Smart city approaches in city planning have gained significant momentum in the recent past. While proponents argue that smart cities will bring positive social change by the adoption of ICTs, enriched governance and human capital among the citizenry, opponents point out about the negative effects and gaps exist in their planning and execution. Despite efforts to promote its practice, there has been wide criticism about the concept and the way it has been adopted and implemented. The roles of various players, especially the central role of the private sector, is often challenged in the academic literature. A variety of expectations from various stakeholders make the potential implementation strategies even more complex. The current paper reviews the research in the field to date to find that there are conflicting views in smart city planning, which limit our knowledge about the ‘real’ smart city and its implications for building creative and inclusive urban space. Such uncertainty at the conceptual level, and the heightened importance given by policy makers and markets to its adoption, highlights the need for proper scrutiny. The paper clusters the various views pertaining to the building of smart cities and, thereby, proposes a 3RC framework, consisting of Restrictive, Reflective, Rationalistic and Critical schools, which critically analyses various stages in the development of the field. The overall aim of the paper is to understand how smart cities differ in their meanings, intentions and ‘offerings’.