July 11, 2023: New Research Theme will Investigate the Future of Smart Cities

Image credit: Mathew Schwartz

In recent years, smart city technologies have transformed many major urban centres, including New York City, Seoul, and Singapore.  Smart cities and communities use sensors, cameras, mobile platforms, and other networked devices to gather data about an urban environment and its inhabitants.  These data can help city planners make informed decisions that directly fulfill the needs of communities, as highlighted by Infrastructure Canada. If used responsibly, smart cities may improve urban infrastructure—but stakeholders must invest in secure, reliable, ethical, and accurate sensing and AI technologies that do not violate the rights of citizens.

In January 2024, a new research theme will investigate the challenges and benefits that smart city technologies present. The theme, Interdisciplinary Research to Address Technical and Social Barriers in Smart Cities and Communities, is led by Western Fellows Ayan Sadhu (Civil and Environmental Engineering), Abdallah Shami (Electrical and Computing Engineering), and Anabel Quan-Haase (Faculty of Information and Media Studies, Sociology).

The topic is timely. For example, the City of London, Ontario has developed a data-driven strategy to address the challenge of chronic homelessness. Since 2020, caseworkers have had access to an AI tool that can predict the likelihood that someone will become houseless within the next six months. This tool highlights both the risks and assets of a data-driven approach to urban planning. Ideally, the model will provide community leaders with the information they need to make the best decisions about social programming and resource allocation; however, some argue that it could also lead to the excessive policing and surveillance of vulnerable populations. Critics have expressed similar concerns about smart city technologies.

This research theme will address such challenges by engaging with community organizations, industry leaders, and internationally renowned researchers including Visiting Fellows Jalel Ben-Othman (Université Sorbonne Paris Nord, L2S Lab), a leader in mobility management and traffic forecasting, and Katharine Willis (University of Plymouth), a leading Smart City researcher and member of the International Telecommunication Union, a specialized agency of the United Nations.

For more information, please contact Theme Leader Ayan Sadhu at asadhu@uwo.ca.