Kick-off meeting in Utrecht

In October 2016, the KNOWING project officially started with a kick-off meeting. Through an intensive 2-day programme, we set a shared agenda based on the research proposal. This shared agenda-building started with a revisiting of the project’s research proposal, which was written in 2014. We agreed that the possibility to do comparative research, the project’s symmetrical approach to bottom-up, top-down and hybrid smart city experiments and in particular the project’s focus on knowledge politics are key aspects that make the KNOWING project interesting for both practitioners as well as academic literature. This developed in a wider discussion of our conceptual framing: how do we understand knowledge politics? How do we approach and use notions of bottom-up and top-down? What is our unit of analysis? Countries, cities, cases?

Subsequently, we explored how to select case studies that are helpful to delve into these issues. We distinguished between cases based on their material characteristics (i.e. platforms, sensors, dashboards etc..); based on the kinds of knowledge politics that may take place (i.e. predominantly with regard to knowledge production, knowledge circulation, knowledge representation and knowledge use); and based on the actors involved (bottom-up, top-down and hybrid). For the next meeting – in March 2017 – all project partners will be identifying case studies that are diverse with regard to these criteria.

The meeting’s second day started with a presentation by Brigitte Hulscher, manager of digital innovations and smart cities for the municipality of Utrecht. She presented how Utrecht aims to deal with its most pressing challenge: high population growth with no ability to expand the city’s surface. She outlined that for Utrecht, a smart city includes smart technologies and infrastructures, smart people, smart economy and smart governance. Utrecht aims to engage with each of these four elements through the creation of a layered system, starting with a strong fixed infrastructure at the base, fitted with sensors and data systems, actively engaging citizens within each of the city’s areas of experimentation, creating an ecosystem for innovation and providing open spaces for innovation.

Lastly, plans were made for two scoping papers that set the scene for the project as a whole: a comparative paper that sets smart cities in the national historical context of each of the countries in which case studies are carried out, and a positioning paper based on Barcelona as a smart city approached through the theoretical lens proposed in the KNOWING research proposal, namely a combination of Science and Technology Studies, Critical Urban Geography, and Transition Studies. The latter will contribute to a book on the epistemic politics of urban sustainability transitions.