People-Centered Planning for Smart Cities: Exploring the Use of Smart Cities Technologies in Efforts to Engage the Public

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French, Emma
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City planners will doubtless play a significant role in the design and implementation of smart city projects. In a 2015 report on Smart Cities and Sustainability the American Planning Association (APA) purported that smart city technologies (SCTs) will aid planners by creating more avenues for community participation in policy and planning processes (APA 2015). In reality, it is likely that these smart city technologies (SCTs) will disproportionately benefit communities that already have the resources and skills to engage in planning and policy-making processes. This study challenges the claim that smart cities will enable greater public participation by investigating the use of SCTs in efforts to engage the public in three planning efforts conducted in the Proctor Creek Watershed in West Atlanta. The findings show that use of SCTs is uneven among different stakeholder types and that perceptions about the impact of these technologies on enabling the public to engage in planning processes do not necessarily correspond with use. While use of SCTs was found to be uneven, community residents who participated in planning efforts reported that the use of certain technologies increased their understanding of the issues and their trust in the professional planners. These community participants expressed a strong desire to understand the data and technology being used in the planning process so that they could use those tools to advocate for their own community needs. As investment in smart cities grows, professional planners need to advocate for equitable development and deployment of new services and technologies to ensure that disadvantaged communities are not further disenfranchised by this new wave of automation. City and regional planners need to remain mindful of the context in which, and the audience for whom, they are planning. Further research is needed to better understand the how to plan for and develop smart cities that improve quality of life for everyone.
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