Barcelona has played a prominent role in smart city developments. It has instigated a visionary programme of projects since the early 2000s, and hosts the international Smart City Expo and Mobile World Congress. Initiatives in the city have attracted international business, cultivated local start-ups, and built municipal capacity for smart city governance. However, as Adrian Smith from the research team explains, intriguing changes are afoot:

“Political leadership shifted in Barcelona following the elections of 2015 – which brought a policy re-orientation that includes a fascinating change in emphasis towards the use of technology. Brought to power with help from a variety of social movements, city leaders have an aspiration to re-orientate the city towards more democratic, solidarity and community-based forms of urbanism. The emphasis has moved from the smart city to ‘technology sovereignty’.”

Digital initiatives are being reshaped and redirected in keeping with aspirations to involve citizens much more actively. The practical implications of this new emphasis will be instructive for who gets to know what about the city in ‘smart’ ways; what knowledge and experience gets enabled by these different digital approaches; and how digital connects with urban politics.

The Barcelona case appears to be opening space for different actors and new approaches to technology. As Adrian explains, “Technologies do not just happen, they are designed, adopted, and used by people with a variety of visions, values and purposes. Sometimes these align, and other times they conflict. All influence what is meant by ‘smart urbanism’. So, what happens when the social context shifts?”