Research Theme: Urban

In ICFI's Urban Theme our researchers aim to develop a bottom-up frugal and smart alternative to existing smart city paradigms.  The existing smart city discourse has shifted from a purely technology focus to a broader focus including intangibles associated with smart governance and smart people. However, the gross of the literature and practicalities are still mainly associated with high-tech development of a creative class, most likely leading to rising levels of inequality, vulnerability and social exclusion.

Our Urban research team aims to reclaim the concept of a ‘smart city’ based on the perspectives of residents and firms in (informal) settlements. Bottom-up frugal innovations can bring in perspectives of vulnerable groups and offer alternative ways to co-create smart cities which are more inclusive and resilient.

We bring research on innovation, urban resilience, smart cities and urban platforms together. Hereby,  a frugal city is perceived as an inclusive smart city that may use urban platforms and contributes to community resilience of vulnerable groups.

Urban Research Focus

Research questions

The main research question is how can and do bottom-up frugal and smart initiatives in (informal) settlements drive inclusive and resilient territorial development?

1. What is the perspective of urban residents and (informal) businesses in informal settlements of a smart city and frugal innovation?
2. How are urban residents and (informal) businesses in informal settlements using smart and frugal processes in order to develop their territory in an inclusive way? What are conditions and barriers for inclusive and resilient territorial development?
3. How do bottom-up frugal and smart initiatives within an urban community relate to top-down or networked (smart) initiatives of city council and other external actors? When are these in conflict, what are the trade-offs and when do they strengthen each other?

Research focus

The research focuses on (integrated) developments in health, energy, water and food (HEWA). In line with theory on smart cities and frugality, three elements are identified:

  1. frugal and smart people (including a frugal mindset)
  2. frugal and smart technologies
  3. frugal and smart governance.


The hypotheses investigated in the Urban research theme are 

  1. Interactions between frugal and smart people, technology and governance are path dependent, within open socio-technical systems; and
  2. Stronger interactions between frugal and smart people, technologies and governance over a long period of time lead to more inclusive and resilient development trajectories in informal settlements.

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