People make technology. Technology, in turn, influences our lives, our societies, and even our ethics. Which decisions may be taken by algorithms instead of by humans? The data collected by sensors in our streets, to whom does it belong? Do we entrust the care of our elderly to robots? These questions concern all of us. The development of new technologies therefore cannot be left to engineers and managers. New technology requires public debate and democratic control.
All over Europe, municipalities want to become ‘smart cities’, front-runners in the use of big data and smart information technology. These technologies observe, decide, and act with a certain degree of autonomy: from sensors, to algorithms, to robots. Local politicians might find it hard to keep up to speed with the technologies deployed in and by their city, let alone to weigh the pros and cons before the technological innovations are actually developed and implemented.
Smart technologies offer opportunities for improving the quality of life in cities, for reducing their ecological footprint, and for creating new urban commons. But they may also present threats to civil liberties and to social justice, especially where smart city solutions are pushed by big tech companies. The smart city should not be an end in itself. A smart city is only really smart if data collection and artificial intelligence are steered by values.
This Charter for the Smart City puts the values of democracy, connectedness, human dignity, privacy, sustainability, and equality at the heart of smart cities. Local politicians and active citizens who share these values may use the principles in this Charter as starting points for democratic debate and informed moral judgement on technological innovations in their communities.
The Charter was developed in 2019 through a series of roundtables in various European cities, from Brno to Oslo, as well as an online consultation. The drafters of the Charter would like to express their gratitude to the hundred-plus experts, (local) politicians and activists who have shared their ideas. If this Charter brings some wisdom to the smart city, it is thanks to their contributions.
Click on a principle to read the explanation.
A. Democratising the development of technology
1. Ensure public debate and democratic governance, as technology influences who we are and how we live together. Enshrine public values in the design requirements of technology.
2. Promote the involvement of all stakeholders in the development and implementation of technology. Innovations must take the values and needs of users into account.
3. Invest in technological citizenship. Work together with citizens and create space for experiments.
4. Anticipate the unforeseen consequences of technology. Call upon the imagination of scientists, philosophers, and artists. Take responsibility.
5. Let knowledge be free. Do not lock technology up in patents. Use open standards and free open source software.
B. Technology in service of democracy and fundamental rights
6. Prioritise technology that connects people. Nurture dialogue.
7. Let technology contribute to a vital democratic culture. Protect citizens against manipulation.
8. Protect privacy and personal information. Give citizens control over their data and prevent class injustice.
9. Share data that is not traceable to a person. Such data is a public commons. Keep in mind that not all knowledge can be captured in hard data.
10. Take care that government ICT systems respect the principles of good administration. Introduce the right to the central rectification of data.
11. Set limits to decision-making by algorithms and ensure human control. Have algorithms checked for discriminatory bias, and comply with the duty to state reasons.
12. Work on a public digital infrastructure. Offer a platform to service providers, citizens' initiatives, and urban commons.
C. Technology in support of green and social values
13. Technology must contribute to sustainability. Use all policy tools to accelerate the deployment of green technology. Make sure our smart city is not someone else’s environmental disaster.
14. Organise resilience: avoid excessive dependence on digital systems, retain non-digital options, and invest in cybersecurity.
15. Create lively public spaces that invite movement and encounters, and where people are not constantly monitored.
16. Recognise the right to meaningful human contact. We cannot outsource the care for others to robots. Contact with citizens at the government office, both online and offline, must hold the potential to lead to changes in government decisions.
17. Combat the social and digital divide. Provide a basic digital service for people with few digital skills. Stand up for the rights of workers and for a fair distribution of income, wealth, and housing.
18. Promote a fair platform economy. Implement tailor-made policies to safeguard public values. Prioritise non-commercial platforms or create public platforms.
This project is organised by the Green European Foundation with the support of Wetenschappelijk Bureau GroenLinks (NL), Green Economics Institute (UK), Institute for Active Citizenship (CZ), Etopia (BE), Cooperation and Development Network Eastern Europe and with the financial support of the European Parliament to the Green European Foundation.
Follow this link to download the publication Organise! Object! Outsmart the Paradigm!, which offers an Eastern European perspective on smart cities.
You can order a free copy of these publications by sending an email request to email@example.com.