In this episode, I had a delightful conversation with Nancy Odendaal. Nancy is an Urban Planner, an Associate Professor in City planning at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. She has been in the Smart City game for well over a decade now and is really interested in how technologies affect power dynamics between people. Nancy has a number of projects on the go at the moment, one of which is researching the use of drones to enable humanitarian aid.

Nancy and I discuss many things, including using technology as an enabler for social justice, and how technology can enhance the sense of place of a city. As well as this, Nancy talked about some of the things South Africa and Africa as a whole is doing in the Smart City space, and the impact simple technology is having on transport, mobility and street traders.

This is a longer episode than usual but I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it.

What we cover in this episode:

  • Nancy’s background and how she became interested in the notion of the Digital City in the late 1990s
  • The research Nancy has done in the space, including on Durbin City Government’s Smart City Strategy and Brisbane’s Digital City Initiatives
  • How informality is often core to understanding a city in the Global South
  • What drew Nancy back to the Smart City space in 2008
  • The difference between Smart Urbanism and Smart Cities
  • Nancy’s current projects, including some international collaborations
  • The notion of post-Smart that is beginning to emerge
  • How technology has become part of the day-to-day even for people who live quite marginal existences
  • What South Africa, and Africa as a whole, is doing in the Smart City space
  • The contrast between big engineering approaches to Smart Cities, and Nancy’s ideas about Smart from the bottom up
  • The social justice angle of technology being used to challenge the status quo
  • How the regulatory environment in South Africa impacts the progress of Smart City initiatives, and the role multinational IT companies have in driving Smart City visions
  • Why Nancy believes South Africa is the perfect place to pilot Smart tech
  • The importance of collaboration and the need for a shared vision when integrating across disciplines, governments, industries and universities
  • The emerging trends Nancy wants talked about more
  • The problems and opportunities of Mini-bus taxis in East Africa, and how digital technologies can become part of the mobility equation

“There’s something about the material manifestation of invention that enables us to be mobile, to communicate, which are such human qualities,…to see these material manifestations of these inventions that enable us to do that with so much more efficacy, is usually exciting.”

“My experience has always been a shared vision. If we can negotiate a shared vision, if we all want the same thing from this Smart City, if we agree on what we want from it, we can probably work towards it. I don’t think we’ll always agree but if we can at least agree on a shared vision it will help a lot.”

Resources and people mentioned:

  • Book Smart Urbanism by Simon Marvin, Colin McFarlane and Andres Luque-Ayala et. al. 
  • Marcus Foth, of Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane.
  • Simon Marvin of Sheffield University
  • Ayona Datta of King’s University London.
  • Orla Soderstrom of the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland
  • Diganta Das from the University of Singapore
  • Alessandro Aurigi at Plymouth University in Britain
  • Vanessa Watson, University of Cape Town

Connect with Nancy:

Connect with Nancy via her Academic webpage at

or on Twitter @NancyO_UCT

Connect with Zoe:

Connect with me via email:

Connect via Twitter and Facebook @smartcitypod

Podcast Production by Ellen Ronalds Keene

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My Smart Community offers consulting and media services with a focus on making our communities more accessible, liveable and sustainable for all. We have a focus on Smart Mobility, Smart project management, Smart technology in regional communities, dealing with disruption and facilitating genuine collaboration. As well as podcast production, communication and media advisory and engagement, keynote speaking, moderating, master of ceremonies and workshop design and facilitation.

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