Carnegie Mellon University

Betchel 2018

December 05, 2018

Research Article: The smart city: challenges for the civil engineering sector

In The smart city: challenges for the civil engineer sector, Ellie Cosgrave, of the City Leadership Lab at Univ. College London, investigates the ways in which the engineering sector can implement digital technologies while maintaining an ethical and productive approach to intervention in cities.

The concept of the smart city has been rising for over a decade but what has been less understood is the distinct ways in which engineering, and particularly digital infrastructure, is related to and affects social, political and economic processes. Cosgrave’s introduction reveals two conflicting truths related to conceptualizing a new sense of possibility in cities. The first truth encapsulates our fixation with increasing efficiency and effectiveness while the second truth serves to remind us that there is currently no successful model (although some have tried) for understanding the uncertainty and messiness of a city. This complexity creates key challenges for the (civil) engineering community. As the boundaries of disciplines soften and cities become ever more complex, the way in which we choose problems are approached as cities must be reconsidered.

Without fully acknowledging the intricate sociopolitical context in which the ‘smart city’ is situated, engineers are at risk of not delivering on some of the biggest issues we face. These issues, such as unprecedented urbanism and climate change, are currently being tackled by engineers who seek to develop the technology to innovate and “while, of course, technical excellence and innovative design is imperative to creating healthy and functional cities, conceptualising the city only in this way is problematic.Cosgrave welcomes a smart city that shifts and challenges resource use paradigms rather than reinforcing them.

Implicit in current engineering practices are technological developments which are constantly evolving.  To read more about why smart city developments and implementations require further investigation on the ethical and sociopolitical contexts of how technology and digital approaches are used to solve problems in cities, check out the full research article.