Published 2020 in City & Society. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited and is not used for commercial purposes. DOI:10.1111/ciso.12251.
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Smart city projects across the world are invested with the ideal that smart technological innovation smoothly negotiates the objectives, interests, and moral orientations of many different stakeholders. This article explores the politics of this ideal of “smart seamlessness” by taking a close look at the unfolding of the Amsterdam Smart Lighting project undertaken by a consortium of civic, academic, and corporate partners at a square in Amsterdam Southeast. This project envisioned the “smartening up” of lampposts on the square by making them real-time adaptive to local conditions. As these plans were only partially realized due to a multitude of institutional, cultural, and material frictions, the materiality of the perpetually “unfinished smart lampposts”
was subject to a constant interplay of shifting understandings regarding their social, political, and technological significance. Whereas the formal narrative of the project suggests this process of meaning-making to be fully inclusive, producing “learnings” for all participants, the article contrasts this strategic and explicit inclusivity with the implicit “action orientation” (Haughton et al. 2013) of the project. While the Smart Lighting project’s narrative explicitly gestures toward open and inclusive innovation, it produced more implicit and subtle markers of exclusion that alienated those participants unfamiliar with the jargon, style, and pace of market-oriented forms of spatial development.