Smart Sustainable Cities White Paper – Contributions [07]

Associate Professor Dr Aleksandra Stupar

University of Belgrade, Serbia – Faculty of Architecture



ICT networks and their effect on the contemporary urban life has been one of the main topics of urban studies for more than a decade. Acting in a mode of an important social medium, ICT has been influencing the ways we perceive space and time, simultaneously enabling both active and passive participation of users in the process of spatial consumption, city management and urban planning/design, contributing interactive criticism and decision making.

At first, the process of ICT development targeted the issue of low-cost internet access which would provide free connectivity of/within communities, both at home and work (Loader and Keeble, 2004). The relationship between cities, citizens and ICT networks has been further upgraded, stimulating the areas of design and efficient application of ICT in communities. Aiming at the areas of civic engagement (Pigg, 2001), ICT has supported a sustainable social, cultural and economic urban development, allowing interaction in both physical and virtual realm. The digital form enables better (and instant) detection of changes, increases the efficiency of data transmission and analyses, and provides a better understanding of processes, their potentials and setbacks. Therefore, the modern technologies directly influence the ability of cities to be resource-efficient and environmentally friendly. Information networks support communication and cooperation between all levels of governance and stakeholders, which is very important for raising awareness (Kousky and Schneider, 2003), identification of potential climate risks and adaptation priorities (Bulkeley, 2010), management of complex ecosystems (Bodin and Crona, 2009) and implementation of collaborative planning (Healey, 2006). Information flows reinforce formal and informal social networks, especially on a local level. The use of readily-available technologies and real-time systems for information transparency, monitoring and decision-making is increasing, and this process creates a promising setting for new trends of environmental responsibility, eco-oriented economic development, energy efficiency and community support. Connecting social, technological and natural systems, while targeting sectors of services, mobility and government, ICT provides an additional tool for contemporary activities and influences built environment and society via different media, systems, tools, gadgets and applications able to detect, collect, analyze and process different kinds of data.

The Smart City paradigm, frequently used by researchers and urban governments, represents an outcome of emerging digital trends in cities and a possible channel for smarter ways of urban management and development. Referring to an urban setting which uses ICT for improving the efficiency of urban systems and/or for ensuring community empowerment and participation, a smart city should be based on environmental, social and economic sustainability. Consequently,  various definitions underline its different features – e.g. economical development and general progress (Giffinger at al., 2007; Pike Research, 2011; Kitchin, 2014), connectivity and integration between different infrastructural levels (Harrison at al., 2010; Nam and Pardo, 2011), or the community role and its ability to use e-governance in order to ensure social cohesion, empowerment and participation in urban life (Caragliu et al., 2011; Winters, 2011).

Smart government could be applied both on local and regional level. Its bottom-up approach to implementation process is important for local communities, while city governments remain in charge of large-scale projects and interventions in sensitive urban areas. However, the implementation of the smart-city guidelines is not an easy task since it requires both human and financial resources, whose synergy should stir up innovative potential and knowledge transfer, raise the awareness of sustainable growth and ensure the overall, environmentally-friendly wellbeing. Consequently, contemporary cities use ICT networks in a number of smart projects focused on technologically and environmentally advancement, smart electric grids or public transportation networks, and all of them influence the level of urban ‘smartness’ achieved via smart economy, smart citizens, smart city government, smart mobility, smart environment and smart living (Giffinger et al, 2007). One of preferred possibilities is the ‘open model’ of governance which should provide easily accessible information networks with open data, as well as their visualization. Although it needs appropriate technical support (e.g. readily-available technologies, real-time systems based on e-networks, platforms etc.), it enables the simulation of governing/management process, the participation of citizens and good connectivity on a general level of governance (CAICT, 2014). Providing better accessibility to all urban services and for all groups of users, it immediately detects changes, while efficient transmission and processing of data creates an accurate report and reaction to all modifications and threats to urban systems.

The implementation of ICT has influenced the process of public participation, too. For example, a synchronized participation of citizens and government in the planning process should generate three democratic values – legitimacy, effectiveness, and justice (Fung, 2006). However, the problems related to the involvement of representatives of all citizens, relevant inputs and ability of citizens to join the process are still present and mostly unsolved. The engagement of three main categories of participants – the professionals, the decision makers and the public, is usually  structured around activities aiming to inform, consult, involve, collaborate and empower each group of participants, but the highest efficiency is achieved on local and regional levels. The contemporary technology enables improvement of traditional methods of public participation but it highly depends on citizens’ motivation, the availability of necessary information, as well as on the obtained skills of all participants to formulate and express opinions and suggestions on key issues. Consequently, the electronic transparency might increase the accessibility of information, provide different possibilities for training and education of the public, and ensure continuous and interactive participation, representing a complementary tool in the planning and governing process which increases the efficiency of interaction.

In theory, e-participation facilitates cyber-democracy and enables creation and functioning of virtual democratic communities. Supporting interaction via digital interfaces and tools, ICT shapes on-line meeting places which might represent an improvement of democratic participation, a testing ground for anticipated changes, but also be used as another tool of political manipulation. Furthermore, the digital realm of contemporary cyberspace, although declaratively open and transparent, has its own system(s) of control and boundaries, which often has a boomerang effect both on users and the system’s security.

The ICT networks could be used in several ways targeting citizens’ awareness, sensing of urban environment and urban management, covering a number of urban problems related to environmental, social, technological and economic challenges (Stupar, Mihajlov, 2016). Digital gateways represent online resources of innovative approaches and cases based on new modes of communication. They increase visibility of world-wide knowledge and skills, providing mediation and transmission towards unknown recipients. These ‘gateways’ usually act as passive inductors of trends, with a low level of interactivity between their creators, administrators and users. Digital systems also serve in detecting environmental data (via sensors), making them broadly and immediately visible and available (via networks). Using two basic types of interfaces – personal (smart phones, notebooks, tablets etc.) and public (wi-fi nodes, urban touch-screens, info-beamers) citizens are able to have an insight into urban and natural resources, processes and activities influencing their attitude toward their environment. The interaction between ICT networks and urban systems is also present on the level of urban maintenance, management, quality or accessibility of infrastructure and activities, frequently encouraging the participation of users’, who are able to identify and report urban problems. ICT networks serve in various processes targeting urban efficiency – from transportation, energy and infrastructure, to food production/consumption and solid waste management. Oriented toward individuals, specific groups or municipal/regional/transnational systems they facilitate or complement management, supporting the smart governance of cities.

The expansion of e-networking, supported by recent trends of Open Network Environment, Internet of Things (IoT) or Cloud Computing, combined with the Open Data approach, Big Data challenge and emerging urban concepts, obviously has a significant impact on all urban processes. However, urban development, public participation and urban governance still have to achieve a sufficient level of interaction, activating a mutual communicative potential which would be able to overcome  a gap between intellectualization and action, providing a higher level of accessibility, development flexibility and usability for all interested parties.

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