Citizen Sensing in the Smart City


Within current schemes for green cities, which span from urban wildlife initiatives to city agriculture and green transport networks, citizen sensing and smart cities projects are emerging that attempt to realize improved sustainability through greater urban connectivity. As another layer of infrastructure that enhances the efficiency and timing of cities, digital connectivity presents the possibility of a well-regulated city that becomes green through the enhanced synchronicity and expediency of urban practices and metabolisms.

This paper examines the specific “smart urban infrastructures” that are proposed and imagined in the “Connected Sustainable Cities” project within the Connected Urban Development initiative. To what extent do contemporary proposals for managing and regulating existing urban processes attend to the political ecologies that surface in attempting to make urban ecologies more efficient? The “green apparatus” of the connected sustainable city further encompasses efficient citizens who are wired to track and monitor practices of environmental excess. The second aspect of this paper considers the enfolding and imagining of citizen sensing projects within the connected sustainable city. To what extent does the feedback loop between efficient urban metabolisms and personally accountable and efficient urban citizen capture what Foucault might call the subject-making processes of green urbanism, or even a form of biopolitics 2.0?


This paper was originally presented in the panel, “The Green Apparatus? Political Technologies of the Sustainable City,” organized by Bruce Braun and Stephanie Wakefield at the American Association of Geographers (AAG) in Seattle (April 2011). Subsequent and revised versions of the paper have been presented at “Platform Politics” at Anglia Ruskin University (May 2011); the Digital Media Research Seminar, co-hosted by the School of Humanities and Communication Arts and the Institute for Culture and Society, University of Western Sydney, Australia (August 2012); and “Media Places: Infrastructure, Space, Media,” hosted by HUMlab, at Umeå University, Sweden (December 2012).

The paper, “Programming Environments: Environmentality and Citizen Sensing in the Smart City,” is published in the special issue, “A New Apparatus: Technology, Government, and the Resilient City,” also edited by Bruce Braun and Stephanie Wakefield for Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 32, no. 1 (2014), 30-48.

A version of the text is available here. Please refer to the journal issue for the final version with pagination.

Research into the area of citizen sensing and smart cities forms part of the larger ongoing project, “Citizen Sensing and Environmental Practice,” funded by a European Research Council starting grant (2013-2017).