Smart cities: private means, public ends? Challenges in regulation and governance of smart city projects

Astrid Voorwinden

Research output: ThesisThesis fully internal (DIV)

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More and more municipal governments invest in ‘smart city’ projects. A ‘smart city’ is a city where new technologies (e.g., sensors, cameras, algorithmic tools) are deployed to collect data, automate infrastructure, and shape policy making, in order to deal with issues such as sustainability or security. Such technologies are produced and sold by private companies, but their design embeds choices that affect citizens (e.g., privacy, participation). Outsourcing these choices creates risks for public values such as transparency and accountability. Therefore, this dissertation examines how municipalities govern and collaborate with private parties in smart city projects whilst safeguarding public values. To map the challenges city governments face and the tools that they can use, this research combines a theoretical approach with empirical data. The first part describes the risks for public values that appear the intersection of privatization and digitization, and the specific risk factors associated with the smart city movement. One way the literature provides to address these concerns is to extend public values to private actors through partnerships and contracts – so-called ‘publicization’. In the second part, these theoretical observations are confronted with how municipalities govern and collaborate in smart city projects in practice. Several case studies in Amsterdam show how a municipality uses hard law tools (e.g., procurement), but also how it experiments with collaboration (e.g., Urban Living Labs) and regulation (e.g., soft law). This exploratory research allows us to observe that local governments are uniquely positioned to safeguard public values in the context of technological innovation at local scale.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Groningen
  • Ranchordás, Sofia, Supervisor
  • Munneke, Solke, Supervisor
Award date10-Jul-2023
Place of Publication[Groningen]
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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