Towards Smart Sustainable Cities: A Review of the Role Digital Citizen Participation Could Play in Advancing Social Sustainability

By Islam Bouzguenda*

It has been claimed that smart cities notion has to broaden its horizons beyond the fascination with technology to incorporate a holistic approach investing in the growth of human, social and environmental capitals to generate ‘smart sustainable cities’.

Cities around the world present very different conditions and challenges for sustainable development. Not only a broad spectrum of environmental issues, but also social issues. Responding to such challenges forced contemporary debate circles to consider what innovative solutions and advanced technology could potentially offer for planning sustainable cities. Consequently, the concept of Smart City has evolved.

In recent years, “the smart city model has been promoted as an ample instrument to manage aforementioned challenges” (Yigitcanlar, Kamruzzaman and Foth, et al. 2019, 349). However, smart cities today are seen as the hubs of technological innovation rather than cities of sustainable development (Yigitcanlar, Kamruzzaman and Buys, et al. 2018). Thus, leading to criticism expressed by practitioner and theorists. This twist in the current practice from the original rational of the concept along with rising impacts of global climate change resulted in the emphasize on the concept of “smart sustainable cities”.

In planning smart sustianble cities, Information Communication Technologies (ICT) plays a key role which includes supporting cities in the processess of planning, operating and managing urban systems and thus, contributing to sustainability (Bibri and Krogstie 2016). One of the most recent debate in this context is digital citizen participation (DCP), which has the potential of being a major contributor to the social sustainability of smart cities.

This study discusses the role community engagement practices have as one of the key components of social sustainability and acknowledges that the participation of the digital citizen is a key to the social sustainability of smart sustainable cities. Based on literature review and critical content analysis, this study provides an insight into what kind of relationship between sustainability and DCP is fostered in the literature and how ICT can contribute to the social sustainability of smart sustainable cities within the context of DCP.

In order to do so, this study is structured around four key related terms that are arranged in a hierarchy order moving from the broadest to the most precise. These terms are sustainability, social sustainability, community engagement and digital citizen participation.

This way of presenting the terms allows the researcher to bridge the gap between each two sequential terms by summarizing the links that are identified in the literature; and consequently fulfill the aims of this study. These terms create three review “Nodes” (Figure.1).

Imatge 1

Figure 1. The hierarchical order of the four related terms with the connected nodes that bridge sustainability and DCP

The results suggest a connection between smart sustainable cities and DCP. The study concludes with proposed directions for future research, emphasizing the potential role of ICT in citizen participation processes as a significant contributor to the social sustainability and the more than human environments of the smart cities.

*With the contribution of Nadia Fava (Geography Department, Universitat de Girona) This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and Chaham Alalouch (Departemnet of Civil and Architectural Engineering, Sultan Qaboos University) This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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