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ANR funded project

ORA-Chine Économie verte et Comprendre les dynamiques de la population (ORA-Chine)
Edition 2014


Smart eco-cities for a green economy a comparative study of Europe and China

Smart eco-cities for a green economy: a comparative study of Europe and China
A number of metropolis are involved in Smart cities initiaves in order to develop new use of advanced technologies and explore path of renewal for cities modes of gouvernance.

SMARTECO proposes to draw a first systematic comparative analysis of these intiatives in Europe and China in order to inform public and private actors involved.

Produce a first comparative analysis of SMART CITIES initiatives
SMART cities initiatives are developping in European and Chinese largest cities, but, to date, no systematic review and comparative analysis of them has been produced. In this project, our aim is to provide actors involved one first such study of the most significant experiments conducted in Europe and China, this is to identify a) the outcome of existing initiatives in terms of energetic, sustainable urban development b) the mechanisms of change that drive these transitions c) the best practices so far

A pulri-disciplinary approach to urban tranistions based on selected case studies
Our approach draws on the theory of socio-technical transitions developped by Geels and alii. It assumes that paradigm change in terms of economic development models come from societal innovations that are first developped locally -in niches - and then disseminate to the whole society when matured.

Our investigation thus, is particularly focusing on a) identifying niches in which promising experiments and innovations are produced b) the very mechanisms through which these societal innovations emerge c) the mechanisms leading to their generalisation and diffusion beyond the place where they have been elaborated.

Our research will then be based on systematic case comparisons, cases thoroughly selected for their potential to renew models of urban development and picked in Europe and China.

The study is deliberately trans-disciplinary (economics, sociology, urban studies, political sciences, geography) so as to take into consideration the different dimensions of urban transitions.


The expected outcome is a first systematic study of most prominent SMART CITIES initiatives in Europe and China in a comparative manner, as well as first conclusions as regards their ability to lead to sustainable urban development.


It is a first systematic and comparative study on this subject. Focus and perspectives regards private and public actors involved in SMART CITIES initiatives but equally the possible invention of new path for urban development for the future.

Scientific outputs and patents

A dozen of publications and communications are expected to result from this research, it includes participations in world-wide events such as UN World Urban Forum Summit and Wold Eco-cities summit.


CRM Toulouse (UMR 5303) Centre de Recherche en Managment (CRM), Toulouse

Economics, Renmin University of China School of Economics at Renmin University of China

Forst- und Umweltpolitik, Uni Freiburg Institut für Forst- und Umweltpolitik, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg

Geography, King's College London Department of Geography, King's College London

TU-Delft (NL) Technology, Policy & Managment, TU-Delft

ANR grant: 86 140 euros
Beginning and duration: avril 2015 - 36 mois

Submission abstract

Europe and China both face the challenges of climate change and associated environmental degradation, and of finding ways in which to promote economic transition away from carbon-intensive economic and consumption patterns, and towards a green economy. The city is where these challenges are centred, and where solutions have to be found: cities are both producers of environmental externalities, and the locations where the negative effects of climate change will be felt most acutely. A promising approach focuses on treating new and existing cities as 'experimental areas' where transitions to a green economy can be trialled. Eco-cities and smart cities have been proposed as potential solutions to the need for a green economy: they are seen as 'socio-technical experiments' which are potential drivers for local, national and international environmental socio-economic change and transition.

Both China and several European countries are actively engaged in planning and building experimental cities focused on the green economy. Many of these projects combine elements of eco-city planning (focusing on the visible 'hardware' of environmental sustainability: planning, architecture, renewable energy and smart grid technologies, etc.), with 'smart city' planning (focusing is on 'software': information systems, social capital, knowledge transfer, etc.). We propose analysis of what we call 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 transfer and learning).

The aim of this project is to provide the first systematic comparative analysis of green economy-focused eco-city projects 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' projects that can promote the growth of the green economy.
The research addresses key issues: a.) how experimental cities have fared in terms of promoting successful transitions to a green economy in Europe and China since 2000; b.) how to evaluate success in smart eco-city initiatives; c.) what are the main obstacles to successful projects d.) what generalizable lessons can be drawn from successful smart eco-cities, in socio-economic and policy terms; e.) how knowledge can be effectively shared across the context of European and Chinese urban-economic policymaking for smart eco-cities.

In order to address these crucial issues our team will carry out international, interdisciplinary multi-method research which will include a total of eight in-depth smart eco-city case studies in China, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, and France. This will involve documentary research as well as interviews with European and Chinese policymakers, businesspeople, financiers, local communities and other stakeholders. The project will also involve research aimed at building the first qualitative-quantitative database of smart eco-city projects: this will form the backbone of our policy toolkit and will be a state-of-the-art contribution to current knowledge on smart- and eco-city planning and policy.

Our expected outcomes are: 1.) the first systematic comparative study of smart eco-city projects in Europe and China; 2.) the identification of criteria for the success of experimental city projects in stimulating the emergence and growth of the green economy; 3.) a true interdisciplinary partnership between China and Europe in the generation of new knowledge and data; 4.) the generation of new theory in the field of transition theory; and 5.) policy toolkits of use for beneficiaries involved in contemporary experimental smart eco-city projects.


ANR Programme: ORA-Chine Économie verte et Comprendre les dynamiques de la population (ORA-Chine) 2014

Project ID: ANR-14-ORAR-0003

Project coordinator:
Monsieur Eric JOLIVET (Centre de Recherche en Managment (CRM), Toulouse)

Project web site:


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The project coordinator is the author of this abstract and is therefore responsible for the content of the summary. The ANR disclaims all responsibility in connection with its content.