Smart cities that make broad use of digital technologies have been touted as possible solutions for the population pressures faced by many cities in developing countries and may help meet the rising demand for services and infrastructure. Nevertheless, the high financial cost involved in infrastructure maintenance, the substantial size of the informal economies, and various governance challenges are curtailing government idealism regarding smart cities. This review examines the state of smart city development in developing countries, which includes understanding the conceptualisations, motivations, and unique drivers behind (and barriers to) smarty city development. A total of 56 studies were identified from a systematic literature review from an initial pool of 3928 social sciences literature identified from two academic databases. Data were analysed using thematic synthesis and thematic analysis. The review found that technology-enabled smart cities in developing countries can only be realised when concurrent socioeconomic, human, legal, and regulatory reforms are instituted. Governments need to step up their efforts to fulfil the basic infrastructure needs of citizens, raise more revenue, construct clear regulatory frameworks to mitigate the technological risks involved, develop human capital, ensure digital inclusivity, and promote environmental sustainability. A supportive ecosystem that encourages citizen participation, nurtures start-ups, and promotes public–private partnerships needs to be created to realise their smart city vision.
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