Brussels focuses on video surveillance in move towards a ‘Smart City’
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Brussels focuses on video surveillance in move towards a ‘Smart City’

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Brussels has joined ranks with a number of cities seeking to become more digitised and modern, a concept known as “Smart Cities,” and has focused its efforts primarily on investing in a video surveillance network, according to a new scientific research paper.

The paper, written by Nicolas Boquet from UCLouvain and the University of Geneva and published on Monday in the scientific journal Brussels Studies, said that mobility is normally the priority sector for metropolises hoping to become Smart Cities.

The European Commission defines Smart Cities as cities that use technology and digital technology to improve urban transport networks, water supply, waste treatment facilities, make the administration more responsive, and provide safe public spaces adapted to the needs of all.

But Boquet says that in this transition towards a more intelligent city, Brussels has prioritised (and almost exclusively so) security through its investments in centralising regional video surveillance, launched at the end of the 2009-2014 legislature and supported by the Centre d’Informatique pour la Région bruxelloise.

One notable exception is the citys’ smart lighting, which can reduce energy use to the benefit of the environment, but these smart lamposts also include video surveillance.

The choice is mainly explained by the political-institutional organisation of Brussels, Boquet said.

“The complex partitocratic system encourages decision-makers to prioritise their own interests and their ‘preserve’ in an electoral logic, at the expense of public policy objectives in line with their ideology and/or the realisation of cross-cutting policies,” he wrote.

“Thus, only a policy that is agreed upon by the different parties in the coalition, such as the centralisation of CCTV, has a chance of making it onto the government agenda.”

It is also for these reasons that the mobility sector, usually a priority in the objectives of a Smart City, has not been the subject of a transversal policy in the Brussels-Capital Region.

Mobility is a sector in which the Brussels parties are in competition, even within the government.

Boquet also emphasised that the majority agreement of the new government, published in July 2019, once again mentioned the mobility aspect in connection with artificial intelligence and open data.

However, it is first and foremost the economic aspect of the Smart City that is put forward, a sign that investment in technology to stimulate economic growth is also a consensus within the Brussels political world.

“In the meantime, the Covid pandemic has come and gone, raising new digital issues that are bound to raise further questions in the future about what a smart city is,” the author wrote.

The Brussels Times

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