Centre for Urban Studies

WPS No.33 | (Zandbergen, D.) (2018) | The making of a responsive city

The material (anti)politics of the Amsterdam Smart Light experiment


This article explores the material politics of what I refer to as the “responsive city.” This politics imbues urban objects that are made “smart” with responsive sensors, with the capacity to negotiate the multitude of interests that make up contemporary urban life in a frictionless way. The article attends closely at the unfolding of the Smart Light project undertaken by the Amsterdam Smart City network at the Hoekenrodeplein in Amsterdam Southeast. This project envisioned the “smartening up” of lampposts at this square by means of real-time sensors responding to local cues with different light settings. Bringing together many different interests, institutional cultures, temporal and spatial settings and technological standards, the Smart Light project negotiated different techno-political genealogies and, consequently, different ways in which smart urban objects come to matter politically. Being simultaneously invested with a progressive politics of local revitalization and with an entrepreneurial politics of global economic competition, the project integrated two different ways in which the smart lampposts were understood to be “responsive.” After detailing both these ways, I argue that the Smart Light project came with an overarching anti-political attitude. It created a context in which the discrepancies, frictions and tensions between both the political spheres in which the project unfolded, remained unaccountable to one another.


smart cities, responsive cities, urban sensing, sensor-technologies, urban feedback, anti-politics, smart light, affect

Published by  CUS

25 September 2018