Community Mesh Networks: Citizens' Participation in the Deployment of Smart Cities

Community Mesh Networks: Citizens' Participation in the Deployment of Smart Cities

Primavera De Filippi (Université Paris II, France & Harvard, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8282-5.ch014
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Abstract

Smart cities embed information and communication technologies (ICT) to create interactive milieus that constitute a bridge between the physical and the digital world. In their attempt to improve citizens' quality of life through a more efficient use and sustainability of resources, smart cities might, however, also raise important concerns as regards the privacy and confidentiality of personal data flows. Insofar as the design of a city's telecommunication infrastructure is likely to affect the nature of social dynamics and human interactions, it should, ideally, be achieved through a coordinated, citizen-centric approach combining integrated ICTs with active citizen participation and intelligent physical, digital and informational resource management. This chapter analyzes the case of community mesh networks as an example of grassroots decentralized communication infrastructures, whose architecture design has important implications for the deployment and configuration of smart cities.
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Introduction

Smart cities aim to promote economic development, sustainability, efficiency and greater quality of life (QoL) by using modern digital assets and mobile communication technologies to provide new and innovative services directed towards fulfilling existing and emergent citizens’ needs by encouraging participatory action and civil engagement (Caragliu et al., 2009). As such, the deployment of smart cities is a complicated task that involves many multi-faceted issues, comprising questions such as environmental and infrastructural design, community living, and individual mobility. Many different stakeholders are involved in the process of turning a city into a smart city, yet the ultimate beneficiary is (or should be) the citizen. Thus, in order to succeed, this process should, ideally, put citizens at the center of the analysis, considering them an agent rather than a mere target (Nam & Pardo, 2011).

After providing a general overview of the traditional approach to smart city deployment, this chapter analyses the arguments behind the severe criticism which smart cities have recently been subject to. On the one hand, there is growing mistrust towards a purely technologically-driven approach to smart cities, which tend to be treated as an end per se, rather than as a means of providing better services and greater QoL for their citizens. Rather than looking at the consequences that technology might have on the social dynamics and perceived interests of people inhabiting the city, the focus is often excessively geared towards improving the technical infrastructure of the city, whose inhabitants are mainly treated as passive users rather than pro-active citizens (Humphries, 2013). On the other hand, the data-driven character of many smart cities – collecting personal information about citizens’ habits, lifestyles, and keeping track of their daily behaviors – raises important concerns as regards the privacy and confidentiality of personal data. To the extent that such data is collected, stored and processed by third party operators, citizens lose control over their own personal data, which may be used for secondary purposes without the consent of the data subject (Martinez-Balleste et al., 2013).

In this context, the first run of experiments with smart city deployment (for example, see the various initiatives in Tokyo, London, New York and Barcelona, Singapore’s Intelligent Transport System, Dubai’s Internet City project, and more recently, South Korea’s Ubiquitous-City project turning the city of Incheon into the world’s largest and most hi-tech smart city) has shown that a socially-oriented design for urban development is a critical requirement that could lead to dangerous outcomes if not properly implemented. Indeed, if the needs of citizens are not properly taken into account in the development of smart cities, the outcome is likely to be an environment that actually alienates citizens who do not recognize or understand (and sometimes simply do not agree with) the new value propositions that are being offered to them through the smart city infrastructure. Given the growing impact that technology is having on our everyday life, there is today a growing need to implement smart cities through a more grassroots, citizen-centric approach.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Smart Cities: Smart cities embed information and communication technologies (ICT) to create interactive environments that constitute a bridge between the physical and the digital world. People interact with these environments by means of physical artifacts (sensors, smart devices, etc) powered by the computational power of the network to which they are connected. In their attempt to increase the quality of life through a more efficient use and sustainability of resources, smart cities raise, however, important concerns as regards the privacy and confidentiality of personal data flows.

Cloud Computing: Cloud computing refers to a distributed infrastructure that is made of a collection of interconnected computers, whose resources are pooled together into a virtual machine that maintains and manages itself. As opposed to other distributed architectures, the particularity of cloud computing is that the architecture is completely independent from the physical infrastructure it relies upon. This allows for extreme flexibility, as resources can be dynamically added or removed according to actual needs.

Information or Data Security: In computing, security is commonly described as the conjunction of three major properties: information confidentiality (the fact that only authorized entities can access a piece of information), integrity (the fact that a piece of information cannot be unduly modified) and availability (the fact that authorized entities are not prevented from accessing a piece of information). In order to ensure these properties, various types of properties and technical tools may be used, such as authentication, authorization, non-repudiability, encryption, cryptographic signature, etc.

Mesh Networks: Mesh networks are decentralized network infrastructures that rely on a distributed and loosely coordinated network of peers contributing their own resources to the network so as to provide Internet connectivity to a specific community without relying on any pre-existing network infrastructure. They are more robust than traditional centralized networks, in that they can dynamically adapt to changes in their surroundings and automatically reconfigure themselves according to the current availability of resources.

Peer-to-Peer Networks: Peer-to-peer networks are decentralized network infrastructures that rely instead on a distributed system of communication based on a more symmetrical (non-hierarchical) model. As opposed to the traditional client-server approach to network communications, peer-to-peer network architectures rely on a network of peers that act both as clients and servers, depending on the circumstances.

Information or Data Privacy: The right to privacy refers to the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves, or information about themselves, and thereby express themselves selectively. Specifically, in line with the definition provided by the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, the right to privacy is to be distinguished from the fundamental right to data protection, which is more concerned with the manner in which personal data is being collected and processed.

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