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Varieties of smart urbanism in the UK: discursive logics, the state, and local urban context
The paper analyses the varieties of smart urbanism to be found in the contemporary urban landscape in the UK. In so doing, it builds on and extends two currently dominant sets of critiques of the smart city: those that call into question its technocratic and top-down modes of governance, and those that describe the smart city as an empty signifier. The paper makes sense of the UK’s variegated local smart urban practices, by tracing the emergence of a national, state-led cultural economy of smart urbanism. Based on an analysis of smart city programmes in 34 UK cities, we identify two broad discursive logics through a national variation of smart urbanism is produced and performed. First, the invocation of crisis forms a discursive foundation on which place-specific logics are based. Second, a set of what we term variegated logics are differently combined to build on the ‘foundational story’ of crisis, in the construction of local smart agendas. We discuss three of these variegated logics: the city portrayed as technological simulacrum; the focus on specific sectoral activities; and a chameleonic tendency to envelop previous eco-urban agendas into smart urbanism. The critical questions raise by these UK-specific logics demonstrate the value of considering particular multi-scalar constellations of smart urbanism through a cultural economy lens.