Online engagement helps envision crowdsourced smart cities

In the emerging trend of community-based smart initiatives, Tooran Alizadeh envisions a crowdsourced smart city.

Driven by democratic decision making, transparency and public participation, Alizadeh’s vision offsets the usual techno-centric corporate-focus of the contemporary changing city outlined in her recent article, Crowdsourced Smart Cities versus Corporate Smart Cities.   

To date, argues Alizadeh, concepts of the smart city assume that digital corporations hold the skills, solutions and power to solve complex problems besmirching the changing urban landscape. Here, citizens need to be integrated into a smart city project and cultivated in the merits and potential of ‘smartness’. Indeed, such corporate vision pivots on a commercial agenda of the smart city, echoed in the growing corporatization of the urban landscape and the privatisation of public space, finds Alizadeh.

Citizen engagement is central to Alizadeh’s counter-vision of crowdsourced smart cities, where participatory technologies bring community priorities and knowledge to decision makers.

In imagining the citizen-centric smart city, urban governments harness the potential of online engagement and crowdsourcing to reveal solutions for pernicious problems and foster social capital. Giving citizens a meaningful say in shaping their habitat – and their future – the crowdsourced smart city transfers power from corporate players, empowering citizens to bring knowledge and skills to urban visioning. This citizen-led approach supports local governments in ensuring that strategic investments and smart initiatives bring better value and equitable benefits.

Alizadeh outlines five shared attributes of citizen-centric smart city initiatives:

  1. A bottom-up approach sustained by social inclusion and participatory technologies where power rests with communities rather than commercial interests.
  2. Public-private partnerships shaped by participatory governance over entrepreneurial governance.
  3. Seek to understand problems before enacting technological solutions; respond to unique cultures, capacities, political economies, histories of a city.
  4. Lean towards the ‘open access’ movement.
  5. Existing in an introductory, developing phase or seed form.

Alizadeh suggests that urban governments could activate this shift by tapping into underutilised urban data and passive crowdsourcing to evaluate existing projects and respond to priorities and needs that arise.  

Tooran Alizadeh is Senior Lecturer and Director of Urban Design at The University of Sydney.

Photo: Hugh Han/Unsplash

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