Green Cities and Smart Cities: The potential and pitfalls of digitally-enabled green urbanism

[Originally posted on the Urbanization and Global Environmental Change Viewpoints Blog]

Since its early days, the discourse around “smart cities” has included environmental sustainability as one of its core principles. The application of new digital technologies to urban spaces and processes is celebrated for its ability to increase the well-being of citizens while reducing their environmental impacts. But this engagement with sustainability has been limited to a technocratic focus on energy systems, building efficiency, and transportation. It has also privileged top-down interventions by local government actors. For all its novelty, the smart cities discussion is operating with a vision of urban sustainability that dates from the 1990s, and an approach to planning from the 1950s. 

This definition of “urban sustainability” overlooks key facets of a city’s ecological footprint (such as food systems, resource consumption, production related greenhouse gas emissions, air quality, and the urban heat island effect). It also ignores the ability of non-state actors to contribute meaningfully to the design and implementation of urban policies and programs. But that doesn’t need not be the case. In fact, if employed properly, new information technologies seem like ideal tools to address some of urban sustainability’s most persistent challenges. Read the rest @UGEC Viewpoints.

Graduate Position: Urban Sustainability Governance @ INRS

A funded MA or PhD position in Urban Sustainability Governance has just been announced at the INRS University. The position is open to MA or PhD students interested in studying:

  • how cities plan and implement sustainability and climate change policies in Canada and internationally,
  • how public, private, and civil-society groups participate in horizontal and vertical networks of urban sustainability governance,
  • the tensions between path-dependency and innovation in urban sustainability planning and action.


Graduate Position: Innovation and Urban Sustainability @ INRS

A funded MA or PhD position in Innovation and Urban Sustainability is now open at the INRS University. The position is open to MA or PhD students interested in studying:

  •  the overlap between "smart" and "sustainable" cities,
  • the application of new technologies to urban environmental problems,
  • the socio-institutional and political factors that enable or block innovations in urban sustainability,
  • the impacts of "smart" approaches to green cities on governance, democracy, and public participation.

Building smarter, greener cities

[The Montreal Gazette just ran on opinion piece that I wrote on the results from the Urban Climate Change Governance Survey that I ran at MIT.  There is a lot more still to say about the data. But it is nice to see some of these early results getting out there!]

MONTREAL — Everyone loves talking about the weather — but it seems no one likes talking about climate change. It’s too bleak. Unless we are talking about cities. Unlike most countries, cities actually seem to be doing something.

From Copenhagen to Vancouver, we are surrounded by great examples of what smart green cities look like. That gives us hope. It also gives us a much-needed break from the depressing geo-political mire that bubbles to the surface with every new round of climate-change negotiations.

So far, though, successful responses to climate change have been confined to a relatively small group of celebrity cities. There are more than 1,000 large and mid-size cities in the world. Only a small fraction of them are taking effective action.


ecoHackMTL: Totally Awesome!

Almost 100 participants,  12 projects, 4 specially proposed challenges, 6 newly released data sets and lots of happy faces at the end of the day. 

A huge thank-you to everyone who came out for the inaugural ecoHack in Montréal last weekend!

écoHackMTL set out to bring together programmers, community activists, and urban environmentalists to design digital tools that allow for deeper citizen engagement with urban spaces and urban sustainability.

It grew out of the fact that the amazing energy of the hackathon and opendata scenes had yet to be effectively applied to building greener cities.  (Not just in Montreal, but anywhere.)



This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

You can expect occasional updates, but not with the same frequency as in the past.

You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.

Info on my consulting work, c.v. and current research focus is all here.