Community-Centered Urban Sensing: Smart Engaged Planning and Design in a Dysfunctional Urban Context

Community-Centered Urban Sensing: Smart Engaged Planning and Design in a Dysfunctional Urban Context

Andrew Mondschein (University of Virginia, Charlottesville, USA), Zihao Zhang (University of Virginia, Charlottesville, USA) and Mona El Khafif (University of Virginia, Charlottesville, USA)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/IJEPR.2019100101

Abstract

The authors examine the problem of integrating urban sensing into engaged planning. The authors ask whether enhanced urban data and analysis can enhance resident engagement in planning and design, rather than hinder it, even when current urban planning and design practices are dysfunctional. The authors assess the outcomes of a planning and design effort in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA. Community-Centered Urban Sensing is a participatory urban sensing initiative developed by urban planners and designers, architects, landscape architects, and technologists at the University of Virginia to address the need for actionable information on the urban environment through community-engaged urban data collection and analysis. These findings address how technological urbanism moves from data to action, as well as its potential for marginalization. Finally, the authors discuss a conceptualization of smart and engaged planning that accounts for urban dysfunction. The smart cities paradigm should encompass modes and methods that function even when local urban systems are dysfunctional.
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Introduction

The emergence of the “smart cities” paradigm of urbanization has amplified the longstanding tension between democracy and technocracy in planning. The promise of new infrastructures, data, and analytics to address urban problems is tempered by the possibility that these systems might reduce individual and community choice, be implemented inequitably, or consume public funds better used directly in communities (Vanolo, 2014; Yates, 2017). The rise of smart cities has been paralleled by an increased interest in engaged planning that empowers communities, valuing local input and control over urban investment and design (Lydon & Garcia, 2015; Wilson, 2018). In cities with significant resources and high levels of consensus or cohesion, smart and engaged outcomes may readily emerge. However, most cities around the globe lack either the resources or the cohesion to expect that urban innovation will be readily implemented without conflict over objectives and equity. Economically distressed large cities, as well as small cities, towns, and rural areas often lack resources for technology investments, and locales of all sizes may face stresses on social cohesion and civic decisionmaking. Given this challenge, we examine the problem of integrating urban sensing, a major element of smart cities, into an engaged planning process. We ask how local residents can contribute to an equitable technology-driven environmental planning and design process at multiple points in that process: in the formulation of concerns, in the design of the technology, in the collection of quantitative and qualitative data, and ultimately in decisionmaking and action. In particular, we emphasize how a technology-driven process might be modified in the face of social and civic dysfunction.

In order to address this question, we describe and assess the outcomes of a planning and design effort in the City of Charlottesville, Virginia in the United States. Charlottesville, a small city in the Southern United States hosting a large public university, seeks to both adopt new, technologically-driven planning methods while also addressing longstanding inequities between city and university, black and white, and wealthy and low-income residents. Community-Centered Urban Sensing (CCUS) is a participatory urban sensing initiative developed by a team of urban planners and designers, architects, landscape architects, and information technologists at the University of Virginia that seeks to address the need for actionable information on the urban environment through community-engaged urban data collection and analysis. The outcomes of the CCUS program, considered in the context of Charlottesville’s existing urban planning and political regime, serve as the basis for our findings.

In the paper, we begin with a review of key concepts and precedents from the literature, including smart cities and urban governance, as well as modes of participation in urban sensing. We then describe the CCUS program and present the engagement process and community response to CCUS as a case study. Our findings address challenges in how technological urbanism moves from data to action, as well as the potential for increased marginalization of some populations. Building on outcomes in Charlottesville and prior research, we discuss a conceptualization of smart and engaged planning and design that accounts for urban dysfunction and recommend modes of engagement in technological urbanism that vary from oppositional and insurgent to systematic and administrative. If new urban technologies are to become more than top-down interventions solely for well-off and well-managed cities, then the smart cities paradigm must expand to encompass modes and methods that function even when local urban systems are dysfunctional.

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