While scholars critique the first-generation of the corporate smart city for failing to tackle people-oriented agendas and authentically respond to the needs of residents, many point to a potential to move beyond narrow environmental and economic objectives and tackle social issues. But concrete empirical evidence of this potential is visibly lacking. In parallel, researchers have brought attention to the emergence of the so-called ‘smart city 2.0’. This is framed as a decentralised, people-centric approach where smart technologies are employed as tools to tackle social problems, address resident needs and foster collaborative participation. This contrasts to the techno-economic and centralised approach of the dominating ‘smart city 1.0’ or first-generation paradigm, which is primarily focused on diffusing smart technologies for corporate and economic interests. Utilising this dichotomy as an analytical framework, this paper examines Aizuwakamatsu Smart City in Fukushima, Japan to demonstrate how a smart city can be framed and implemented as a tool for tackling endogenous social challenges. Findings unearth a myriad of novel approaches to utilising data and ICT to respond to resident needs, improve livelihoods and widely share smart city benefits. Yet they also point to a need to transcend polarised discourses around alternative models of smart cities and appreciate the messy reality of hybrid, on-the-ground smart urbanisation and the co-existence of contrasting yet complementary visions and approaches.
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