The network works with the framework of Henri Lefebvre’s work ‘The Right to the City’ (1996) to consider the role of everyday and people centred agency in urban change. Taking the right to the city as a framework, the network addresses the question ‘Whose right to the (Smart) City’? According to Townsend the smart city can be defined as: ‘places where information technology is combined with infrastructure, architecture, everyday objects, and even our bodies to address social, economic, and environmental problems’ (2013, 15). Yet, much of the thinking underlying the current smart city agenda, championed and promoted by ICT companies such as IBM and global city leaders, is problematic. Authors such as Sassen (2012), Shepard (2011), Calazada and Cobo (2015), Aurigi (2013) and Rose (2015) have critiqued the technologically deterministic language of ‘smart city’ rhetoric, focusing on the fact that it tends to focus on ICT solutions to be applied top-down. A key critique is that it fails to address the complexity and sociality of cities. Sassen (2012) in particular has highlighted the need for smart cities to be sufficiently ‘urbanised’, whereas Rose (2015) points out that the smart city agenda rarely addresses issues of social differences in already-existing cities. In particular it tends to homogenise urban problems across different economic, political, social and cultural contexts. The smart city approach tends to focus on solutions to be applied top-down, and therefore, fails to address particular issues related to different types of marginalised communities. In examples where it does foster citizen’s participation and engagement, most of the time, it does not provide the appropriate tools for communities informed decisions and can in fact reinforce marginalisation rather than challenge it. (Gurstein 2003).
The network seeks to counter this approach by exchanging and mapping examples of knowledge of ICTs and marginalised urban contexts to understand how such communities might have agency in ICT driven change and how this might support a ‘right to the city’.
According to Sadoway and Sakhar ‘the common thread in these concepts is that technologies need to serve and work for people and communities first in terms of their design and deployment, but also in relation to setting local civic and infrastructural priorities’ (2014). In this network we will examine how and why cities and people are shaping technologies to suit their needs and the role of civic inclusiveness in this process. We will draw on knowledge and perspectives from marginalised city contexts at a range of geographical levels. This includes the city of Chennai, the city of Belo Horizonte, economically deprived neighbourhoods in London and rural deprived regions in South West UK. All of these contexts have provided settings for ongoing ‘in the wild’ and ‘action research’ of the network partners. This will reflect the different topics addressed within the country workshops as follows: