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Smart Cities by Design? Interrogating Design Thinking for Citizen Participation

The Right to the Smart City

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

Publication date: 7 June 2019


Citizen participation in urban governance has established itself as a paradigm, promising greater democracy, empowerment, and more cost-effective public service delivery against the backdrop of increased urban conflicts. The dominant focus on the “citizen” or even “smart citizen” in the context of smart cities and urban innovation is however a relatively recent phenomenon. A growing number of initiatives seek to revamp the smart city as a human smart city. Therein, design thinking and human-centered design have become the buzzwords of choice to describe “putting people first” approaches that promise to develop solutions tailored to citizens’ needs. What was previously known as user-centered design in the context of information and communication technology (ICT) product and service development now proliferates the urban through innovation labs or civic hackathons. But what are the implications of using design thinking in a smart city context? And moreover, how to unpack human-centered design and design thinking within urban scholarship? This chapter contextualizes the phenomenon of design thinking in cities and renders implicit design thinking processes more explicit. Drawing upon ongoing research in Manchester and Amsterdam since 2014, my work-in-progress suggests that governing through design thinking results in a designing of the social rather than for the social. This trend requires historically informed political analysis and alternative ways to govern if the “right to the smart city” is not to become yet another iteration of shape-shifting neoliberal strategies.




This chapter is work-in-progress based on my PhD thesis Designing Urban Citizenship. I would like to thank the participants and convenors of the Right to the Smart City workshop for providing feedback and space for discussion as well as and the EPSRC for funding this research.


Schliwa, G. (2019), "Smart Cities by Design? Interrogating Design Thinking for Citizen Participation", Cardullo, P., Di Feliciantonio, C. and Kitchin, R. (Ed.) The Right to the Smart City, Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 151-164.



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