Smart Cities & Living Labs

Bart van der Sloot

Smart Cities & Living Labs

Smart Cities and Living labs are increasingly used as real life laboratories in order to pave the way for the implementation of smart technology in the physical environment. A public environment that is embedded with sensors and equipped with cameras that are always ‘ON’ may transform our understanding of the public sphere. Living Labs and Smart Cities raise significant legal and ethical concerns because they transform an challenge valuable elements of the public sphere.

The Living Lab is a relatively new phenomenon that originated in the United States and has recently been introduced in Europe and the Netherlands. A Living Lab is a space - sometimes a city, sometimes a neighbourhood, sometimes a house - that has been designated as a zone of experimentation. Scientists, in collaboration with governments and companies, are allowed to conduct experiments in such an area on people in that area.


Such experiments generally aim to address social or societal problems, such as traffic congestion, social insecurity or energy consumption. This is done by collecting data about citizens, from which behavioural patterns are distilled. Based on data analytics, their behaviour is nudged in order to solve or mitigate the problems. This raises a number of ethical and legal questions. 

Download the article (in Dutch) here. 

I'm currently working on a bigger project in which I compare 'old' utopian projects (Plato, Moore, Campanella, etc.) with current utopian projects, especially those that make use of technology.

I compare different conceptualisations of freedom that underpin these utopian projects and assess the role privacy plays in these ideal places.

Although it is well known that in dystopias (1984, We, Brave New World), privacy is virtually absent, interestingly, this largely holds true for utopias as well.

Why is privacy absent in ideal places? is the key question I'm dealing with in this project. Hopefully, one day, this will become a book. 

This chapter explores the transformation of the public sphere by Smart Cities and Living Labs.
It exploresthis transformation by analysing three data-driven projects in cities around the world.
These projects raise significant legal and ethical concerns because they transform and challenge
valuable elements of the public sphere. The first section provides the reader with a theoretical
framework for this chapter by briefly describing features of a meaningful public sphere as
proposed by Jürgen Habermas and discussing the concepts of Living Labs and Smart Cities. In
section two, three and four, three cases are analysed, namely the smart nation project of
Singapore, Google’s Living Lab ‘Sidewalk’ in Toronto, Canada, and the Living Lab ‘Stratums
Eind 2.0’ in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. These cases will be used to revisit the concept of the
public sphere and its transformations as proposed by Jürgen Habermas. Smart Cities and Living Labs challenge important features of an open, neutral and democratic public sphere. The new public sphere is coming, or is it?

Download the draft chapter here, or buy the book here.

There is a trend to privatise public spaces in smart cities and living labs. Google, Microsoft and other technology companies sometimes 'own' certain parts of the city. The same is increasingly happening to private homes of citizens. People are offered free smart homes; in return, they agree to let these companies track their every movement in their house. 

Although obviously problematic for many reasons, privatisation of public spaces and private homes is neither unprecedented, nor problematic per sé. In this project, I'm comparing the privatisation in smart cities and smart homes with older forms, especially with famers living on the lands and in the houses owned by their lord and with the working class living in working class quarters, often wholly or partly financed by industrial companies were they worked. Many of these working class quarters were seen as luxurious and workers gladly lived there, even although this often came at the cost of their privacy. 

An article on this topic is work in progress. 

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