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Designing the ethical smart city

Evergreen, as part of the Community Solutions Network, partners with Institute without Boundaries to explore how cities can use data & tech to be more ethical, inclusive and sustainable.

three women standing in front of a whiteboard covered in writing and colourful post-it notes

Published on May 11, 2020

Smart cities are amplifying the need for a holistic approach to city building. A new generation of city builders are up for the challenge, asking how they can collaboratively leverage the power of design to create future smart cities that are not only technologically innovative and data-driven, but ethical, inclusive and sustainable.  

City builders are no stranger to the cross-cutting, complex and interconnected challenges facing our urban centres. From housing affordability to mental health and transit, to climate crises and pandemics that know no borders or boundaries, the nature of our challenges have long necessitated the bridging of skills, professions and backgrounds to find viable solutions. Smart cities solutions, which have emerged as promising remedies to many of these challenges, are not exempt. While technological and data-driven innovation promise everything from the ability to create more jobs, better connect residents to healthcare and create more walkable, bikeable cities, they also risk intensifying existing inequalities and exacerbating already complex challenges like climate change mitigation and housing affordability. City-building approaches that appreciate and incorporate a wide cross-section of skills, professions and perspectives is paramount to mitigating the risks and realizing the vast opportunities that smart city approaches can offer. 

This past year, Evergreen and the Community Solutions Network partnered with Institute without Boundaries (IwB), an internationally recognized design think-tank at George Brown College’s School of Design, to advise on their year-long exploration of Ethical Smart Cities. Each year, the Interdisciplinary Design Strategy Program challenges a cohort of students to investigate the forces shaping society to inform our potential collective futures.  

This year’s focus was on Ethical Smart Cities; a city whose diverse communities of residents are celebrated and actively engaged in the consideration, creation and integration of technological or data-driven solutions, and where the needs of residents are represented in the community’s built and networked environment. It drew a global cohort of students from Venezuela, India, the United States, Nigeria and Canada and from disciplines like interior design, business, health sciences, psychology, architecture and beyond. Together, they hope to become a new breed of designer. As Nazanin Homayounfar, Academic Coordinator for the IwB program notes, “just as wicked problems span social, political, economic and environmental boundaries, the new breed of designer must do the same— challenging paradigms of a divided and compartmentalized workforce.” 


Just as wicked problems span social, political, economic and environmental boundaries, the new breed of designer must do the same— challenging paradigms of a divided and compartmentalized workforce.” 
Nazanin Homayounfar

After a year of researching, designing and realizing their project, these future designers are now preparing to showcase their Ethical Smart Cities design prototypes, launching on May 29, based on their  working definition of the Ethical Smart City as one rooted in an engaged and diverse community of people.  

Interested in learning more about their work? On May 29th at 4pm EST, join the Institute without Boundaries students for the launch of their virtual year-end exhibit, where they’ll be launching an Ethical Smart Cities Playbook, an interactive experience on how to transform cities into Ethical Smart Cities, and a new website! 

The Community Solutions Network, a program of Future Cities Canada, is designed to help communities navigate the smart cities landscape and build service area capacity and improve the lives of residents using data and connected technology approaches. The focus of the Network includes such topics as security, data, procurement, governance, and public engagement.