The ongoing trend towards increasing urbanization is evident and already well-documented. According to recent studies, most of the world’s population is now living in urban areas [53]. Concomitantly, digitalization has found its way into our daily life [20,33] and other areas such as mental health [13], health [52], mobility [30] learning [10,16,60] and community-building [1,12,56]. A discussion about the meaning and definition of “smart” in the context of cities and urban areas remains often functional [2] but more and more scholars [33,44] criticize concepts which focus on ubiquitous digital automation of infrastructures and services instead of solving citizens’ problems. Understanding city dwellers only as consumers and cities only as markets disregards citizens’ needs, their actual use of technologies and other informal (social) practices, and it sometimes even violates their civil rights. These scholars and activists call for a more political, sociological and anthropological focus on cities, for discussions about ethics and values in the development of technologies, and about governance of urban spaces. Most of all, they call for a bottom-up, open, needs-centered, civil-society-driven approach to the design and development of smart cities.
With the further establishment of the “Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data Analytics, or High Speed Networks” [36], it is envisaged that everyone and everything will be connected. Humans, animals, and nature itself are all part of this ever-expanding network. Current developments show that it is likely that interactions between these stakeholders and technologies will only grow in frequency and complexity in the future [42]. Especially the needs and interests of marginalized groups, for instance refugees or children, are often not taken into account in city design, resulting in increasing discrimination [21]. Also often not considered are nature and its multiple species. Understanding the metropole as a holistic reciprocal system through the design of human- and animal-centered technological interventions and research methodologies, Human-Computer Interaction [22] and Animal-Computer Interaction (ACI) [25] address the increasing interconnection between humans and/or animals and technologies. Especially ACI researchers [26] have pointed out how their field could provide more inclusive models that broaden participation to animals and diverse humans in the development of sustainable, multispecies environments.
This Design Fiction [8,27] workshop aims to rethink the concept of smart cities and bring together researchers, practitioners and activists from a broad spectrum of disciplines to develop a new, extended and sustainable model for smart cities.


Smart Citites

Trying to conceptualize smart cities still leads to a “cacophony of definitions”, maybe even more so nowadays than in 2011, when the “smarter cities” brand was first registered by IBM – without definition. Yet, cities, as the habitat of the majority of humans and of an increasing number of animals on this planet [42], where at least twice as many things as people are connected to the Internet [44:3], have more economic power and greater political influence than ever since the rise of nation states [41].
Kitchin argues that current discussions around and about smart cities are “based on the reading of corporate and government documents, rather than interviews, ethnographies or genealogies” [23:134] from citizens. Townsend argues for the need to develop “A New Civics for a Smart Century” [51:282], while Niaros suggests that a “truly smart city” [33:59] is built on social inclusion, democratic problem-solving procedures, participatory design of products and services, and open ICT infrastructures and platforms [33]. Söderström et al. [44] call for “alternative smart city stories […] to move beyond critique” [44:318] and to constructively engage in the planning of smart cities. Following this call, this workshop is meant to be a departure by means of using Design Fiction by interdisciplinary storytellers.

Urban Informatics, Animal-Computer Interaction, and Nature

Mancini [25] describes the aims of ACI as being “to understand the interaction between animals and computing technology within the context in which the animals habitually live, are active and socialize with members of the same or other species, including humans”. In this context, Smith et al. [42] examined two design cases with novel conceptions of animal-human cohabitation in urban space. They concluded that the entanglement of urban spaces and nature “challenges us to rethink our conceptions around the relationships between animals and humans and the different ways in which we perceive and act in the world “[42]. Indeed, current trends in urban informatics investigate the social and cultural aspects of cities and urban areas [59] and Smith et al. [42] emphasize that “designing for animals in cities is likely to benefit humans as well” [42:1715]. Nevertheless, there are few studies that deal with animals in urban areas. However, the rapid course of urbanization, which is leading to an increasing overlap of cities and natural spaces, demands that more attention be given to understanding multispecies urban environments and to the opportunities that such environments could offer for a multiplicity of diverse stakeholders. In this respect, Berg et al. (2016) underline, that the urban fusion with natural infrastructures or urban forests and their various creatures changes the perception of nature, esp. for children, and supports learning processes about it [7]. Green spaces in urban environments further play an important role in cooling down the temperature of the city [5], with positive consequences for multiple species (plants, animals, human beings), promoting personal well-being and vitality [5,7] and preventing physical and mental illness [7] and thereby promote “urban sustainability and resilience” [34], which benefits all, but especially vulnerable target groups.

Urban Informatics, HCI4Margins, and other Vulnerable Target Groups

Diverse people with various vulnerabilities and abilities up to marginalization in manifold sensitive contexts are realistically part of our metropolises today, but just like animals and nature they are still often not considered in the process of shaping our (digital) urban landscapes [4,36]. If we look at modern cities, we find diversity both in terms of space and place as well as the people who are part of them. The image is culture-, class-, and education-dependent [11] – visible alongside even more invisible barriers that lead to an (integrational) gap that is difficult to overcome for e.g. people with refugee background [14,36], migrants [4,36,37],  homeless people [50] or those who suffer from low income or poverty [4,37]. The offline situation of these people is mirrored in their online version [36]. This is also true for older adults [3,46], children [21] or people with different abilities [6]. Thus, the (digital) urban landscape only partially accommodates their cognitive and/or physical diversity [36], circumstances that also affect people who suffer from mental disorders [19]. These are more likely to occur, if social risk factors of “low socio-economic status (SES) (e.g. education levels, income), low social capital (e.g. social support, efficacy), or social segregation (e.g. perceived minority status, ethnic group membership)” [19] coincide and exceed a certain level, which is often reflected in the picture of depression, anxiety disorders or schizophrenia [19]. If we take a look at prisoners, the exclusionary conditions of lacking (digital) participation prevent the overarching, legally anchored goal of resocialization, which makes social participation more difficult in the long term [15,49].

Services (such as e.g. mental health services or housing services) are essential for building and sustaining a life in cities, but often do not meet the needs of marginalized communities (e.g., unaccompanied migrant youths [47,48]). Furthermore, the perspective of children and youth are often not considered, or determined by adults [21]. If smart city developments such as e.g. the integration of artificial intelligence into these services do not take into account the needs, abilities and interests of marginalized groups, such ones will experience even more discrimination in the future [58]. Therefore, the basis of truly smart cities builds the collection of data of such target groups and processing this data accordingly through algorithms. Currently these elements are blacked boxed though, stay invisible and furthermore hidden from citizens. Moreover, the analysis and decision-making process which causes the discrimination and inequality stays as well hidden and only a few people have the knowledge and power to change automated and intelligent systems. This development endangers democracy and equality in smart cities. Especially since these systems have such an impact on policies and citizens themselves, researchers argue that citizens should have the right and need to know what is happening withing the smart system [28] as well as the legal tools and education to control computer models [51]. A citizen-centric approach helps to transform the technical infrastructure of current smart cities through the future influence of smart citizens who are able to act more autonomously and engage in the design processes of cities, thus meeting the need to counteract the technology-centric, stigmatizing nature of the current smart cities approach. In addition, vulnerabilities could be further reduced by incorporating the approach of so-called “Caring Communities” [10,12,32] into further smart city design in terms of a collective cultivation of solidarity attention that represents and further cultivates an inclusive perspective as well as social practice among all citizens. In such an approach, the Caring Community as a social, holistically networked environment illuminates the everyday needs and challenges of citizens caring for each other, gives them visibility, brings people together in the real world – on and offline, locally and supra-locally – and creates contact through the direct caring character, which promotes destigmatization.

In summary, vulnerable groups, whether human, animal or nature itself as a living ecosystem, clearly lack spatial, social and digital inclusion within the current smart city approach, sometimes to the point of stigmatization. The digitally networked “smart city”: one person is excluded by walls while they enclose them, another is marginalized by the integration gap, some are overwhelmed by orientation in the ubiquity of digital infrastructures, and still others are dependent on supportive representatives of their own rights because they have no voice of their own. In order to overcome this design flaw, we would like to use this creative workshop to open discourse on vulnerable perspectives and possible solutions, some of which have been named, via Design Fiction in order to be able to derive improved design implications in the further process.


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