A Smart City Remembers Its Past: Citizens as Sensors in Survey and Mapping of Historic Places

A Smart City Remembers Its Past: Citizens as Sensors in Survey and Mapping of Historic Places

Jennifer Minner (Cornell University, USA), Andrea Roberts (Texas A&M University, USA), Michael Holleran (University of Texas at Austin, USA) and Joshua Conrad (University of Texas at Austin, USA)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 35
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5999-3.ch004
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Integral to some conceptualizations of the “smart city” is the adoption of web-based technology to support civic engagement and improve information systems for local government decision support. Yet there is little to no literature on the “smartness” of gathering information about historic places within municipal information systems. This chapter provides three case studies of technologically augmented planning processes that incorporated citizens as sensors of data about historic places. The first case study is of SurveyLA, a massive effort of the city of Los Angeles to comprehensively survey over 880,000 parcels for historic resources. A second case study involves Motor City Mapping, an effort to identify the condition of buildings in Detroit, Michigan and a parallel historical survey conducted by volunteers. In Austin, Texas, a university-based research team designed a municipal web tool called the Austin Historical Survey Wiki. This chapter offers insights into these prior efforts to augment planning processes with “digitized memory,” web-based technology, and public engagement.
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Local governments around the world aspire to be ‘smart cities’ where information and communication technologies are applied in innovative ways to increase the efficacy of municipal services in a quest for more efficient, and, in some cases more equitable city (Albino, Berardi, & Dangelico, 2015; Fietkiewicz, Mainka, & Stock, 2016; Glasmeier & Christopherson, 2015; Townsend, 2013). Although the rhetoric of smart cities appears to reach beyond volunteered geographic information and Web 2.0 to autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, and robotics (Batty, 2017; Dia, 2017), web-based planning support technologies remain a central vision of ‘smartness’ (Afzalan, Sanchez, & Evans-Cowley, 2017). Web infrastructure for technology-augmented planning processes, include the use of social media, crowdsourcing platforms, and web-based geographic information systems (GIS) for urban planning and public administration (Townsend, 2013; Evans-Cowley & Hollander, 2010; Seltzer & Mahmoudi, 2013; Gordon & de Souza e Silva, 2011). The aim of many of these efforts is to enhance municipal decision-making by incorporating volunteered time, perspectives, and knowledge.

Some municipal historic preservation programs have expanded the use of digital technologies to serve preservation and urban planning. An example is the award-winning, multi-million-dollar effort of the City of Los Angeles to survey historic resources citywide, including development of specialized GIS tools, a web presence for public outreach and data collection, and a robust public engagement plan to accomplish it (Bernstein, Sun, & Sucre, 2009; (Bernstein & Hansen, 2016; City of Los Angeles, 2017). In Detroit, Michigan, Motor City Mapping and a related effort among preservationists to survey for historic places aimed to provide information for a city losing building stock to decades of population decline and disinvestment (Scola, 2014; Evans, 2014).

In Austin, Texas, a university-based research team created The Austin Historical Survey Wiki (referred to throughout this chapter as the Wiki) as municipal web infrastructure to maintain a cumulative database of historic resources that is open to public contributions. Through this web-based tool, historic resources were intended to be surveyed, documented, and maintained over time by a combination of municipal officials, professional preservationists, and interested members of the public. The Wiki was inspired by visions of advancing municipal decision-making and urban planning. The effort was based on the conviction that public participation, online or otherwise, can give governments a firmer basis for making decisions that are more defensible, representative, and potentially more equitable, because they arise from pluralistic, democratic processes (Habermas & McCarthy, 1985). The project also originated out of a pragmatic need for timely information about historic resources to serve the City of Austin’s long range planning and regulatory functions, which includes drafting land use plans, designation of historic landmarks and historic districts, and review of demolition and remodeling permits.

This book chapter considers these three cases of city-wide survey efforts along with the idea of citizens as sensors (Goodchild, 2007) for capturing geographic information and local knowledge about valued places, especially those that can be described as ‘historic’. Here it should be noted that when we as authors use the term “citizens,” we refer generally to members of the public as distinguished from local government officials or professionals.

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