Informed Librarian Online -- A Bit of Bytes --

Smart Cities

by Casandra Laskowski

Smart cities look to leverage technology to solve age-old infrastructure problems and improve services. They do so by employing internet-of-things (IoT) sensors to connect different systems to streamline processes gathering loads of data in the process. While this trend can improve experiences for some, others are being left behind as cities evolve.

A smart city is a term used broadly to cover cities that have a range of different technologies from traffic light sensors that adapt lights to environmental and road conditions to kiosks for public transit tickets and information centers. European cities were the first to employ these technologies, though other urban areas are catching up.

By limiting the people needed to run certain services, these services can be expanded to areas that have not been served before. However, smarts cities are choosing advancement over accessibility with some of the additions. It’s challenging to have ticket counters at every train or bus stop. Ticketing kiosks help expand sales so passengers can hitch a ride at any stop. However, when these kiosks use a touch screen, they can be difficult if not impossible for individuals with disabilities to use.

Privacy is another principal concern with smart city technologies. For IoT technologies to have a worthwhile impact, they need data. Some systems are only collecting data relevant to their purpose, like parking systems that track how and during what times the spaces are in highest use. Others gather additional data, like London’s recycling bin pilot where the bins tracked wifi signals of passing phones to provide targeted advertisements on the bins. 

It is important as a citizen to be aware of and involved in these decisions. As librarians, even more so. David Lee King spoke about libraries’ potential role in this emerging trend on his blog. He notes, rightfully so, that libraries can be valuable partners in these efforts both in acquisition decisions and best implementation practices. Learn what your local community is doing with these smart technology and see if your library can provide stewardship so that these advancements are made intelligently and inclusively.

Smart cities - a short reading list:

Teena Maddox, Smart cities: A cheat sheet, TechRepublic, July 16, 2018.

Elizabeth Woyke, Smart Cities Could be Lousy to Live in If You Have a Disability, MIT Technology Review, January 9, 2019.

Claudia Geib, Smart Cities May Be The Death of Privacy As We Know It, Futurism, November 7th 2017.

Copyright 2018 by Casandra Laskowski.

About the author: Casandra Laskowski is a Reference Librarian and Lecturing Fellow at Duke Law. She received her J.D. from the University of Maryland School of Law, and her M.L.I.S. from the University of Arizona. Prior to pursuing her career as a law librarian, she worked as a geospatial analyst in the United States Army and served a fifteen-month tour of duty in Iraq. Her areas of interest include privacy, censorship, and the intersection of national security and individual liberty.