Living labs: Challenging and changing the smart city power relations?

Smart cities refer to place-specific collaborative systems where multiple actors collaborate to collectively address public problems. However, smart city initiatives regularly frame citizens as the weakest link, as passive consumers rather than active creative agents. This article argues that power imbalances between citizens and other organisational participants structurally mute citizens' voices, ultimately compromising smart cities' aims. Living laboratories are a popular smart city intervention that have the potential to address this power imbalance and empower citizens to influence smart city development. This research theoretically and empirically explores this role of living labs through a multiple-case study of urban living labs in the region of Catalonia. The findings uncover a ‘power banking’ mechanism which, coupled with other critical factors, facilitates the effectiveness of such initiatives. The considerable efforts required to engage citizens at a fairly basic level suggest that incorporating citizens into smart city models is more challenging than simplistic Quadruple Helix discourses convey ​
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