Defining Smart Cities


(2016) Defining Smart Cities: A Guiding Framework


White Paper for the Stanford Program on Urban Studies (2016)

Introduction—  In the past decade, the smart city has become a ubiquitous phrase, appearing in corporate brochures, conference programs, academic literature, popular media, and educational curriculum. The topic attracts broad interdisciplinary interest from computer scientists, civil engineers, architects, and planners focused on the research and practice of cities. The smart city in particular, has become one of the defining hallmarks of the twentieth-first-century city.
Despite this attention, many questions remain. How does one exactly define a smart city and the specific contours of its scope? Who are the actors and players in the field, and how do they speak of a smart city and their work? What technologies— both new and old— enable a smart city and its applications? Does the smart city offer improvements to existing and new cities yet to be built? And if so, how does one measure the environmental, economic, and social impacts of a smart city? More broadly, is the smart city something new? What does it mean for a city to be "dumb” or “stupid” if not “smart”? Does the smart city serve the public and make everyone's lives better, or is it essentially marketing and serves to benefit a subset of exclusive interests?
The Defining Smart Cities seminar is an effort to bring scholars and practitioners to tackle these questions. If the answers were clear, we would have named the course “The Smart City” and be done with it. Instead, we acknowledge that the arena is messy with both complementary and conflicting attempts to define a smart city. This effort spans across disciplines with scholars and practitioners asserting their viewpoints. What one person believes to be a smart city may vary from with another person’s assertion. In this particular moment of contested definitions and multiple meanings, we find a unique opportunity to find commonalities and advance the field.
This is where the course comes in. We have joined forces across two schools— the Program on Urban Studies in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Department of Civil Engineering in the School of Engineering— to offer a space to explore these questions and encourage dialogue. By bringing everyone to the table— whether you consider yourself a civil engineer, computer programmer, architect, planner, designer, or a transdisciplinarian— this seminar is an open invitation for you to join the discussion and contribute to shaping the field.