Smart Cities: a literature review (in plain English!)

Summary of “Smart Cities: A Review and Analysis of Stakeholders’ Literature” (Marrone and Hammerle, 2018)

There has been increasing interest in recent years in the use of digital technology help deal with the “wicked problems” of environmental degradation and poverty in towns and cities. Cities where attempts are made to achieve this are known as “smart cities”.

This literature review compared the views of different groups of people on the idea of “smart cities”, seeking to compare diverse perspectives by examining the topics discussed in different categories of publication. Since what people read, hear and see will influence and reflect their views, analysis of the publications they are exposed to can give us an insight into those views (McCombs and Shaw 1972; Carroll and McCombs 2003). In this study, for example, the views of those who live in towns and cities were considered by reviewing news media, while the views of those involved in research organisations were analysed using academic publications (see table).

Group Literature category
Citizens News media
People involved in business Trade publications
People involved in research Academic publications
People involved in government Government reports

The topics arising in different categories of literature were compared using technology. Key topics forallcategories of literature were:

  • Internet of Things
  • Technology
  • Infrastructure
  • Smart grid
  • Urban planning
  • Energy
  • Transport
  • Innovation
  • Sustainability

Key topics which arose frequently in news media but less so in other categories of literature, suggesting that citizens were concerned about them but that other groups did not consider them to be of such high importance, were:

  • Autonomous car
  • Hackers
  • Start-up company

Further analysis of these topics revealed some interesting differences between the ways in which they were discussed in news media and in other categories of literature. In the case of the “Autonomous car” topic, all categories of literature addressed the benefits of autonomous cars. However, while other literature types focused more on how a reliance on autonomous vehicles might come about, news media tended to present this transportation method as potentially disruptive, considering the risks associated with it. News media was also the only literature category to focus on how peoplemight be involved in the use of autonomous cars.

On the topic of “Hackers”, news media presented more detail regarding the intricacies of hacking, compared with other types of literature, and suggested reasons why hackers have not yet become widespread in smart cities. News media expressed the importance of preventing hacking to protect the people who use smart city services and emphasised how lack of action on the part of companies and governments could leave smart city services open to attack from hackers.

Regarding “Start-up company”, although all categories of literature highlighted the importance of start-ups in the development of smart cities and of fostering connections between different groups to enable start-ups to be successful, news media alone specifically highlighted how innovations brought about by start-ups may help to serve people and impact their everyday lives. Other literature types were more focused on the opportunities for economic growth and profits brought about by developments in the smart city space.

Existing academic research suggests that the perspectives of citizens are often ignored in the development of smart cities (Hollands 2015). The results of this review suggest that citizens are under-represented, rather than being completely ignored. The research gaps identified here are in  person-centred topics, such as privacy, which important to citizens. These should be addressed by practitioners involved in developing and marketing smart city services and by government and academic bodies involved in producing smart city policies.


Carroll CE, McCombs M (2003) Agenda-setting effects of business news on the public’s images and opinions about major corporations. Corp Reput Rev6:36–46. palgrave.crr.1540188

Hollands RG (2015) Critical interventions into the corporate smart city. Camb J Reg Econ Soc8:61–77

Marrone, M, Hammerle, M (2018) Smart Cities: A Review and Analysis of Stakeholders’ Literature. Bus Inf Syst Eng 60: 197.

McCombs ME, Shaw DL (1972) The agenda-setting function of mass media. Public Opin Q36:176–187

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