Smart-Eco Project

Over the past few decades, increasing attention given to the issue of urban sustainability has been reflected in the spread of ‘eco-city’ policies and initiatives. However, the past few years have seen the growing use of a new terminology, around the idea of the ‘smart city’. This new agenda has incorporated many pre-existing themes of urban development, including sustainability; and attempts to establish a vision of the city as a high-tech centre of connectivity and efficiency, enhanced by big data. However, many questions remain about the intersection between the ‘smart’ and ‘eco’ agendas.

To investigate these questions, researchers from the International Eco-Cities Initiative are participating in the SMART-ECO project: a three-year (2015-2018) ESRC-funded project on Smart Eco-cities for a Green Economy: a Comparative Study of Europe and China.

About the project

This research aims to provide the first systematic comparative analysis of green economy-focused eco-city initiatives in China and Europe. This will inform the identification of opportunities and pathways for shaping national and collaborative international urban and economic policy responses, engaging the state, the business sector and communities in delivering ‘smart eco-city’ initiatives that can promote the growth of the green economy.

It has a particular focus on what we are calling the ‘smart eco-city’, defined as an experimental city which functions as a potential niche where both environmental and economic reforms can be tested and introduced in areas which are both spatially proximate (the surrounding region) and in an international context (through networks of knowledge, technology and policy learning and transfer and learning).

Key questions

  • How should success in smart eco-city initiatives be evaluated?
  • What are the main obstacles to successful projects?
  • What generalisable lessons can be drawn from successful smart eco-cities, in socio-economic and policy terms?
  • How can knowledge effectively be shared across the context of European and Chinese urban-economic policymaking for smart eco-cities?


The project is being coordinated by the University of Exeter, in collaboration with an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the Universities of Westminster, King’s College London, the University of Plymouth and the University of Cardiff (UK), TU Delft and Utrecht University (the Netherlands), the French Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the University of Toulouse (France), Freiburg University (Germany), Renmin University of China, and the University of Nottingham in China.


Smart-eco cities in Germany: trends and city profiles 2017

Includes three profiles of German smart-eco cities (Berlin, Hamburg and Munich). Author: Philipp Späth

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Smart-eco cities in the UK: trends and city profiles 2016

Includes ten profiles of UK smart-eco cities (Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, London, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Newcastle, Nottingham, Peterborough, and Sheffield). Authors: Federico Caprotti, Robert Cowley, Andrew Flynn, Simon Joss and Li Yu.

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Smart-eco cities in the UK: survey report 2016

Preliminary findings from a survey of Smart City initiatives in the UK conducted over 6 months between 2015 and 2016. Authors: Frederico Caprotti and Robert Cowley.

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Smart-eco cities in China: trends and city profiles 2016

Includes twelve profiles of Chinese smart-eco-cities (Chengdu, Fuzhou, Hangzhou, Kunming, Nanjing, Ningbo, Qingdao, Shanghai, Tianjin, Wuhan, and Wuxi). Authors: May Tan-Mullins, Ali Cheshmehzangi, Shiuh-Shen and Chien Linjun Xie.

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Smart-eco cities in the Netherlands: trends and city profiles 2016

Includes four profiles of Dutch smart-eco cities (Amsterdam, Eindhoven, Rotterdam, and Utrecht). Author: Frans Sengers.

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Event report: What can urban sustainability experiments do?

Summary of an audience discussion at the World Urban Forum in Kuala Lumpur. Authors: Robert Cowley and Jon Phillips.

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The smart city and its publics: insights from across six UK cities

An investigation of the role of the public in smart city initiatives, identifying four modes of publicness: ‘service user’, ‘entrepreneurial’, ‘political’ and ‘civic’. Authors: Rob Cowley, Simon Joss and Youri Dayot

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