Developing the Smart City

February 19, 2014

 
Fordham University will host a symposium on Feb. 27 and 28 on “Smart Law for Smart Cities: Regulation, Technology, and the Future of Cities.”

The event, to be held at Fordham Law School, is co-organized by the Fordham Urban Law Journal, the Fordham Urban Studies Program, the Center on Law and Information Policy, and the Center for Digital Transformation, and is available for CLE credit.

“[Smart city] is an umbrella term that covers a whole range of tech changes happening in cities, from how governments interact with their citizens to how they make use of their data,” said Nestor Davidson, professor of law and director of the Fordham Urban Law Center.

The symposium will primarily explore the regulatory landscape for potentially disruptive advances in urban governance from a variety of sectors, including energy, sustainability, surveillance, and healthcare.

“Whether it’s on the data side or on the infrastructure side, there are concerns that laws could become a barrier to progress,” said Davidson. “My sense is that the legal side isn’t as prominent a part of the conversation as it should be.”

Davidson said that with technology advancing so rapidly, the pace of law remains at a pre-digital grind. Legal reform that can respond to the pace of change and yet allow for thoughtful deliberation is becoming increasingly important, he said.

Much of the conversation on smart cities focuses on privacy concerns. Davidson cited the example of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent initiative to reduce traffic deaths by installing cameras. The initiative has been celebrated by pedestrian and cycling activists, but has also become a cause for privacy advocates. In Great Britain, Davidson said, there is currently a national conversation about the pros and cons of security camera surveillance—yet cameras are already ubiquitous.

“The best we can do now is to have a dialogue before the technology is already there and we can’t participate,” he said. “People need to understand the benefits and the costs before it all becomes a reality.”

One panel, “Perspectives from the Public Sector,” will feature Manhattan Borough President Gail Brewer, who recently launched an initiative to train community board members on parsing the city’s data. Brewer has been a longtime advocate for opening the government’s data closet, having sponsored the city’s open data legislation in 2012.

“We have to make city data usable and we have to be able to coordinate the various agencies,” said Brewer.

The Fordham Urban Law Journal will publish a selection of articles and essays from participants. Panelists said that they hope the articles will lay the groundwork for a scholarly discourse on the role of law in the technological transformation of urban governance.

“I can’t wait to see the results and how we can begin to implement them,” said Brewer.

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For more information or to register, visit the website.