The City as a Licence

B.G.M. de Waal, G. Ferri, I. Gloerich, John Vines, Chris Elsden

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionAcademicpeer-review


This contribution explores the role of distributed ledger technologies
in the governance of (smart) cities, from a perspective of the right to
the city and the urban commons.
In the past few years, a number of authors have expressed the
capabilities of distributed ledgers to become the administrative
backbone of civic economy, peer-to-peer and urban commons
projects. (Antoniadis 2018; Boiler 2015; Pazaitis et al. 2017; Rozas et
al. 2018 & 2020; Pitt & Diaconescu 2014, Bauwens & Pazaitis 2019). A

combination of affordances of DLTs, incorporated in broader socio-
technologicial ‘smart city’ or ‘smart citizen’ assemblages, could play a

role here. DLTs allow for the administration of (micro-) transactions on a ledger, making use of automated data collection through sensing
devices. These transactions can be automated through so-called
smart contracts that combine data processing with systems of
identity, reputation, and rights management (Cila et al. 2020).
However, such systems are more than mere accounting tools for the
urban commons. Through their ‘algorithmic governance’ (Smith 2020,
Yeung 2018), they also come to play a role as regulators for the
communities that they administer. Particular values, governance
structures and (informal) social dynamics are encoded into their
smart contracts, giving or withholding citizens the right to the use and
production of particular urban resources and social networks.
In this contribution, we further develop the lens of ‘the city as a
licence’ (Elsden et al. 2019, Gloerich et al. 2020) to foreground
practices of value-based rights management in Civic DLT
applications, connecting discussions on smart city and urban
governance with the broader discourse on the right to the city
(Kitchin et al. 2018, Cardullo et al. 2018, Cardullo et al. 2019).
Framing the interactions these DLT based systems make possible
from a perspective of licences rather than ‘the city as a
service’ (Hwang 2008) shifts the perspective from consumer
convenience or noble civic goals to questions about equity, privilege,
and power. What does it mean if civil society and civic life is
increasingly governed through algorithmic systems that give out
‘licenses’ to make use of local resources? What are the underlying
rule sets, and who has the power to determine and alter them? What
room is left for interpretation, negotiation and exceptions when rules
are encoded in software? And what new governmentalities does such
a system produce?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBeyond Smart Cities Conference
Subtitle of host publicationMalmo 16-17 June 2022
Place of PublicationMalmo
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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