Smart Charlottesville: Designing the Future; The Importance of Community Engagement in the Development of Smart Cities

Hajela, Sanjana, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Baritaud, Catherine, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Ibrahim, Ahmed, EN-Comp Science Dept, University of Virginia

How can engineers utilize those they are trying to make solutions for, in the process of tackling an engineering problem? What are the positives of including community members in meaningful collaborations for engineering projects? The technical research question of the report is called Smart Charlottesville: Designing the Future. The research included creating a web application to serve as a platform for all user groups to collaborate on what future changes in Charlottesville are being researched and what ideas and feedback there is for each project. The motivation behind the application is to bridge the gap between, the University of Virginia, the Charlottesville government, and residents so that there is an open platform to interact with one another and exchange ideas for how to make the quality of life in the city better for everyone. The technical research is tightly coupled with the STS research topic: The Importance of Community Engagement in the Development of Smart Cities. The rationale behind the STS research topic is discovering where cities can truly benefit with using the communities an engineering project is affecting when making design choices.
The main problem researched throughout the technical process was how to create an intuitive and successful communication platform for ideas to be exchanged for improving the city of Charlottesville. The clients, Professor Sean Ferguson and Professor Sharon Ku, conduct research on smart cities, which serves as a motivation for Charlottesville to become one in the future. A registered user can then make a post about a project being conceptualized, which includes a description, motivation, and category: education, transportation, environment, location, and stakeholders. Furthermore, a user can also post a problem they would like to see solved in Charlottesville, with the same fields as a project post. Users are able to view the projects and filter them based on the project category. An administrator of the application can delete and moderate the projects and problems to make sure they are all following the mission of Smart Charlottesville.
Smart Charlottesville allows for all users to collaborate with one another by viewing different categories of projects, commenting on projects and problems, as well as favoriting projects that are interesting. Through this website they will be able to get immediate feedback from other students, professors, and community members through comments. On the previous website, Digication, they could only really get feedback from their professors and the other students. While this had its benefits, the ability to get feedback from actual members of the community that these solutions would directly affect is very valuable. The Charlottesville community will also benefit from this, since they will be, along with the students, able to post different projects they think U.Va and Charlottesville could work on that would be beneficial to them. Overall, the Smart Charlottesville application is a great improvement for all the stakeholders and provides a method of communication between U.Va and the community that was not there before.
The STS research, The Importance of Community Engagement in the Development of Smart Cities, aims to tackle the problem of the not excluding community members and citizens when make future design plans to improve a city. Charlottesville is the main city that is analyzed throughout the STS research, as there are many case studies conducted which back up the argument of how important it is to involve citizen input for projects. The case studies in Charlottesville include the development and maintenance of the Rivanna Trails, the transformation of Brandon Avenue, the development of the South Wood Mobile Home Park, and the overall Charlottesville Housing Crisis. Research in each of these case studies included analyzing newspaper articles, journals, and other sources. The Actor Network Theory and Technology Transfer and Social Construction of Technology were STS frameworks employed to best describe the stakeholder situation.
It is proven that community engagement in the engineering process is extremely useful. The party that is impacted by these future plans is Charlottesville residents, so they need to know what changes to expect, and should have their input documented and implemented for these plans. Engineers in charge of designing the new city plan must value and be active in community engagement so they know what Charlottesville really needs. The research question posed is how the communication gap between society and engineers needs to be filled, and what benefits will serve for building efficient and appropriate plans for the future of Charlottesville. This question was proven by examples of the case studies mentioned above, for example Brandon Avenue lacked community engagement and consideration, therefore Charlottesville permanent residents were forced out of their homes into an already competitive housing market.
In conclusion, the idea that community engagement is essential for cities such as Charlottesville to truly develop, especially into smart cities, is heavily supported by the arguments stated in this thesis. There are many ways to involve the community, as stated in examples by holding public meetings, sending out representatives to interview community members, and making development information public so there is transparency. Issues in Charlottesville such as affordable housing, outdoor parks, and improved transportation can be solved with help and ideas from the citizens that are impacted by the development in these areas.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Actor Network Theory (ANT), Community Engagement, Community Engagement in Smart Cities, Smart Cities, Technology Transfer and Social Construction of Technology, Smart Charlottesville, Designing the Future

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
Technical Advisor: Ahmed Ibrahim
STS Advisor: Catherine Baritaud
Technical Team Members: Cory Ayers, Luke Deni, Conner Hutson, Anthony Lancaster, Kajal Sheth, Jared Tufts

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