Smart Cities Manifesto

This Manifesto was developed in the scope of GEF – Green European Foundation project “Charter for the Smart City” with the support of Cooperation and Development Network Eastern Europe and with the financial support of the European Parliament to the Green European Foundation. It is based on the Smart City Charter and aims to promote it.

We, the youth of the Eastern European cities see digital technologies becoming an important aspect of our cities, and embrace their transformative potential to our urban environments. We acknowledge that implementation of new technologies in our cities can be beneficial if directed at improving everybody’s life in the cities. However, we are concerned that at the moment, digitalisation and technologies are used to further increase inequality, racism, bureaucracy, corruption, climate and social crisis under the pretence of neoliberal growth narratives. We want to end this kind of abuse of new technologies, and take ownership of their transparent implementation in our cities, making sure that they are used to achieve green values. 

Digital Economy

Currently, cities are providing significant tax subsidies, repurposing urban spaces, and taking loans to provide infrastructure for new tech based businesses in hopes of them providing economic growth and raising employment. However, these kinds of practices can create a race to the bottom between cities, and make them hostages of large corporations and their threats to move their operations elsewhere. Furthermore, despite investing into showing a friendly face to the public, these corporations have proven to be hostile to workers’ unions, oftentimes banning them, as well as having a large turnover rate of their workforces.

Even when these companies provide economic growth, which is not connected to the general economic well being of the majority, it is based on the extraction of rare metals and high energy consumption which is especially problematic in Eastern European countries which are still largely relying on fossil fuels, as well as dependency on the global economic trends. When the latter take a turn to the worse, like during the COVID-19 pandemic, the first ones to be affected are the workers and their families. Accordingly, multinational technology corporations often times keep their headquarters in their home countries, while outsourcing manufacturing or customer support to EE countries, relying on their low labour standards and leaving the highly qualified workforce with little choice but to emigrate to rich countries.

We demand European level regulation of tech companies to stop competition between cities. We demand the end of extreme surveillance software pushing workers into top efficiency while having a negative effect on their mental health. We demand for the tech companies to be obliged to create more sustainable jobs which create value for the local urban community they are based in. We demand a stop to the neoliberal narratives connected to the implementation of economic growth, which push economic growth at any price, as well as extreme consumerism. Instead we push for higher standards in labour laws and implementing them in order to create decent, socially and environmentally sustainable working conditions.

The new digital economy in our cities must provide clear benefits to all the citizens. The benefits tech companies are given, must also oblige these companies to assist in lowering inequalities and promoting a better standard of living in cities in a meaningful way, by engaging in dialogue with the municipal governments and citizens’ organizations. They must take responsibility for the environmental impact that they make and invest in sustainability, including energy conservation, renewable energy production and a sparing, circular use of metals and other materials.

Environment and technologies

As we are diving further into climate crisis, the neoliberal economy is trying to adapt, instead of changing. This is creating a false solution of “green” economy and “green” technology that more often than not avoid real climate action and continue already existing approach to consumption which is not feasible for foreseeable future. We demand that new technologies and innovation is used to systematically achieve our climate goals. Climate change cannot be tackled without restructuring our economy, therefore, we demand that green tech will not be used to advance consumption. Green tech should help us reduce greenhouse emissions, foster democracy and reduce social and economic inequalities. Our smart city should not be someone else’s civil war or environmental disaster.

We must put narratives of self driving, electric and/or private vehicles as a solution to the environmental impact of a city to a stop. These means of transportation are individualist, and based on consumption, increase the need for paved areas, raise the temperature of cities and produce negative economic outcomes in the places where the lithium, cobalt and other necessary metals are mined.

We want the municipalities to streamline the processes of installing new energy solutions that are cost-efficient and environmentally friendly alternative energy solutions. As outlined in the Charter for the Smart City, local generation of renewable energy offers a unique opportunity to create new commons. Collective solar roofs, neighborhood heat pumps, collective batteries, and distributed smart grids, managed by energy cooperatives, can speed up the energy transition, democratize the energy system, forge new bonds between neighbors, and prevent sensitive data on the energy use of households from coming into the hands of large energy corporations. Renewable energy cooperatives deserve municipal support.

Digital inclusion and democracy

Nowadays, we see the implementation of new digital technologies in the Central and Eastern European cities as concentrating hierarchies of power as well as bringing dangers of excluding the most vulnerable groups from the society. The implementation of new technologies is prone to be contained to the wealthy and visible areas of the city and its access reserved for the wealthiest and most privileged individuals. Furthermore, the development of new ‘smart city’ neighborhoods must not be simply a way to create huge areas of practically privatized land and a way to further gentrify parts of our cities. We have to ensure that the public spaces in our cities remain so. Implementation of new technologies should be made in a way where it equalizes the living standards of the different parts of the city.

The implementation of new digital tools in municipal governments without a clear view of how user-friendly it is for all the groups in the society, can lead to the exclusion of elderly people, immigrants, differently abled and other vulnerable groups. Implementation of these kind of technologies without extensive public consultations and studies can turn out to create democratic deficits in a city, and therefore, these kinds of practices must be avoided.

Procurement of digital technologies must be done in a transparent way, allowing fair and objective public tenders as well as the debate of citizens regarding the benefits of a specific technology. The data collected by these technologies must remain in the hands of the public and its transfer to private companies must be transparent and in the public’s interest as well as based on clear conditions. We demand for the benefits of the implementation of new technologies to be clearly communicated to the public, that the advantages be available and accessible to everyone in the city, and in all areas of the city, rather than being contained to the wealthiest groups.

Digital participation 

Digital tools can strengthen democracy in numerous ways, from facilitating access to public sector information to broadening citizens’ participation in decision-making. Digital platforms and social media provide a forum for public debate and for contact between elector and elected. There are good examples, especially at the local level, of politicians who do not exclusively send, but also receive. They reply to questions online, answer for their decisions and pick up ideas, as outlined in the Charter for a Smart City.

We want cities in EE to provide free and accessible education in digital literacy, and equip the citizens with the knowledge on how to use any new digital tools made available by the municipalities. Digitisation and digital transformation has to become an empowering force for all citizens to make our smart cities more democratic. Currently, many EE cities use digital participation tools accessible only to the individuals who can afford their own equipment, and have the technical and legal knowledge to include themselves in the debate. We want for the urban governments to ensure, that digital tools are used to help all stakeholders to have a better conversation in public debates on the upcoming projects about the interventions planned and for the design participation process to be more inclusive, agile and open. This should be done by making these digital tools available in public spaces such as libraries, with officials tasked of facilitating the participation of citizens.