SmartCity Civil Rights

Instead of just digitizing, a truly “smart” city defends and expands its citizens’ rights.

Jan 25, 2019 · 9 min read

What does it mean for today’s city to be “smart” — ? What will life actually be like in a so-called “SmartCity” of the 2020s?

With more than 2/3 of the world’s population destined to live in cities by 2050, it is now more important than ever to clarify our rights and obligations as SmartCity citizens.

Consciously or not, various SmartCity agendas often radically modify and restrict citizens’ basic civic rights. That’s not smart. A real smart city vigorously defends and works to expand its citizens’ rights.

CleanApp stands staunchly on the side of engaged citizens who are working to fundamentally improve our resource management paradigms.

We believe that SmartCities are clean cities, first and foremost. Effective sanitation, development, and economic empowerment agendas can only be pursued in SmartCities that respect their citizens’ rights to run the city, instead of the other way around.

With this broad framework in mind, here’s our vision of CleanApp-ed SmartCities.

1. Strong Civic Rights

The foundation of any SmartCity is public participation. This is the key civic pillar that any SmartCity must start with.

Public participation rights have a long and varied history globally. There is not one clearly defined right at play. Instead, public participation rights are an agglomeration of many other strong rights, such as a citizen’s (1) right to speech, (2) right to petition and seek redress, (3) right to participate in public discourse, (4) right to freely assemble, the (5) right to freely transact one’s personal and commercial affairs, (6) right to access civic data (e.g., Sunshine Acts), and (7) many other fundamental rights.

We can debate the origins and scope of the right to live in a clean environment until the crows stop cawing, but everyone should be in agreement that a clean environment is a desirable place to live.

This is the reality of the world’s great rivers, from the Mississippi to the Nile, from the Danube to the Amazon. This waste isn’t flowing “downstream” for recycling; it is headed for the stomach of a tuna or a salmon in the form of microplastics and chemical leaching. From there, this trash heads straight to your dinner plate. Bon appetit!

Pollution sucks. It’s ugly; it’s costly; it’s dangerous; and it only begets more pollution. A SmartCity, by definition, cannot be a polluted city.

Simultaneously, it has become clear that a SmartCity cannot simply “externalize” its pollution by off-shoring its hazardous waste downstream or out-sourcing its recycling operations “to China.”

2. De-externalization

As the world’s many #TrashTrack projects make clear, waste and pollution are never truly externalized. Waste externalization and off-shoring are simply forms of regulatory arbitrage — it’s dumping trash where it is cheapest to do so.

There’s a big problem with this approach. Waste does not stay put. In fact, regardless of whether we’re talking about atmospheric, water, or solid pollutants, waste is inherently global and remarkably mobile.

Here’s a sobering visualization from MIT’s brilliant TrashTrack project (as you watch, please keep in mind that the tech in the video is 8 years old, so you can imagine what’s possible with today’s geolocation & analytics technologies).

De-externalization is not about regulatory intervention, or greater public-sector scrutiny of private sector polluters. De-externalization is simply the logical and efficient manifestation of global systems thinking applied to resource management. That’s it.

When folks see that marine, atmospheric, and land pollution do not follow neat nation-state boundaries, but actually come back as magnified threats to economic growth and security, then externalization simply crumbles as a waste management “strategy.”

Getting folks to this realization, however, is no small task. CleanApp is up for it; are you?

3. Environmental Rights

As humans, we have the right to insist that our air, water, and food be clean from particulate matter, pollutants, and contaminants. But the right to a clean environment is not just a basic human right — the right to a clean environment belongs to everyone who lives in the shared environment.

This isn’t some hippie biospheric posture. It’s a totally mainstream and pragmatic position — reflected in settled environmental law doctrine like the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, Kyoto Protocol, Paris Climate Agreement, the polluter pays principle, and so on.

We have yet to come across a person who has ever consciously stated that, all other things being equal, they would prefer to live in a dirtier place than a cleaner one. Similarly, we’ve yet to encounter anybody who is consciously for a dirtier planet. Some folks probably have that preference, but they are clear outliers.

The key point here is that environmental rights are not just human rights. Humans are just one life-form of many on our shared planet. It makes sense to preserve biodiversity in anthropocentric terms (clean biodiverse planet means more life-saving therapies). But there are thousands of other principled and compelling reasons why we need to lighten our homo globus footprint that have nothing to do with humans.

A dose of speciated humility gives much broader perspectives on ideal case outcomes over a long-term civilizational span. CleanApp big data sets allow us to better understand, visualize, and predict the consequences of human behavior in a finite world.

4. Clean Cities = Stronger Communities

As more and more cities outsource traditional public functions to private contractors, we are witnessing the privatization and contraction of many long-established rights. This is evident in the privatization of first responder services, such as crisis-response policing and emergency medicine.

In order to maintain their rights, SmartCity citizens will need to exercise constant vigilance, especially in regimes with relatively open access to shared resource commons (water tables, waterways, atmosphere, etc.). CleanApp is a tool that incentivizes citizens to exercise their civic rights.

CleanApp’s own incentive for doing so is simple. We see that everyone is materially better off when the maximum number of people commit to living in a clean and safe environment.

As cities get bigger, oversight processes must become easier. Utility, security, and ease-of-use are core design objectives for CleanApp’s suite of citizen oversight processes.

Everyone is better off when individuals and communities build civic pride, and regain newfound appreciation for living in increasingly tighter shared environments. Everyone is better off when the tools for doing so are as easy-to-use as possible.

5. Clean Cities → Wealthier Cities

A common misconception is that wealthy cities are necessarily clean cities. But the global data to back that up is anecdotal.

On the contrary, it is well known that clean cities and neighborhoods are proven catalysts for economic growth. Greater productivity and wealth are direct consequences of clean and safe environments.

Today, data is the key to restoring and strengthening civic spaces, a vibrant civic ethos, and flourishing communities.

There’s a reason that civic sanitation is often a major proxy for gauging the effectiveness of civic management and levels of economic development: it is very instructive. How a city deals with waste is indicative of the efficiency (or not) of the city economy. Documented and empirically analyzed shortcomings provide clear roadmaps for greater efficiency gains and overall economic optimization.

Understanding waste is a prerequisite for healthy communities and more productive economic networks.

Only when we know who trashed what, when, and where can we hold those persons responsible. Only when we start building global waste maps can we begin to appreciate order of magnitude efficiency gains in our use of basic commodities like metals, plastics, and organic matter.

In economic terms, this is a no-brainer. Bigger and better data on resource use is the first step to smarter resource use. In social terms, everyone should realize that everyone is better off when everyone enjoys better living standards. These positions are incontrovertible.

As a suite of new technologies and an approach to existing tech paradigms, CleanApp signals a big potential leap forward in individual and collective quality of life. Our job now is to take that leap.

6. CleanApp Civil Rights

Without defining the long list of discrete substantive rights that the world’s citizens enjoy vis-a-vis other civic participants (corporations, public agencies, etc.), it is enough to reemphasize CleanApp’s commitment to basic civic rights. These include a commitment to transparency, accountability, and legal enforceability.

By this point, it should be clear that CleanApp is not just about mapping and cleaning up litter or illegal dumpsites. CleanApp is urging a paradigm shift away from unaccountability towards a comprehensive shared-responsibility resource utilization regimes.

Here are several concrete examples of CleanApp Civil Rights:

  1. CleanApp-ed SmartCity is, first of all, a city that respects its citizens’ rights to demand and receive well-functioning civic and public-private works. This includes everything from waste tracking and well-functioning waste reduction strategies, to effective hazard notification processes, to accurate record keeping and long-term optimization analysis.
  2. Whether done through traditional public sector portals (e.g., Los Angeles’ MyLA311), novel private-sector technologies (SeeClickFix), or hybrid models (e.g., Luke Fretwell’s ProudCity), every citizen of a SmartCity should have access to CleanApp processes for reporting, analyzing, and responding to dumpsites like the one above. It’s not the job of the local “council” or “municipality” or “Pepsi” or “Coke” to clean up this dump — it’s our shared responsibility. Assuming someone else will CleanApp keeps us trapped in a classic tragedy of the commons.
  3. Acknowledging shared rights and obligations with respect to waste allows to implement far more effective liability tracing, polluter-pays, and cleanup/remediation regimes. SmartCity citizens cannot expect clean rivers or clean water tables if they are legally blocked from asserting standing to contest upstream environmental pollution.

There are many other examples of how CleanApp moves us towards shared-responsibility regimes, and we encourage everyone to help us develop even stronger frameworks for doing so.

7. SmartCity Tactics

As a pragmatic and science-based operation, CleanApp realizes that the road to restoring a broadly-shared civic ethos around civic sanitation, efficiency, and beautification will necessarily entail deploying many different carrot-stick-carrot tactics.

These tactics range from direct financial incentivization of socially-useful work (like picking litter), more robust enforcement, and even gamification. With no time to spare, CleanApp is pursuing an eclectic all-of-the-above strategy when it comes to development. Here is CleanApp’s Development Roadmap, so you can see for yourself.

If gamification sounds too trivial for your taste, we should not forget that some of the core inventions that gave rise to the modern city — like, say, centralized sewage and waste processing — were invented and refined in civic arenas whose principal purpose was also gaming.

“Welcome to the Chariot Games! The sanitation rooms are on the right and on the left. Please enjoy the crisp Alpine water, ducted in from Turicum.”

A SmartCity is one that embraces a large plurality of approaches to dealing with persistent problems like litter, illegal dumping, hazard under-reporting, and so on.

A SmartCity is a democracy of digital natives; a DumbCity is a technocracy of digital autocrats playing SimCity on real city scales.

8. Democratic SmartCity Governance

Instead of dictating needs and outcomes from above, a SmartCity is one that welcomes crowdsourced data from engaged civic participants.

Broad-based civic participation makes sense because citizens have the most direct stake in achieving good outcomes. A truly smart administration understands that crowdsourced data generation is already covering performance of civic duties, and that micro-reporting trends show that digital civic services will only continue to grow. SmartCities capitalize on these trends.

A CleanApp SmartCity goes one step further and welcomes process design principles that anticipate changing expectations and novel scaling opportunities. For instance, CleanApp is developing standards that give citizens maximum freedom of action to strengthen their cities. On the other end of the spectrum, many large jurisdictions like China are experimenting with different ‘social credit’ and social capital schemes.

We don’t know the best mechanisms for accomplishing the many SmartCity objectives that urban planners have outlined for us. But we do know that to reap the full benefits of CleanApp’s unique posture vis-a-vis today’s and tomorrow’s SmartCities, citizens must be engaged.

A SmartCity must encourage and incentivize civic participation.

That is the first and most important step towards achieving smart city outcomes.

9. Next Steps

As SmartCity dwellers of today and tomorrow, we have the most to win (and the most to lose) from building SmartCities on truly smart foundations.

CleanApp is not building a SmartCity “for” you; we can only build a real smart city WITH you.

We invite you to learn more about the CleanApp vision at If you’re looking for specific ways to help, here are our core need areas.

The CleanApp Report is a publication of the nonprofit…

CleanApp Report

The CleanApp Report is a publication of the nonprofit CleanApp Foundation ( We curate and publish original submissions on the intersection of BigTech, CleanTech, DLT, CivicTech & more.


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Nonprofit incentivizing open-source trash/hazard reporting & remediation ++ cool law stuff ++ "The Wi-Fi & Bluetooth of TrashTech" -

CleanApp Report

The CleanApp Report is a publication of the nonprofit CleanApp Foundation ( We curate and publish original submissions on the intersection of BigTech, CleanTech, DLT, CivicTech & more.

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