Understanding Smart Cities: Innovation Ecosystems


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Currently there are more than 140 ongoing Smart Cities projects around the world (Lee et al., 2014). Smart Cities initiatives aim to “provide more efficient services to citizens, to monitor and optimize existing infrastructure, to increase collaboration amongst different economic actors and to encourage innovative business models in both private and public sectors” (Marsal-Llacuna et al., 2015: p. 618).

In order to achieve these goals, Smart Cities rely on state-of-the-art information technology (fiber optic networks, sensors and connected devices, open data analytics, internet of things, ICT-enabled participatory planning frameworks, etc.), on the one hand (Albino et al., 2015; Stratigea et al., 2015), and on human capital (research universities, knowledge intensive companies and public institutions), on the other hand (Neirotti et al., 2014; Ahvenniemi et al., 2017). Angelidou (2014) calls the former “hard” smart cities strategies (smart buildings, smart energy grids, smart water management, smart mobility) and the latter “soft” strategies (developing human capital through education, culture, social inclusion, social innovation). It is widely assumed that the digital infrastructure of modern cities offers a unique opportunity to facilitate entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation in order to drive local economic growth (Kraus et al., 2014; Grimaldi and Fernandez, 2015). The city of London, for instance, has based its Smart City initiative on four dimensions (Angelidou, 2015): a) technology innovation; b) open data and transparency; c) collaboration and engagement; d) efficiency and resource management. These dimensions echo Lee and co-authors’ (2014) six enablers of Smart City development: urban openness, service innovation, partnership formation, urban proactiveness, infra-structure integration and smart city governance.

According to the neo-evolutionary perspective of the Triple Helix framework, Smart City projects represent an unique innovation opportunity for companies, government agencies and researchers (Leydesdorff and Deakin, 2011). In this sense, the European Union has established “action clusters” to foster the development of citizen participation, integration of infrastructures and processes, new business models and better mobility solutions in “sustainable districts” (European Commission, 2016).

Alternative frameworks highlight the “transboundary” nature of Smart City projects. Thus Angelidou (2014) suggests the necessity to go beyond the “hard versus soft” infrastructure dichotomy and to also consider the national versus local implications for smart city projects; the new (green field) versus the existing (brown fields) approaches to urban development; and the economic-sector versus geographic sector approaches. Similarly, Ramaswami and co-authors (2016) suggest thinking about the local infrastructure provision (the smart management of energy, buildings, public spaces, waste and sanitation, food supply, water supply and transportation) as subject to a larger flow of national and global actors and institutions. The performance of these initiatives must be measured in terms of their environmental, economic and social benefits (Ahvenniemi et al., 2017). These initiatives can also be studied from a strategic perspective, as they can spark the emergence of new strategies in the firms and stakeholders involved in designing and executing the Smart City projects (Paroutis et al., 2014).

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