Smart Cities and Communities

An increasing number of cities and municipalities are committed to pursuing a smart or digital agenda. But not just that, they want to become (inter)nationally recognised as the smartest, most innovative or otherwise leading city. What are the consequences of such ambitions, for how urban problems and their solutions are to be understood? Are technological innovations by default smarter than non-digital ones? And do the government and the private sector really always know best or better?

What does the research involve?

We explore the possibility of more democratic and inclusive pursuits of social innovation, urban development and digital cities. We develop methods that move beyond pre-conceived and top-down ideas of what constitutes knowledge and expertise, what counts as urban innovation and what may be labelled as “smart” ways of doing things. We do so in co-creation with residents, neighbourhoods, community researchers, NGOs, local government, social entrepreneurs and artists. Collectively, we design interventions that help recognise and bring into fruitful dialogue different kinds of knowledges, experiences, and innovative ideas, of and for urban communities.


Theme Leads

  • Dr. Jiska Engelbert

    Jiska Engelbert is Associate Professor in Media Studies at the Erasmus School of History, Culture & Communication. Her research and teaching explore the politics of (smart) city imaginations. Within VCC, Jiska is Co-Theme Lead for Smart Cities & Communities and the founder of the Master Honours Programmes "Tackling Inequalities". In addition, Jiska is Strategic Director for the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for BOLD Cities.


  • Dr. Jan Fransen 

    Jan Fransen (PhD and MA in Development Studies) is an expert on urban economic development and resilience at the Institute of Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS). He is a visiting researcher on urban resilience at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS). Jan has over 25 years of experience in small business development, smart cities, resilient communities, poverty reduction and innovation in emerging economies.

Urban digitisation and the democratic process

Jiska Engelbert

The smart city must now become inclusive

Communities should be at the core of smart city thinking and making. After all, their data, livelihoods and rights are at stake. Smart city makers often talk people's participation and community engagement, but do people's exclusion. It is, thus, crucial to bring communities (back) into the imagination of their urban futures.
The goal is to generate impact through research and co-creation: together with citizens, social entrepreneurs and policy makers.

Affiliated projects


  • VCC works together with The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) in the research project 'Digital Society' to address the many pressing questions raised by the emergence of a digital society. In the program 30 leading professors from fourteen universities work together and support the Netherlands to develop technologies and applications that serve societal goals and interests, and which can be an example to all. 


  • On 18 and 19 September, scientists, civil servants, publicists and designers gathered at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam for Beyond Smart Cities Today, a two-day conference on the premises and implications of smart city developments. The Conference was organised by the Centre for BOLD Cities with support of VCC. 

How to build smart, enjoyable cities and hinterlands

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