Note — Apr 28, 2019

You’re Thinking About Smart Cities in Completely the Wrong Way

Seen in → No.77

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Francesca Bria, Barcelona’s dynamic chief technology officer, explains their thinking around smart cities for citizens, starting with four ways to “ensure that the future of cities remains bright, inclusive and democratic.” 1. Tech can help citizens solve problems without waiting for “remote bureaucracies” (big tech). 2. City leaders have to be humble and trust citizens to find answers with them, the bureaucrat of the future does not preach, s.he learns. 3. To re-establish trust, urban leaders have to make sure that citizens’ data is “not only safe but that it’s actually generating public, not just private, value.” 4. Leaders have to reconcile private, often short-term, preferences with longer term public good.

Bottom-up democracy inverts how our top-down cities are run: it promises to make cities people-first, not technology-first. Done properly, it will also enable new forms of solidarity and collective action – not just the perpetuation of the “solutionist” mindset that reduces all problems to the level of the individual user or consumer. […]

Cities should be proactive in setting up a system of digital rights, informed by a “privacy by design” approach, that will take any guesses out of the game: citizen data should not to be commercially exploited under any circumstances. Cities can become key agents in the transition from surveillance capitalism, where data ownership is opaque, to a model where data is a common good, co-owned by all citizens.