Smart City Application

HOW WOULD WE MODEL genuine public engagement in smart cities?


Individual Project
University of Toronto


Idea Generation
User Testing & Evaluation was developed as a response to current smart city initiatives in Ontario such as the King Street Pilot and Sidewalk Labs. I wanted to build upon the core values of transparency and public engagement, particularly in regards to data collection and user privacy. When it comes to information regarding smart city projects, much of the focus is given to businesses and stakeholder groups that are more well-versed in the technological processes at play, leaving out much of the general public. How could we engage the public in a meaningful way that gives them the power to take control of their data and shape how smart cities evolve?


How it works is how I envision an engaging smart city application that is centered around public interaction and engagement. There are public forums where issues can be raised and discussed between residents and city officials, the ability to answer polls or report problems online, and user-friendly data portals where the general public can explore what data is collected and how it affects them.

Why these features?

User interviews and research into Toronto’s current public engagement strategies allowed me to hone in on several main issues.

  • Difficulties the general public face in  finding information about smart city projects and getting involved in government
  • Lack of genuine civic engagement
  • Lack of development of user paths that cater to the general public, especially in relation to data collection and user privacy


Problem: Difficulty in Finding Information and Getting Involved

In interviews, users mentioned the difficulty in understanding smart city project details, and did not feel the need to participate actively in government projects. This is partly due to the way these projects are structured. Currently, most communication regarding the Toronto’s smart city projects like DineSafe and the King Street Pilot goes one way, and is merely informational in nature, with no genuine feedback collection made easily available to the public. Information can be difficult to get to and is less straightforward than users would like.

Solution: Quick Notifications and Polling

Notifications are a way of personalizing one's political and communal role in a city. Instead of sifting through countless government pages and long-winded processes, users can find all information relevant to them via their notifications within the app.
Want to have a say how your neighbourhood and city are run? Sign up to receive notifications regarding polls you would be eligible for. When a relevant poll comes up, simply vote through the app.
Custom Notifications
Sign up for specific notifications or just general notifications on relevant opportunities to get involved.
In-app Voting
Users save time by getting quick notifications and voting in-app, increasing the likelihood of civic participation.

Problem: Lack of Genuine Civic Engagement

Most attempts at involving the public in smart city projects tend to come off as versions of “Tokenism”, where public feedback is not solicited and incorporated in meaningful ways. Early meetings and consultations could easily be deemed as window dressing rituals, where businesses and the general public were bombarded with information about the pilot with little time to fully digest all of it and respond accordingly.

Solution: Public Forums

You're busy. You barely have the time to balance work, friends and family. You wonder why more cameras are being put up down the street. You think the new neighbourhood garbage initiative system is terrible, but you have an idea or two that you think might help. When you try to address these issues online, you're quickly led down a rabbit-hole of links and documents. It's frustrating and you don't know why you even bothered.
Forums provide a single space for community members to raise and resolve issues, debate and help one another. It's a place for you to lend your voice to issues that concern you and to leverage collective knowledge in order to get your questions answered. It's also a great way for city officials to keep their finger on the pulse of what the public is thinking, and to even directly answer the public's questions.
Easy Filtering
There is no doubt a myriad of social issues that could be brought up in the forum, making straightforward filtering options critical as a search feature.
Engaging with Others
Post, comment and interact with others on issues ranging from education to data transparency. Upvote posts that matter more to you so that political delegates are made aware of them. Let your voice be heard when CITY STAFF posts look for direct feedback from residents.

Problem: User paths for the general public

Data portal not user friendly
The current web pages dedicated to information on smart city projects, while well catalogued and organized at first glance, only seem useful to particular user types (e.g. developers or researchers). There are far fewer options for the general public to obtain information provided on data collection and privacy.
Information & document-heavy layout

Solution: User Friendly Data Portals

Visual Interactive Mediums
Details regarding how and where information is collected should be transparent and easy to understand.
User Friendly Datasets
Options should be provided to the general public to explore datasets without prior technical knowledge.
Public FAQ
Responding to questions, suggestions or concerns publicly and marking issues as resolved/unresolved ensures greater accountability and increases public understanding of smart city projects.
Accessible Engagement Opportunities
Opportunities to get involved should be straightforward for community members.



Colour choices were made to keep in line with the current colour schemes used on and, with minor differentiations in shades e.g. lighter blue used on main application. Colours were also used to differentiate between states of approval, opposition or importance.

Poppins was chosen as the main font for the app for its open feel and clear style, with a decent font weight range that could be used to differentiate between text types. It was also important that the font be web-safe and legible, thus the focus on a simple sans serif font.

Colour Palette