Smart Cities, Artificial Intelligence and Public Law: An Unchained Melody

22 Pages Posted: 29 Sep 2022 Last revised: 13 Dec 2022

See all articles by Sofia Ranchordas

Sofia Ranchordas

University of Groningen, Faculty of Law; Libera Universita Internazionale degli Studi Sociali

Date Written: September 26, 2022


Governments and citizens are by definition in an unequal relationship. Public law has sought to address this power asymmetry with different legal principles and instruments. However, in the context of smart cities, the inequality between public authorities and citizens is growing, particularly for vulnerable citizens. This paper explains this phenomenon in light of the dissonance between the rationale, principles and instruments of public law and the practical implementation of AI in smart cities. It argues first that public law overlooks that smart cities are complex phenomena that pose novel and different legal problems. Smart cities are strategies, products, narratives, and processes that reshape the relationship between governments and citizens, often excluding citizens who are not deemed as ‘smart’. Second, smart urban solutions tend to be primarily predictive as they seek to anticipate, for example, crime, traffic congestion or pollution. On the contrary, public law principles and tools remain reactive or responsive, failing to regulate potential harms caused by predictive systems. In addition, public law remains focused on the need to constrain human discretion and individual flaws rather than systemic errors and datafication systems which place citizens in novel categories. This paper discusses the dissonance between public law and smart urban solutions, presenting the smart city as a corporate narrative which, with its attempts to optimise citizenship, inevitably excludes thousands of citizens.

Keywords: smart cities; regulation; AI; administrative law; inequality; public law; smart citizen; cities

JEL Classification: K10

Suggested Citation

Ranchordas, Sofia, Smart Cities, Artificial Intelligence and Public Law: An Unchained Melody (September 26, 2022). University of Groningen Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 29/2022, Available at SSRN: or

Sofia Ranchordas (Contact Author)

University of Groningen, Faculty of Law ( email )

Oude Kijk in 't Straat
9700 AS Groningen, Gn 9712


Libera Universita Internazionale degli Studi Sociali ( email )


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