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The Center for Urban & Regional Studies is pleased to announce that Dr. Torin Monahan from the Department of Communication Studies is our Scholar-in-Residence for 2014-15. Dr. Monahan will use this opportunity to develop a research proposal on smart cities, big data, and surveillance.

Dr. Monahan’s project will investigate the implications of big data and surveillance in the development of “smart cities” in the U.S., Canada, and U.K. From an urban managerial perspective, the term smart city connotes the systematic generation and capture of data for purposes of rational and sustainable management of cities. Smart cities entail the integration of extensive information management tools to oversee complex urban systems and the myriad flows within them. They typically draw upon distributed sensor networks, video surveillance, and predictive analytics to monitor dynamic relationships between everything from traffic, to sewage, to electricity usage. The intensive management of flows includes the monitoring of people as well, whether directly or indirectly. Thus, this orientation to cities necessitates forms of governance and surveillance, which deserve systematic study and analysis.

Although there is an emphasis on sustainable urban management, smart cities also enable new forms of intelligence-led policing and security provision. Long before 9/11, cities were perceived as sites of instability and vulnerability, in part because of their success at cultivating active civic participation and exchange among diverse populations. Over the past decade, policing and security apparatuses have drawn upon resources made available through government agencies and private-sector partnerships to integrate sensors and video surveillance systems into urban environments. Coupled with computerized crime mapping, these systems produce real-time visualizations and support predictive policing activities.

The questions that this project will explore are (1) How widespread are smart, intelligent or ubiquitous city initiatives? (2) What are their components and characteristics? (3) How are such developments changing the management of places, populations, and commercial activities? and (4) What are the impacts on individual rights (e.g., privacy), collective rights (e.g., to public space), and other social and political concerns, and how are they being addressed?

The CURS Scholar-in-Residence program provides a course buy-out and funds for proposal development expenses so that faculty members in the social and behavioral sciences can develop large, ideally interdisciplinary, research proposals. Find out more about the Scholar-in-Residence program.

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