Smart Cities: Mapping their Ethical Implications


Paper by Marta Ziosi, Benjamin Hewitt, Prathm Juneja, Mariarosaria Taddeo, and Luciano Floridi: “This paper provides an overview of the various definitions and labels attached to the concept of smart cities in order to identify four dimensions that ground the analysis of ethical concerns emerging from the current debate. These are: (1) network infrastructure, with the corresponding concerns of control, surveillance, and data privacy and ownership; (2) post-political governance, embodied in the tensions between public and private decision-making and cities as post-political entities; (3) social inclusion, expressed in the aspects of citizen participation and inclusion, and inequality and discrimination; and (4) sustainability, with a specific focus on the environment as an element to protect but also as a strategic component for the future. Notwithstanding the persisting disagreements around the definition of a smart city, the article uses these four dimensions to analyse both the different types and conceptions of smart cities and the multiple aspects in which smart cities reinforce old and introduce new ethical problems…(More)

Using location data responsibly in cities and local government


Article by Ben Hawes: “City and local governments increasingly recognise the power of location data to help them deliver more and better services, exactly where and when they are needed. The use of this data is going to grow, with more pressure to manage resources and emerging challenges including responding to extreme weather events and other climate impacts.

But using location data to target and manage local services comes with risks to the equitable delivery of services, privacy and accountability. To make the best use of these growing data resources, city leaders and their teams need to understand those risks and address them, and to be able to explain their uses of data to citizens.

The Locus Charter, launched earlier this year, is a set of common principles to promote responsible practice when using location data. The Charter could be very valuable to local governments, to help them navigate the challenges and realise the rewards offered by data about the places they manage….

Compared to private companies, local public bodies already have special responsibilities to ensure transparency and fairness. New sources of data can help, but can also generate new questions. Local governments have generally been able to improve services as they learned more about the people they served. Now they must manage the risks of knowing too much about people, and acting intrusively. They can also risk distorting service provision because their data about people in places is uneven or unrepresentative.

Many city and local governments fully recognise that data-driven delivery comes with risks, and are developing specific local data ethics frameworks to guide their work. Some of these, like Kansas City’s, are specifically aimed at managing data privacy. Others cover broader uses of data, like Greater Manchester’s Declaration for Intelligent and Responsible Data Practice (DTPR). DTPR is an open source communication standard that helps people understand how data is being used in public places.

London is engaging citizens on an Emerging Technology Charter, to explore new and ethically charged questions around data. Govlab supports an AI Localism repository of actions taken by local decision-makers to address the use of AI within a city or community. The EU Sherpa programme (Shaping the Ethical Dimensions of Smart Information Systems) includes a smart cities strand, and has published a case-study on the Ethics of Using Smart City AI and Big Data.

Smart city applications make it potentially possible to collect data in many ways, for many purposes, but the technologies cannot answer questions about what is appropriate. In The Smart Enough City: Putting Technology in its Place to Reclaim Our Urban Future (2019), author Ben Green describes examples when some cities have failed and others succeeded in judging what smart applications should be used.

Attention to what constitutes ethical practice with location data can give additional help to leaders making that kind of judgement….(More)”

A City Is Not a Computer: Other Urban Intelligences


Book by Shannon Mattern: “Computational models of urbanism—smart cities that use data-driven planning and algorithmic administration—promise to deliver new urban efficiencies and conveniences. Yet these models limit our understanding of what we can know about a city. A City Is Not a Computer reveals how cities encompass myriad forms of local and indigenous intelligences and knowledge institutions, arguing that these resources are a vital supplement and corrective to increasingly prevalent algorithmic models.

Shannon Mattern begins by examining the ethical and ontological implications of urban technologies and computational models, discussing how they shape and in many cases profoundly limit our engagement with cities. She looks at the methods and underlying assumptions of data-driven urbanism, and demonstrates how the “city-as-computer” metaphor, which undergirds much of today’s urban policy and design, reduces place-based knowledge to information processing. Mattern then imagines how we might sustain institutions and infrastructures that constitute more diverse, open, inclusive urban forms. She shows how the public library functions as a steward of urban intelligence, and describes the scales of upkeep needed to sustain a city’s many moving parts, from spinning hard drives to bridge repairs.

Incorporating insights from urban studies, data science, and media and information studies, A City Is Not a Computer offers a visionary new approach to urban planning and design….(More)”.

Whose Streets? Our Streets!


Report by Rebecca Williams: “The extent to which “smart city” technology is altering our sense of freedom in public spaces deserves more attention if we want a democratic future. Democracy–the rule of the people–constitutes our collective self-determination and protects us against domination and abuse. Democracy requires safe spaces, or commons, for people to organically and spontaneously convene regardless of their background or position to campaign for their causes, discuss politics, and protest. In these commons, where anyone can take a stand and be noticed is where a notion of collective good can be developed and communicated. Public spaces, like our streets, parks, and squares, have historically played a significant role in the development of democracy. We should fight to preserve the freedoms intrinsic to our public spaces because they make democracy possible.

Last summer, approximately 15 to 26 million people participated in Black Lives Matter protests after the murder of George Floyd making it the largest mass movement in U.S. history. In June, the San Diego Police Department obtained footage of Black Lives Matter protesters from “smart streetlight” cameras, sparking shock and outrage from San Diego community members. These “smart streetlights” were promoted as part of citywide efforts to become a “smart city” to help with traffic control and air quality monitoring. Despite discoverable documentation about the streetlight’s capabilities and data policies on their website, including a data-sharing agreement about how they would share data with the police, the community had no expectation that the streetlights would be surveilling protestors. After media coverage and ongoing advocacy from the Transparent and Responsible Use of Surveillance Technology San Diego (TRUSTSD) coalition, the City Council, set aside the funding for the streetlights4 until a surveillance technology ordinance was considered and the Mayor ordered the 3,000+ streetlight cameras off. Due to the way power was supplied to the cameras, they remained on, but the city reported it no longer had access to the data it collected. In November, the City Council voted unanimously in favor of a surveillance ordinance and to establish a Privacy Advisory Board.In May, it was revealed that the San Diego Police Department had previously (in 2017) held back materials to Congress’ House Committee on Oversight and Reform about their use facial recognition technology. This story, with its mission creep and mishaps, is representative of a broader set of “smart city” cautionary trends that took place in the last year. These cautionary trends call us to question if our public spaces become places where one fears punishment, how will that affect collective action and political movements?

This report is an urgent warning of where we are headed if we maintain our current trajectory of augmenting our public space with trackers of all kinds. In this report, I outline how current “smart city” technologies can watch you. I argue that all “smart city” technology trends toward corporate and state surveillance and that if we don’t stop and blunt these trends now that totalitarianism, panopticonism, discrimination, privatization, and solutionism will challenge our democratic possibilities. This report examines these harms through cautionary trends supported by examples from this last year and provides 10 calls to action for advocates, legislatures, and technology companies to prevent these harms. If we act now, we can ensure the technology in our public spaces protect and promote democracy and that we do not continue down this path of an elite few tracking the many….(More)”

The Place of Local Government Law in the Urban Digital Age


Paper by Beatriz Botero Arcila: “A central theme of local government law scholarship is how local government law shapes urban policymaking. Local government law is the body of law that establishes the formal authority of cities and, as such, it creates the limited legal framework in which municipalities operate. Consequently, it shapes the potential economic development strategies of cities. In the digital economy, the rise of digital technology firms that provide urban services and services for city governments promises to entice local innovation and business opportunities and represent important economic development opportunities. Nevertheless, the implementation and deployment of these technologies in cities have also become regulatory challenges for cities and have raised important concerns about their potential to increase urban inequality and corporate power while entrenching surveillance in the city-fabric.

However, the literature that warns on these risks rarely addresses how the legal system and, in particular local government law, shapes the form of these technologies and creates incentives for local governments and the companies themselves to adopt, regulate and design these technologies in particular ways. This Essay presents an analysis of how local government law participates in shaping the present form of the urban digital information economy….(More)”.

Proposal for a European Interoperability Framework for Smart Cities and Communities (EIF4SCC) published


Article by Nóirín Ní Earcáin: “In recognition of the importance of interoperability and the specific challenges it presents in a city context, The Commission (DG DIGIT and DG CONNECT) appointed Deloitte and KU Leven to prepare a Proposal for a European Interoperability Framework for Smart Cities and Communities. While an EIF for eGovernment has been in place since 2010, this is the first time the concepts and ideas developed there have been adapted to the local context.

The aim of the EIF4SCC is to provide EU local administration leaders with definitions, principles, recommendations, practical use cases drawn from cities and communities from around Europe and beyond, and a common model to facilitate delivery of services to the public across domains, cities, regions and borders.

The framework was developed by building on and finding complementarities with previous and ongoing initiatives, such as the Living-in.EU movement, the 2017 European Interoperability Framework (EIF), the Minimal Interoperability Mechanisms (MIMs Plus) and the outcomes of EU funded initiatives (e.g.Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) Digital Building BlocksSmart Cities MarketplaceIntelligent Cities ChallengeDigital Transition Partnership under the Urban Agenda) and EU funded projects (SynchronicityTriangulum, etc.).

Why do cities and communities need interoperability?

The EIF4SCC is targeted at EU local administration leaders and aims to provide a generic framework of interoperability of all types, and how it can contribute to the development of a Smart(er) City/Community. This will pave the way for services for citizens and business to be offered not only in a single city, but also across cities, regions and across borders.

European Interoperability Framework for Smart Cities and Communities

The EIF4SCC includes three concepts (interoperability, smart city or community, EIF4SCC), five principles (drawing on the Living-in.EU declaration), and seven elements (consisting of the five components of interoperability, one cross-cutting layer – Integrated Service Governance, and a foundational layer of Interoperability Governance)….The European Commission encourages local administrations at regional, city and community level to review the Proposed EIF4SCC, and the accompanying Final Study Report which details the methodology, literature review, and stakeholder engagement process undertaken. It will be discussed through the Living-in.EU community and other fora, with a view to its adoption as an official Commission document, based on users’ and stakeholders’ feedback…(More)”.

Governing smart cities: policy benchmarks for ethical and responsible smart city development


Report by the World Economic Forum: “… provides a benchmark for cities looking to establish policies for ethical and responsible governance of their smart city programmes. It explores current practices relating to five foundational policies: ICT accessibility, privacy impact assessment, cyber accountability, digital infrastructure and open data. The findings are based on surveys and interviews with policy experts and city government officials from the Alliance’s 36 “Pioneer Cities”. The data and insights presented in the report come from an assessment of detailed policy elements rather than the high-level indicators often used in maturity frameworks….(More)”.

America’s ‘Smart City’ Didn’t Get Much Smarter


Article by Aarian Marshall: “In 2016, Columbus, Ohio, beat out 77 other small and midsize US cities for a pot of $50 million that was meant to reshape its future. The Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge was the first competition of its kind, conceived as a down payment to jump-start one city’s adaptation to the new technologies that were suddenly everywhere. Ride-hail companies like Uber and Lyft were ascendant, car-sharing companies like Car2Go were raising their national profile, and autonomous vehicles seemed to be right around the corner.

“Our proposed approach is revolutionary,” the city wrote in its winning grant proposal, which pledged to focus on projects to help the city’s most underserved neighborhoods. It laid out plans to experiment with Wi-Fi-enabled kiosks to help residents plan trips, apps to pay bus and ride-hail fares and find parking spots, autonomous shuttles, and sensor-connected trucks.

Five years later, the Smart City Challenge is over, but the revolution never arrived. According to the project’s final report, issued this month by the city’s Smart Columbus Program, the pandemic hit just as some projects were getting off the ground. Six kiosks placed around the city were used to plan just eight trips between July 2020 and March 2021. The company EasyMile launched autonomous shuttles in February 2020, carrying passengers at an average speed of 4 miles per hour. Fifteen days later, a sudden brake sent a rider to the hospital, pausing service. The truck project was canceled. Only 1,100 people downloaded an app, called Pivot, to plan and reserve trips on ride-hail vehicles, shared bikes and scooters, and public transit.

The discrepancy between the promise of whiz-bang technology and the reality in Columbus points to a shift away from tech as a silver bullet, and a newer wariness of the troubles that web-based applications can bring to IRL streets. The “smart city” was a hard-to-pin-down marketing term associated with urban optimism. Today, as citizens think more carefully about tech-enabled surveillance, the concept of a sensor in every home doesn’t look as shiny as it once did….(More)”.

Smart urban governance: an alternative to technocratic “smartness”


Paper by Huaxiong Jiang, Stan Geertman & Patrick Witte: “This paper argues for a specific urban planning perspective on smart governance that we call “smart urban governance,” which represents a move away from the technocratic way of governing cities often found in smart cities. A framework on smart urban governance is proposed on the basis of three intertwined key components, namely spatial, institutional, and technological components. To test the applicability of the framework, we conducted an international questionnaire survey on smart city projects. We then identified and discursively analyzed two smart city projects—Smart Nation Singapore and Helsinki Smart City—to illustrate how this framework works in practice. The questionnaire survey revealed that smart urban governance varies remarkably: As urban issues differ in different contexts, the governance modes and relevant ICT functionalities applied also differ considerably. Moreover, the case analysis indicates that a focus on substantive urban challenges helps to define appropriate modes of governance and develop dedicated technologies that can contribute to solving specific smart city challenges. The analyses of both cases highlight the importance of context (cultural, political, economic, etc.) in analyzing interactions between the components. In this, smart urban governance promotes a sociotechnical way of governing cities in the “smart” era by starting with the urban issue at stake, promoting demand-driven governance modes, and shaping technological intelligence more socially, given the specific context….(More)”.

The secret to building a smart city that’s antiracist


Article by Eliza McCullough: “….Instead of a smart city model that extracts from, surveils, and displaces poor people of color, we need a democratic model that allows community members to decide how technological infrastructure operates and to ensure the equitable distribution of benefits. Doing so will allow us to create cities defined by inclusion, shared ownership, and shared prosperity.

In 2016, Barcelona, for example, launched its Digital City Plan, which aims to empower residents with control of technology used in their communities. The document incorporates over 8,000 proposals from residents and includes plans for open source software, government ownership of all ICT infrastructure, and a pilot platform to help citizens maintain control over their personal data. As a result, the city now has free applications that allow residents to easily propose city development ideas, actively participate in city council meetings, and choose how their data is shared.

In the U.S., we need a framework for tech sovereignty that incorporates a racial equity approach: In a racist society, race neutrality facilitates continued exclusion and exploitation of people of color. Digital Justice Lab in Toronto illustrates one critical element of this kind of approach: access to information. In 2018, the organization gave community groups a series of grants to hold public events that shared resources and information about digital rights. Their collaborative approach intentionally focuses on the specific needs of people of color and other marginalized groups.

The turn toward intensified surveillance infrastructure in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak makes the need to adopt such practices all the more crucial. Democratic tech models that uplift marginalized populations provide us the chance to build a city that is just and open to everyone….(More)”.