Beyond Defining the Smart City. Meeting Top-Down and Bottom-Up Approaches in the Middle

  • Jonas Breuer iMinds-SMIT, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
  • Nils Walravens iMinds-SMIT, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
  • Pieter Ballon iMinds-SMIT, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Keywords: Smart City, Local Innovation, Platforms, Urban Development, Mobility


This paper aims to better frame the discussion and the various, divergent operationalisations and interpretations of the Smart City concept. We start by explicating top-down approaches to the Smart City, followed by what purely bottom-up initiatives can look like. We provide a clear overview of stakeholders’ different viewpoints on the city of tomorrow. Particularly the consequences and potential impacts of these differing interpretations and approaches should be of specific interest to researchers, policy makers, city administrations, private actors and anyone involved and concerned with life in cities. Therefore the goal of this article is not so much answering the question of what the Smart City is, but rather what the concept can mean for different stakeholders as well as the consequences of their interpretation. We do this by assembling an eclectic overview, bringing together definitions, examples and operationalisations from academia, policy and industry as well as identifying major trends and approaches to realizing the Smart City. We add to the debate by proposing a different approach that starts from the collective, collaboration and context when researching Smart City initiatives.


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Author Biographies

Jonas Breuer, iMinds-SMIT, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Jonas Breuer has been at iMinds-SMIT since August 2013, within the Market Innovation and Sector Transitions unit. During this international Master program at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium, he concentrated on the political economy of new media and ICT, focussing in particular on the Smart City and open data.
Nils Walravens, iMinds-SMIT, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Nils Walravens started working for iMinds-SMIT in August of 2007 as a researcher in the Market Innovation and Sector Transitions unit. His main expertise is in the field of business modelling research in both the mobile and media industries and he has experience in the mobile services domain, Smart Cities and platformisation in the media and mobile industry.
Pieter Ballon, iMinds-SMIT, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Pieter Ballon holds a PhD in Communication Sciences and a MA in Modern History. He is a senior researcher at iMinds-SMIT and leads the Market, Innovation and Sector Transitions unit.


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How to Cite
BreuerJ., WalravensN., & BallonP. (2014). Beyond Defining the Smart City. Meeting Top-Down and Bottom-Up Approaches in the Middle. TeMA - Journal of Land Use, Mobility and Environment.