Sustainable Architecture(s) - Humane Cities
Smart Cities: “Digital Utopias” or “Technical Blueprints”? Analyzing the Social Ambiguity of Utopian Characterizations of Smart Cities
C. Yusufoglu
5:45 pm - 7:15 pm


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The concept of utopia embraces a wide content from ancient times to today although Thomas More coined the term in the 16th century as a literary genre. Smart cities, which are widely considered the future of urban growth, have various common points with utopias, such as promoting new ideals, spaces, and visions. A broad range of urban historians and geographers, for instance, Robert Fishman (2012), Peter Hall (2014), and David Harvey (2019) discuss smart cities in utopian terminology, namely as an “Invented Eden”, recognizing the latest version of utopias. Yet, in classic utopian thought, utopias are much more than technological marvels. Utopias consist of ideal societies which differ them from technical blueprints. Whereas contemporary smart cities are aptly described and designed as “utopias” and visions of smart cities incorporate the best hopes for utopias related to health, efficiency, and the environment, the current usage of the term lacks a firm understanding of the social dimensions of smart cities. Further, smart cities concentrate on humanities’ material desires by appearing in the form of a “consumer society”. These new social aspects of the life of smart cities are laden with consumerist and innovative principles, and therefore need to be acknowledged and questioned in terms of “ideal society” to be categorized as utopias. Through analysis of texts of urban historians on smart cities’ utopian frame and key smart city projects, such as Songdo, Singapore, and Dubai, this paper explores how smart cities differ from typical utopias in terms of the ideal society. Recognizing that smart cities are digital utopias and more than technological marvels can help people create cities that better reflect the diverse values, politics, and cultural perspectives of their inhabitants.


Cihan Yusufoglu is a second-year PhD student in architecture at Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center of Virginia Tech University. His research interests are utopias, ideal cities, and smart cities. He finished his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture at Istanbul Technical University and Mimar Sinan University in Turkey, respectively. In the master’s thesis, he studied the 19th and 20th-century utopias in terms of architectural concepts of order, flexibility, and form. In the PhD research, he is studying the relationship between utopias and smart cities, and he aims to demonstrate smart cities as the latest version of utopias not just as an ideal city, but also as an ideal society for the urban future.