Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-7635

Article | Open Access

Digital Rights to the City: Local Practices and Negotiations of Urban Space on Decidim

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Abstract:  The organization, management, and production of urban space through digital information and communication technologies have become a central means for governing urban life. To overcome a lack of citizen-centered practices in today’s smart cities, governments and municipalities institutionalize citizen-centered digital infrastructures such as Decidim, a digital infrastructure proposing non-corporate, decentralized, and collaborative forms of digital production to evoke participatory governance practices and ultimately social transformation (Barandiaran et al., 2018). Swiss city administrations have adapted the Decidim platform for participatory budgeting processes and city-wide participation platforms since 2019. This article explores the process of institutional adoption, focusing on how the use of Decidim impacts local practices and negotiations for governing urban space. The examination of the Decidim platform in the Swiss cities of Zurich and Lucerne will be framed by re-conceptualizing Lefebvre’s right to the city in the age of digital transformation. The findings show that for a successful introduction of the Decidim platform based on principles of the right to the city (a) local needs for a new digital democratic instrument need to be pre-existent, (b) government employees must implement a scope of action which allows organized civil society and grassroots initiatives to appropriate the infrastructure for their own purposes, and (c) local practices of hybrid communication and organizing must be aligned with the structure of the platform. Nevertheless, digital participation tools such as Decidim cannot solve entrenched inequalities such as the financialization of land, the issue of disadvantaged neighborhoods, or the absence of voting rights for certain communities. Therefore, city administrations need to integrate hybrid participation strategies which prioritise collective power over distributive power as well as tackle urban inequalities through political means.

Keywords:  civic technology; Decidim; neighborhood governance; smart city; Switzerland; urban development



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© Aline Suter, Lars Kaiser, Martin Dušek, Florin Hasler, Simone Tappert. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.