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December 3, 2019

Socially smart cities

Interesting piece of research just published which looked at four cities – Copenhagen, Glasgow, Amsterdam and Birmingham – and explored how and why certain key individuals have such an impact in being able to bring local people together around common concerns and innovative solutions. Using the jargon of Smart Urban Intermediaries this study identified key local people as the intermediaries and examined their role in creating or animating social innovations to address local concerns within their urban communities. 

Oliver Escobar etal

What do we mean by ‘smart urban intermediaries’? Full report here

Smart is a reference to ‘smart cities’, a concept born as a response to the complex and critical issues we are interested in addressing. ‘Smart’ is often used to refer to technology-mediated solutions to challenges. In contrast, in our research we emphasise the social and relational aspects of ‘smart’ and argue that social action and social innovation must be core components of the smart city vision.

Urban refers to the neighbourhoods where people live and work, where urban challenges are most keenly felt; and, on the practices of individuals within those neighbourhoods who are actively seeking to make a positive difference for those living in the area, as well as for society as a whole.

Intermediaries refers to individuals working between and across different sectors or activities who use their connections and social skills to bring people and resources together in creative and productive ways.

A ‘smart urban intermediary’ could be:

  • An unpaid community leader, activist, active citizen or resident
  • An employee working for a local authority, public body, non-governmental organisation (NGO), community group or social enterprise
  • An elected politician or campaigner
  • A social entrepreneur, trader or business developer
  • An artist, designer or architect

These individuals may:

  • live or work in the neighbourhood, with a local identity or emotional connection to the place;
  • and/or be situated or embedded in a professional sense in those neighbourhoods;
  • and/or be focused on forging connections within and beyond the neighbourhood.


Full report