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Whose Right to the Smart City?

The Right to the Smart City

ISBN: 978-1-78769-140-7, eISBN: 978-1-78769-139-1

Publication date: 7 June 2019


This chapter works with Lefebvre’s “Right to the City” (1996b) to understand how a Smart City initiative was being implemented and as a consequence who benefitted. While a model of citizenship is offered in smart cities, the “actually existing” smart city in fact reconfigures models of citizenship in ways that instrumentalize technology and data that can reinforce the patterns of exclusion for marginalized groups. Therefore, this chapter aims to understand how citizens participate in smart city projects and whether they can in fact lead to the exacerbation of existing urban historical, material, and social inequalities. The chapter focuses on some of those excluded by smart city projects: the urban poor, street traders, and those who live in informal settlements and explores the way in which they access and participate in the city. In the Global South context, India is a key actor in implementing a national-level smart city program, and research was undertaken in the city of Chennai to investigate the way that the India Smart Cities Mission was being planned and implemented and the corresponding implications for marginalized communities. The chapter argues that there is a need to recognize the value of a range of everyday, small-scale ways in which citizens employ technologies and data that meet their needs in a social and spatially embedded context. In this way, marginalized people may be empowered to have what Lefebvre describes as “the right to the oeuvre, to participation and appropriation” (1996, p. 173) in urban space.




The work in this chapter is supported by the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) International Research network entitled “Whose Right to the Smart City” ( The Chennai workshop took place on June 16, 2016, and was organized and led by Satyarupa Shekhar, Director of Government Outreach and Advisory, CAG, Chennai, India, with support from Magdalena Cooper (intern). The report produced from the workshop is available here:, which was researched and documented by CAG, Chennai. Other partners and contributors in the network are Dr Ava Fatah, University College London, UK, and Dr Ana Baltazar, Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. We would also like to thank the many participants and contributors to the research network workshops, including those in Belo Horizonte (Brazil), London, and Plymouth (UK), between 2017 and 2018.


Willis, K.S. (2019), "Whose Right to the Smart City?", Cardullo, P., Di Feliciantonio, C. and Kitchin, R. (Ed.) The Right to the Smart City, Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 27-41.



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