Research group at imec & Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Smart Cities

About this Domain

At SMIT, we collaborate in smart city initiatives and investigate how their applicability and sustainability can be promoted. We believe it is not the technology itself, but how it is used, that makes cities smart. Hence, we engage public bodies, private organizations and individual citizens in co-creating solutions for urban challenges that help make sense of the abundant data generated by technology in the city. Our research is clustered around three areas: (1) innovation and growth, (2) democratic governance, citizenship and trust, and (3) inclusion and empowerment.

Smart cities as collaborative, contextual and collective efforts

What exactly makes a city ‘smart’? At SMIT, we believe that smart cities cannot be reduced to technology-mediated interaction, via mobile and other devices, in the urban space. In ‘truly smart’ city initiatives stakeholders from academia, public and private sector and the general public collaborate to make sense of the flood of data these technologies provide in order to tackle the local and societal challenges they are facing.

Increasing scale, applicability and sustainability

Smart city initiatives are no guaranteed success. A strictly top-down approach is likely to fall short as it tends to overemphasize governmental or corporate interests over others. A purely bottom-up initiative risks being able to reach the scale and validity that is needed.

At SMIT, we set up and collaborate in smart city initiatives and investigate how their scale, applicability and sustainability can be promoted by bridging bottom-up and top-down approaches. As part of this process, we explore how value and return can be optimized for all stakeholders involved. We actively engage individual citizens, public organizations, and private actors in planning and shaping their urban environment. We enable them to tackle shared urban issues and to co-create solutions.

Research areas:

  1. Innovation & growth: How can technology and design facilitate and augment how we understand and plan cities, how we manage urban services and utilities, and how we live and work as citizens?
  2. Democratic governance, citizenship & trust: How can we account for what citizens value through the design of urban technology (e.g. privacy and security) and how do we assess its public value?
  3. Inclusion and empowerment: How can smart city initiatives, such as citizen science or urban sensing, transform digital and social inequalities? And when are they at risk of reproducing them?

Key Results

Research Result
Smart Cities
21 Feb 2019
Book on the challenges and opportunities of Open Data available
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Research Result Photo of urban cyclist by yichuan zhan on Unsplash
Smart Cities
6 Dec 2017
Capturing the experience of urban cyclists throughout the city
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Research Result Photo of Woman pointing at city model by Craig Whitehead on Unsplash
Smart Cities
5 Dec 2017
Privacy concerns and willingness to share personal information in location-based social networks
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Research Result Photo of parking by chuttersnap on Unsplash
Smart Cities
4 Dec 2017
Experimenting with smart parking: benefits and caveats for mobile parking app development
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Key Publications

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    Donders, K., Pauwels, C., & Loisen, J. (Eds.). (2014). The Palgrave handbook of European media policy. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan. AUTEUR:
    Open publication

  • The Use of Live-Prototypes as Proxy Technology in Smart City Living Lab Pilots
    With the rise of Internet-of-Things (IoT) a new wave of so-called smart technologies and related services have been introduced. When applied within an urban context, they tend to be ubiquitous, enabling a real-time interaction between the city, its environment and users, leading to a new set of human-computer interactions and user experiences. For the design of such technologies and services, researchers are challenged in finding effective methodologies that take into account this complex context of use. Especially in the very early phases of technology design, it can be rather complex to capture accurate user insights and requirements. In this paper, we investigate whether implementing a “live-prototyping tool” can respond to this need. By combining elements from both lo-fi prototyping as well as Proxy Technology Assessment (PTA), we investigated the benefits of an IoT-enabled proxy device as “live-prototyping tool”, that can be used during the first stages of development and deployed in the real-life environment of end-users. Results show that the use of such tool enables (HCI) researchers to collect more detailed data, interact more accurately and by so provide quick wins for the design and development process.
    Open publication

  • Platform business models for smart cities
    Walravens, N., & Ballon, P. (2013). Platform business models for smart cities: from control and value to governance and public value. IEEE Communications Magazine, 51(6), 72–79.
    Open publication

  • A holistic impact-assessment framework for green ICT
    Raju, A., Lindmark, S., Delaere, S., & Ballon, P. (2013). A Holistic Impact-Assessment Framework for Green ICT. IT Professional, 15(1), 50–56.
    Open publication

  • Policy recommendations supporting smart city strategies
    Walravens N., Ballon P. (2017). Policy Recommendations Supporting Smart City Strategies: Towards a New Methodological Tool. In: Alba E., Chicano F., Luque G. (eds) Smart Cities. Smart-CT 2017. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 10268. Springer, Cham.
    Open publication

  • Digital by default: Consequences, casualties and coping strategies
    Mariën, I., Heyman, R., Salemink, K., & Van Audenhove, L. (2016). Digital by Default: Consequences, Casualties and Coping Strategies. In J. Servaes & Oyedemi (Eds.), Social inequalities, Media and Communication: Theory and Roots (pp. 167–188). Rowman and Littlefield.
    Open publication