Apr 9 2023

Rethinking Smart Cities

Reviewed by Jungwoo Chun, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

What is the 15-minute city concept and how can it be combined with future technologies in cities to enhance livability and achieve decarbonization goals?

Rethinking Smart Cities

Rethinking Smart Cities by Zaheer Allam and Yusra Raisah Takun, 2022, Edward Elgar Publishing Limited, 180 pp.

In Rethinking Smart Cities, the authors explore what they call the 15-minute city concept—which promotes human livability by ensuring that residents have access to the basic needs within the 15-minute travel time either by walking or cycling. They argue that this concept will gain more prominence when combined with future technologies in cities such as 6G, AI applications and digital twins. Their vision is that this approach will not only enhance livability but also help achieve other goals like global commitments to achieve decarbonization.

The key in my view is their effort in emphasizing that technology cannot be decoupled from the human element (i.e., beyond a technocentric approach) when urban residents ought to participate in the informed process of improving resilience and livability in cities. Technology is not just an application of a product—it’s a network of systems—the socio-political, economic and cultural systems.

The book conveniently introduces what a smart city is and offers a historical landscape of basic technological advancements in cities. Yet, “smartness” is not everything. Today, cities face numerous challenges including the ability to cope with emerging smart technologies (i.e., both the physical infrastructure and social aspects). Relatedly, the next several chapters provide an overview of some of the key issues smart cities ought to address—such as sustainability, inclusivity, efficiency and data security—as an opportunity to embed collaborative problem-solving in the planning process. Finally, the last few chapters offer a vision for what’s emerging: 6G technologies (and IoT), a 15-minute city planning concept and augmented automation.

The book leaves incredible room for afterthought. We as implementers or users of smart technologies in cities ought to think carefully about how we can participate meaningfully in the planning process—and collaboratively anticipate future challenges or vulnerabilities—as new technologies continue to emerge and become integrated into urban livelihoods. Perhaps truly “smart” cities will have figured out public participation and informed decision-making in future planning practices.

Mar 27 2015


Reviewed by Tarique Niazi, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

All disasters and the responses to them are socially constructed.


Disaster, Conflict and Society in Crises: Everyday Politics of Crisis Response, edited by Dorothea Hilhorst, Routledge, 2013

Disasters have long been assumed to be “natural,” and as such, “inevitable.” The founding fathers of Disaster Studies, many of whom were engineers, focused on designing responsive strategies to mitigate the after-effects of disasters. Disaster Studies has since come a long way to recognize the “social construction” of disasters. Environmental sociologists such as Dr. William R. Freudenburg and his colleagues have made major contributions to this way of thinking, arguing for and illustrating how disasters are socially-constituted. From a sociological perspective, “all disasters are man-made,” and hence avoidable.

In this context, not only have Dorothea Hilhorst and her fellow contributors in their edited volume on Disaster, Conflict and Society in Crises furthered this way of thinking, but they have also mapped the ways in which disasters are socially constructed. In particular, they have concentrated on the way that “responses” to disasters or crises are conceived. They deploy discourse analysis to help the reader understand the process of social construction of disaster events and thus uncover the battles that often go on among vested interests. They apply discursive analyses to such disparate events as “terrorist violence” in Sri Lanka and the impact of climate change on Mozambique.

Discursive strategies, they argue, help government and non-government actors construct “disasters” and “response to disasters” in a way that tangibly shapes state aid policies, aid governance, and aid politics. In discursive battles, words grow into fighting deeds that shape the outcomes of responsive strategies. Also, the authors argue that conflicts and disasters are emblematic of a breakdown of social order (i.e., chaos and disruption). They also contend that disruption and chaos create opportunities to reorder and reconstitute the institutions that deal with disaster events (referred to as continuity and discontinuity).

Hilhorst, the volume’s editor, employs the idiom of “everyday politics” as a frame to uncover the political and social dynamics of aid politics. The first part of the book focuses on the social construction of disasters, responses, and the manner in which local government and non-governmental actors securitize (or depoliticize) their strategies. In the second part, local institutions transform a crisis and become transformed by it, while the third speaks to a variety of interventions that are possible in crisis events. The book offers a wealth of theoretical and empirical ideas in accessible language, providing an invaluable contribution to the discipline of Disaster Studies.