The Ethical Smart City

Date: 2019-2020
Category: Educational-course, academic
Form: Major project, publication, exhibition, charrette

The Ethical Smart City


This year, the Institute without Boundaries (IwB) is shifting its research focus to investigate the emerging technological, economic, environmental, societal, cultural and political forces shaping our society and the impact they have on human experiences within the city. As technology becomes further integrated into our daily lives and culture, this is an opportunity to use design as a method to understand and explore these emerging trends and forces to imagine more inclusive, ethical and sustainable futures – redefining and designing the future of cities in the context of the 21st century.

Future Ways of Living:

As we transition to the 21st century, global forces such as geopolitical fragility, mass migration, income inequality, rapid urbanization, economic restructuring, precarious employment, climate change, and exponential technological innovation are challenging our existing societal constructs and transforming the ways we live. This can have both positive and negative impacts on our human experiences, and as designers we often react to these forces rather than anticipate them to achieve our collective aspirations.

Future Ways of Living is both a research method and a call to action developed to foster anticipatory design. As a research method, it aims to investigate and visualize the past and present forces shaping society, which inform an understanding of potential futures. As a call to action, it challenges us to imagine and create what ought to be, rather than what exists. This approach encourages the development of tangible design outcomes that can contribute to more responsible, humane, sustainable, democratic, and resilient futures.

Project Goals:

Over the course of this year, students will be challenged to:

  • Define, visualize, and communicate the universal factors affecting the future of ethical smart cities.
  • Identify emerging forces, trends, and insights that will impact the future of ethical smart cities.
  • Create scenarios of ethical smart cities that demonstrate potential futures.
  • Develop products, services, systems, infrastructure and communication mechanisms that demonstrate how we can influence the future of ethical smart cities through design action.


There are a number of human factors that impact the future of ethical smart cities. How can we influence this experience through different design actions?

In order to rethink and reimagine the future of smart cities, we need to ask questions about how the evolution of cities affects the quality of life, accessibility, and human experiences.

Project Context & Year Ahead

Throughout the 2019-20 academic year, smart cities will be explored in the context of Future Ways of Living – encouraging a holistic, forward-thinking approach to inform design outcomes.

Smart Cities Overview 

The IwB in partnership with Evergreen will explore and evaluate the evolution of Smart Cities both nationally and globally in order to better design and create Smart Cities that are ethical, inclusive and sustainable.

The current dialogue around smart cities focuses heavily on the integration of ICT infrastructure in our cities, including high-speed telecommunications networks, sensors and monitoring systems, data storage and other technologies contributing to a technology layer that is integrated into our city systems to enable traditional city networks and services to be more ‘intelligent’ and automated. However, more robust visions for smart cities also include emerging technologies ranging from clean energy and biotechnology to material innovations that have the potential to transform the way we plan, develop, construct and live in cities. How we define ‘smart’ in the context of this transition is extremely important and will be the main focus of the 2019-2020 Interdisciplinary Design Strategy (IDS) program at the IwB.

Throughout the year, students will be encouraged to consider the topics of Data Governance, Public Engagement/Participation and Procurement, and how they can be vital in creating an ethical, inclusive and sustainable smart city.

Data Governance forms the basis of data management and makes the efficient and trustworthy use of data possible. Data governance includes people, processes and technologies that are needed to manage and protect data assets.

Public Engagement is the involvement of specialists and non-specialists collaborating and interacting together to better understand and develop the wants and needs of society. Public engagement includes outreach, knowledge exchange, public involvement, community sessions, consultations and responsible ethnographic research. Engaging with the public in a way that encourages them to become more active and vocal in community matters, creating a sense of place and increasing community participation.

Procurement is the process of obtaining or acquiring goods, services, work or funds from an external source. Procurement is most commonly associated with businesses because companies need to solicit services or purchase goods, usually on a relatively large scale. Procurement generally refers to the final act of purchasing, but it can also include the procurement process overall which can be critically important for companies leading up to their final purchasing decision. 

Orientation Week – August 2019

Orientation introduces students to IwB, expectations, values, philosophies and approaches. Students will take part in exercises to get to know each other and become better familiarized with the research theme of the year. During this week, students will be introduced to the tools and resources available at the IwB, School of Design, George Brown College and will also take part on a neighbourhood tour to get to know the community. They will receive lectures from faculty to understand how they can approach researching, reframing and designing for ethical Smart Cities and will collaborate on a project that they will present to IwB faculty and staff on the last day.

IwB Fall Charrette – November 2019

Students explore design issues and develop solutions in a team environment through the design charrette process—an intensive, collaborative process that brings together students from different disciplines to interact with design professionals and citizen stakeholders to develop innovative solutions for complex issues.  Over a few short days of brainstorming, discussion and expert consultation, teams create a broad range of ideas around the central theme, and eventually focus on elaborating a single concept. Students take part in the design and planning of the charrette process, and act as team facilitators during it, collaboratively generating, refining and presenting ideas.

The work completed during the charrette will be key to the students understanding of the larger research questions undertaken in the Major Project.

DesignTO Festival – January 2020

The DesignTO Festival takes place every January and showcases work from various design studios and independent designers and artists.

From January 17–26, 2019, IwB students will bring to life their research on the future of ethical smart cities through an interactive, multisensory exhibition hosted at the School of Design, George Brown College. Students will use this exhibition as a platform to receive insightful data that will help define the global factors of affordability and contribute to their final project outcomes.

To find out more about past IwB DesignTO events see the DesignTO website.

IwB International Charrette – February 2020

The IwB is hosting the 16th annual International Charrette at the School of Design, George Brown College from February 17th to 24th, 2020. Each year, the IwB challenges students from around the world to fundamentally rethink what it means to be a designer. During the charrette, participants will explore the future of ethical smart cities and develop solutions in an intensive, collaborative process that brings together students from different disciplines, and design professionals from around the world. This year, the students are challenged with understanding, visualizing and proposing innovative and sustainable design solutions to address ethical smart cities. To tackle this issue, participants will be exposed to new tools, methods, and approaches that will challenge them to become better designers and collaborators.

School of Design Year End Show (Y.E.S) Exhibition- April 2020

During this exhibition, students will have the opportunity to showcase their year-long design process, research insights, and design solutions. IwB students will use this exhibition as an engagement pop-up to gain meaningful feedback from industry partners, GBC students, and the public in order to push their project forward and prepare for their final exhibition.

Prototyping Charrette- April/May 2020

From April 27-May 8, 2020, IwB students will take part in a two-week charrette in collaboration with disciplines within the George Brown College ecosystem to test and prototype their design solutions. During the charrette, the IwB team will lead and work with students from Graphic Design, Interactive Media Management, and Interaction Design and Development Program among others to fine tune and finalize their design outcomes. The focus and themes of the Prototyping Charrette will be developed from the students’ year-long research insights and will directly lead to the development of the final exhibition.

Final Exhibit & Presentation – May/June 2020

The IwB students will showcase their year-long research insights on the future of ethical smart cities and its impact on daily human experiences. Demonstrating their design outcomes, the IwB students will highlight the work developed throughout the year including the scenarios of affordability, projects developed throughout the International and Prototyping Charrettes as well as DesignTO and Y.E.S Exhibitions.

Project Credits:
IwB staff and faculty 2019-20


Image Credits:
Maria Daniela Yepes

Project Tags:
Future Ways of Living, Ethical Smart Cities, Toronto, Greater Toronto Area, GTA, connection, municipal planning,