge in all sorts of ways.

Currently, although local community and citizen participation is repeatedly asserted to be a prequisite for a successful smart city, almost nothing is known about how the development and rollout of smart policies and technologies actually engage city residents and workers.  This project will address that lack, and has three objectives:

  • to investigate how 'smart' city activities both encounter and create specific forms of social difference.
  • to work with a range of non-academic stakeholders in UK smart cities, in order to enhance their understanding of how smart activities can engage citizens.
  • to enable a significant advance in the academic understanding of smart cities.

This project will unfold at a critical moment in the maturing of smart, and offers a real opportunity to generate social science that can both analyse and inform developments, through a detailed empirical study of an actually-existing UK smart city: Milton Keynes.

Funding Body: 
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Funding Period: 
January, 2017 to January, 2019

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