If the Smart City is deemed the solution to increasing urbanisation, then it masks an abyss of hidden vulnerabilities for citizens. To-date, the optimism that surrounds the datafication of the urban landscape – the blind belief that technology makes things better – fails to address key questions around how it accommodates this urbanisation or, more significantly, how it will affect citizens and communities.
More recently, this is off-set by a cynicism that has emerged around the close data-monitoring of citizens. With intense forms of surveillance purporting to offer better services – improved safety, liveability and accessibility – the Smart City, it seems, comes at a high cost to its citizens.
A place where you can never disappear, it also triggers anxieties around privacy and control, where geo-social data and real-time analytics seem to displace citizen engagement. And, with technology surveilling the urban landscape, governments are increasingly working with the private sector producing knotty questions around transparency and control, particularly where priorities may differ. With the pace of change, too, social infrastructure seems out of step with digital infrastructure.
But, while it may seem easy to court antagonism, a sustained, positive discourse around public engagement with the Smart City is lacking. Shifting focus requires attentiveness to what, in fact, constitutes ‘citizens’ and ‘public engagement’.
Public engagement with the Smart City brings together researchers and engagement specialists across the globe to probe questions for twenty-first century citizens in an increasing sensor-laden environment.
In Innovative technologies trigger engaged citizenry: smart cities are engaging cities, Mark Dean provides an overview of recent academic literature and reveals the growing realisation that, from the outset, the Smart City must connect urban development policy to technology-based public engagement. Dean surveys city-as-platform, living labs, geofencing and digital infrastructure in European contexts, exploring citizen awareness – and motivation – to interact with smart city innovations.
Following this, Dean’s A Digital Right to the City: who defines democracy in smart cities? vaults issues of privacy to the forefront and asks, how we can ensure technology enhances democracy? How do we guarantee the privacy and security of citizens, when the rush to utilise smart city solutions can lead to the neglect of citizens’ rights?
Couched in the rhetoric of improvement, optimisation and convenience, the Smart City also raises critical questions: what does a citizen-led approach look like? and, what does the Smart City look like for vulnerable peoples? Researchers at the Netherlands-based Centre for Big Open and Linked Data examine empirical dimensions of big data in cities. Testing public engagement through ‘action research’ in ‘Seeing more than you think’: a ‘data walk’ in the Smart City, the authors explore pressing questions around citizen inclusion, where the citizen-focused approach provides deeper insights into citizen experience. How can people, literally,
see what is going on with big data? Raising awareness, however, reveals a bigger challenge – to reconstruct datafication as a social issue rather than an individual responsibility.
In conclusion, engagement consultant Alec Walker-Love addresses a recurrent flaw in smart city projects: the lack of a definition of ‘citizen engagement’. In Citizen engagement in urban transformation: smart cities, smart citizens, but smart projects? he asks if it’s possible to create a project to engage and excite citizens. Like Walker-Love’s take on smart cities, the originality of the analyses presented here lies in the recurring theme – what is a ‘citizen’? And, how do we define ‘public engagement’ in – and with – the Smart City?