Call for Papers: Smart + Sustainable? A critical look at digitally-enabled green urbanism

Conveners: Alexander Aylett (National Institute for Scientific Research, INRS-UCS) and Andrés Luque-Ayala, (Durham University)

American Association of Geographers 2016 Annual Meeting
San Francisco, California, USA
March 29 – April 2, 2016

Is the “smart cities” movement delivering on its aspirations of creating environmentally sustainable cities? One of the pillars of smart urbanism has been the claim that smart cities can also be radically more sustainably. New urban digital technologies, data-driven governance, and digitally-enabled citizenship are celebrated for their ability to increase resource efficiency and enable innovative shifts towards more deeply sustainable cities. But no sustained critical attention has been paid to the potential and pitfalls of this digitally-enabled green urbanism.

This session provides a critical overview of the successes and challenges of creating cities that are both smart and sustainable. It looks at how digital processes—and the urban embedding of computational logics—affect the environmental capabilities of cities and citizens. It also explores the broader socio-political implications of creating an interface between sustainability and digital narratives as a driving force behind current approaches to urban issues.

Understandings of smart cities and digital urbanism have benefited from over a decade of dynamic debates covering their technical, economic, democratic, and social implications (Crang and Graham, 2007; Kitchin et al., 2011; Townsend, 2013; Hollands, 2015; Luque-Ayala and Marvin, 2015). A similarly rich body of work has engaged with the theory and practice of urban sustainability (Bulkeley, 2006; Rutland and Aylett, 2008; Rutherford and Coutard, 2014). With limited exceptions (e.g. Gabrys, 2014; Viitanen and Kingston, 2014) these conversations rarely meet, and a focused engagement with smart approaches to urban sustainability has yet coalesce. This multi-disciplinary session(s) is open to both researchers and practitioners. We welcome submissions in the following key areas:

  • Ways of Knowing and Understanding the ICT-enabled Green City: How are new digital technologies affecting how we understand the environmental impacts of cities and their vulnerability to environmental threats? This includes digital understandings of urban metabolisms, climate change, and urban resilience. It may also critically explore how ICT tools and logics affect how both urban natures and urban sustainability are envisioned, what environmental rationalities are at play and goals are set, and what areas of action and types of intervention are proposed.
  • Digitally Enabled Urban Environmental Management: What impacts are new smart technologies and data driven policy making having on the management of urban sustainability? This may include critical reflections on the pursuit of efficiency and optimization, and on the use of new technologies in policy making, implementation, monitoring, or evaluation. Similarly, how digital sensors and other interventions are used to manage environmental crises and alter socio-ecological flows (e.g. energy, water, waste, transportation, air quality).
  • Digital Responses to Climate Change: How—and with what implications—are smart and digital systems being mobilized in response to the urban challenges of climate change? How are actually existing smart cities (and smart city initiatives) addressing the climate challenge? This includes attention to the mobilization of ICT technologies towards low carbon urban systems, urban resilience based on smart/digital narratives, and technologically-based strategies towards climate adaptation.
  • Digital Green Innovation: What is the role of ICT as a tool and catalyst for innovation in the urban sustainability sector? This may focus on public interventions, grass root initiatives, green hackatons and eco-social innovation, or private and for-profit ventures. Exploring digitally enabled civic environmentalism, various forms of urban experimentation, or the role of smart systems/narratives in green economic development models (ranging from neo-liberal ecological modernization to emerging understandings of economies as localized, diverse, and collaborative)
  • ICT, Environmental Governance, Power and Politics: What are the impacts of new ICT technologies on urban environmental governance and the relationships between local government, citizens, NGOs, and the private sector? This spans the tensions that exist between hierarchical and horizontal visions of digital environmental governance. It includes concerns over the creation of technocratically managed and surveilled environmental subjects. But also explorations of digitally enabled environmental advocacy and activism, participatory planning, the coordination of complex coalitions of action, and other emerging forms of digitally mediated urban environmental citizenship.

Abstracts of 250 words should be should be submitted to both organizers ( and for consideration for inclusion in the session by October 9th 2015. Participants will be notified by October 16th and will then need to register for the conference by October 29th in order to be included in the session. Please include the phrase “smart green AAG 2016” in the subject line of your e-mail.


Bulkeley H. (2006) Urban sustainability: learning from best practice? Environment and planning A 38: 1029-1044.

Crang M and Graham S. (2007) Sentient Cities: Ambient intelligence and the politics of urban space. Information, Communication & Society 10: 789-817.

Gabrys J. (2014) Programming environments: environmentality and citizen sensing in the smart city. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 32: 30-48.

Hollands RG. (2015) Critical interventions into the corporate smart city. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 8: 61-77.

Kitchin R, Dodge M and Dodge M. (2011) Code/Space: software and everyday life, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Luque-Ayala A and Marvin S. (2015) Developing a critical understanding of smart urbanism? Urban Studies: 0042098015577319.

Rutherford J and Coutard O. (2014) Urban energy transitions: places, processes and politics of socio-technical change. Urban Studies 51: 1353-1377.

Rutland T and Aylett A. (2008) The work of policy: actor networks, governmentality, and local action on climate change in Portland, Oregon. Environment and planning D 26: 627-646.

Townsend A. (2013) Smart Cities: Big data, civic hackers, and the quest for a new utopia, New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company.

Viitanen J and Kingston R. (2014) Smart cities and green growth: outsourcing democratic and environmental resilience to the global technology sector. Environment and Planning A 46: 803-819.