Augmented urbanity and smart technologies: how "smart" are our cities becoming?

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Geography


We intend to work in two interconnected research areas - smart technologies and smart cities -, both important to understand the enormous urban transformations in the past two or three decades. These areas are grounded on our experiences as researchers, reflected in books, peer-reviewed publications, and conferences. The expected outcomes of this research will be of three main types:
(a) Institutional cooperation: the construction of a permanent link between the four universities for the exchanging of students, future studies and joint research projects;
(b) Joint publication: we expect that, at least, the main investigators will be able to produce one written outcome of this experience and, probably, 2 articles to be published in journals of relevance to the field of urban studies.
(c) Students' interchange: postgraduate students will strongly benefit from this experience of thematic and methodological exchange, and this is expected to reflect on a better quality of their dissertations and further publications.

Planned Impact

The proposed UK work is compliant with the ODA objective of promoting the economic development and welfare of developing countries in the following four ways. First, the programme is designed to enhance and build research and innovation capacity within Brazil particularly focused on PhD and early career researchers. Second, the substantive focus of the programme is on smart technologies and systems that have been identified as a sectoral priority for improving social welfare and economic development. Third, the objective is to enhance the partner's ability to undertake research to understand and maximise the impact of smart on urban social and economic priorities. Fourth, the programme is designed to develop capacity and knowledge that can be applied by city policy makers - specifically for planners, architects, geographers, engineers, civil servants and local authorities in order to maximise social welfare and economic priorities.


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Description The networked "Augmented urbanity and smart technologies: how 'smart' are our cities becoming?" involved four teams based at different universities in the UK and Brazil, representing four different academic disciplines: geography, design and architecture, media studies, and urban planning. The teams (Durham University in the UK, Plymouth University in the UK, the Federal University of Bahia in Brazil and the Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Paraná in Brazil) built an in-depth comparative understanding of smart urbanism dynamics across the two countries. Through four carefully timetabled and constructed visits and workshops, the teams examined the dynamics of smart urbanism in four cities: Glasgow and Bristol in the UK and Curitiba and Salvador in Brazil. These visits, as the primary means of operation of the network, provided an empirical background to share methodological, practical and theoretical knowledge around digital urbanism, whilst also exploring opportunities for individual and institutional exchange and collaboration. This enabled cross-disciplinary collaboration and the development of a critical approach to the topic. Thematically, three themes emerged from this. First, the critical role of control rooms systems in developing smart capacities in the Brazilian context. Second, an awareness of how in each context studied local drivers and factors configured the use of 'smart' and digital urbanism as a test bed for local priorities and contextual issues. Third, the challenges associated to finding user-led and community smart initiatives in both national contexts. The text below provides further details on the results of this network-based collaboration.

Conceptual insights:
- An understanding of the limitations of top-down approaches to smart/digital cities regarding a lack of concern for the actual needs and expectations of the public.
- Economic and government actors assume or project certain needs and interests upon the public, in order to justify the investments they are making in smart urbanism (e.g. the use the funds to maintain the installed infrastructure, update technologies, an expansion in police surveillance or the technological modernization of the local administration).
- An understanding of the differences in smart urbanism between in developed and developing contexts (e.g. via differential emphasis on infrastructural development, issues of efficiency and responses to austerity, and economic growth).
- Smart/digital control rooms, as one of the main smart urbanism strategies examined, play a significant role in managing urban flows and circulation to guarantee (actual and performed) levels of normality.
- Digital technologies associated to smart urbanism are mobilised towards the constructions or reinforcement of certain governmental rationalities.

Methodological insights and gains:
- The network developed an 'InfraLab' methodology for site visits and workshops enabling collaborative and interdisciplinary learning on issues of digital urbanism. The methodology, whilst with obvious limitations associated to the short times available for visits and discussions, allowed the teams involved to critically examine the specific ways in which digital technologies are being used by communities and municipal government as part of smart cities initiatives.
- The methodology used enriched the methodological approaches of all the teams involved, operating as a valid mechanism for raising interdisciplinary questions (rather than answers) about the theme of augmented urbanities and smart technologies. The academic teams involved have reported that the methodological approach was an excellent acquisition to their repertoire, the experience highlights the importance of finding ways to make the most of these occasions, trying to achieve a group work that is as efficient as tends to be interesting.
- The 'InfraLab' approach enabled exposure and reflection on different case study settings, and would not have been possible without the network funding.

Student involvement:
- The workshops in all four cities counted with the participation of Masters and PhD students, taking part in the visits and discussions and in that way feeding into their own works in papers and dissertations. This included PhD students from Durham University (Geography), PhD and Masters students from the Laboratório de Pesquisa em Mídia Digital, Redes e Espaço and the Masters Programme in Communication and Contemporary Culture of the Federal University of Bahia (Media Studies), and Masters students from the Programa de Pós-Graduação em Gestão Urbana of the Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Paraná (Urban Planning). Students' site visits and discussions established during the InfraLabs fed their own Masters and PhD works. Many of the examples visited and discussed became case studies or examples in the work developed by students. For some, the network provided an opportunity to get in contact with (1) a new methodology for cross-national, multidisciplinary and networked type of research, and (2) different and critical views on the main themes developed, specially the multiple possible views on smart cities and smart urbanism.
- Similarly, the visits and InfraLabs developed in the context of the network have contributed to the development of teaching materials by researchers involved in the network.
- The workshop also counted with the participation of students from other Brazilian universities, particularly Flavia Neves Maia (PhD student in Architecture at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) and Lorena Melgaco Silva Marques (PhD student in Urban Studies at the Federal University of Minas Gerais). Both Neves Maia and Silva Marques' research benefited significantly from the site visits, discussions and academic contacts developed through the network. Triggered by the relationships developed by the network, Neves Maia has been invited to present her work at Durham University and is co-authoring an academic paper with academics based at Durham.

Academic publications informed by network activities:
The purpose of this award was the development of an international network aimed at fostering academic collaboration, rather than primary research. However, the academic discussions and empirical sites of inquiry have influenced the work of researchers involved, impacting or leading to the following publications:
- Duarte, F and Firmino, R (under contract). Unplugging the City. London: Routledge.
- Willis, K and Aurigi, A (2017 in press) Digital and Smart Cities. London: Routledge
- Willis, K and Aurigi, A (under contract) The Companion to Smart Cities. London: Routledge
- Aurigi, A, Willis, K, Melgaco, L (2016). From 'Digital' to 'Smart': Upgrading the City. Proceedings of MAB 2016, Sydney, Australia.
- Holanda, A and Lemos, A (2016). Future City Glasgow: programas de ação, tensões e contradições em um projeto de smart city. Cominicacão & Inovacão 17(34): 1-20.
- Luque-Ayala, A and Marvin, S (under contract) Digital Operating Systems: Producing the Computational City. Cambridge (MA): MIT University Press.
- Luque-Ayala, A and Neves Maia, F (2018) Digital Territories: Mapping as Political Technique. In preparation for a special issue on smart cities in the journal Environment and Planning D: Society and Space.
- Luque-Ayala, A and Marvin, S (2016) The maintenance of urban circulation: An operational logic of infrastructural control. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 34(2): 191-208.
- Luque-Ayala, A and Marvin, S (in preparation) Standardising the (Smart?) City: Constructing a Universal Platform. In preparation for a special issue on smart cities in the journal Environment and Planning D: Society and Space.

Bids and institutional collaborations:
The network activities informed a range of institutional activities and collaborations. These include:
- Brazilian partnership (Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Paraná) within the bid ESRC Centre on Shocks: new ways of conceptualising, knowing and informing shock management to grow resilience (submitted to ESRC by Durham University; ESRC Reference: ES/P008046/1)
- Brazilian partnership (Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Paraná) within the bid "Sustainable Urban Infrastructure (SUR) in Mid-Size Cities" (unsuccessful application at Durham University level, originally targeting the GCRF RCUK Collective Fund).
- AHRC International Research Network - Whose Right to the Smart City? 2016-2108 with network partners from UCL, UK; UFMG, Brazil and CAG, India. The network develops on some research challenges identified from the Newton network. The AHRC network seeks to address the issues of marginalized groups and their lack of participation and benefit from global smart city projects. It extends the global context from UK and Brazil to also include India (AHRC AH/N004264/1-
- Newton/CONFAP UK Academies for Researcher Mobility with UFMG, Brazil in August 2016 (Katherine Willis, Plymouth University) (
- During the period of the network, Plymouth University organized the Mediacity 2015 conference on the topic of social smart cities.
Exploitation Route The network has been particularly useful for all those involved, benefiting students and academic partners in both Brazil and the UK. The publications that the activities on the network has informed are feeding into global academic debates in the topic of smart cities / digital urbanism, and through this channel there is significant potential to inform the debate that is occurring within practitioner communities. The researchers involved in the network have links with practitioner communities and the information operates in a permeable way through conferences, website as well as informal relations. The material examined has also contributed to the development of teaching materials for undergraduate and postgraduate at all four universities.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)

Description At this stage there has not been a systematic effort for tracking impact. The network developed a website as a means to further disseminate the work of participants and discussions developed. This platform resulted in a more static interface than we probably had envisioned, but has acted as a good source of information/memory of the project and the kinds of networks initiated with it. The network and its activities have informed the broader academic debate as well as conferences including both academics and practitioners, and through these channels (as well as publications) a level of permeability between academic and non-academic actors is being created: - Interaction with public and private sector users during the research process. This included urban policy makers, specialist intermediaries, and SMEs who were interested in our feedback on specific locations and comparatively in both UK and Brazil. - Academic members of the network were asked to talk about their experiences and comparative and transferable lessons to own national policy makers. For example Marvin is a member of the Future Cities Expert Advisory Group on evaluation digital experiments.
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Hacking the urban environment: smart cities and the role of civic hackers in remaking the city
Amount £74,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NAF2R\170051 
Organisation The British Academy 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 04/2020
Description Collaboration with Academic from the Pontifical Catholic University (PUCPR) in Curitiba, Brazil, through a British Academy Newton Advanced Fellowship 
Organisation Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná
Country Brazil 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution British Academy Newton Advanced Fellowship: Hacking the urban environment: smart cities and the role of civic hackers in remaking the city (NAF2R\170051). Acting PI: Andrés Luque-Ayala (Durham University). £74,000.Our project unpacks a particular aspect of the emerging smart or digital city: the coming together of digital tools and grassroots activism in re-making the urban environment. We look specifically at how digital tools and technology inspired social movements are opening, closing or transforming opportunities for urban sustainability and processes of environmental governance in cities-and through this generating a new understanding of the city-nature relationship. Our project aims to transcend bottom-up (e.g. corporate) vs. top-down (e.g. community based) understandings of smart cities and digital urban technologies, focusing on the joint workings of environmental activists and civic hackers. The project also seeks to develop skills in digital ethnography in Brazil, looking at the practices of environmental activism enabled by digital tools (sensors, platforms, smartphone apps, websites, etc.) are aimed at advancing urban sustainability initiatives and/or transforming the urban (natural) environment.
Collaborator Contribution See above the description of me and/or my research team. Both partners have contributed equally to this project.
Impact Book chapter: A Luque-Ayala, RJ Firmino, TMD Fariniuk, G Vieira, J Marques (2020) Platforms in the making: Hacking the urban environment in Brazilian cities. In Urban Platforms and the Future City. London: Routledge, 248-261
Start Year 2018
Description Collaboration with academic from Faculdade de Arquitetura e Urbanismo, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 
Organisation Federal University of Rio de Janeiro
Country Brazil 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution A research collaboration between Andres Luque Ayala (Durham University; PI) and with Flavia Neves Maia (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) was a direct outcome of the network.
Collaborator Contribution The collaboration led to an examination of the politics associated with digitally mapping favelas, particularly via Google Maps. It examined the mobilisation of spatial media technologies for digitally mapping informal settlements. the outcomes argued that digital mapping operates politically through a reconfiguration of circulation, power, and territorial formations. Drawing on Stuart Elden's notion of territory as a "rendering of 'space' as a political category" (2010: 810), the coming together of digital mapping and the geoweb is uncovered as a political technique re-making territory through computational logics-operating as a calculative practice that, beyond simply representing space, is productive of the political spatiality that characterises territory. The collaboration did an analysis of recent attempts by ICT corporates, particularly Google, to map favelas in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, critically examining the claim that digitally mapping informal settlements is a mechanism for socio-economic inclusion. Providing a counterargument to claims around the power of digital maps to incorporate favelas, provide recognition, legitimacy, visibility and citizenship, we discuss how, in the interface between digital and urban worlds, territory as a political space is constructed through economic incorporation. In doing so, the article unpacks the spatial politics of digital and smart urbanisms, particularly in the context of the tension between inclusion and exclusion experienced by those who live in informal settlements in cities in the global South.
Impact The collaboration involves the disciplines of geography, architecture and planning. The outcomes are captured in the paper "Digital Territories: Google Maps as a Political Technique in the Re-making of Urban Informality", published (forthcoming 2018) in the journal Environment and Planning D: Society and Space.
Start Year 2016