City Indicators on Social Sustainability as Standardization Technologies for Smarter (Citizen-Centered) Governance of Cities


The smart cities initiative encourages cities to improve their performance in the three pillars of sustainability, namely environmental, economic, and social. The smart cities movement is distinguished from sustainable cities by its use of intelligent technologies to attain sustainability. The smart cities world-class initiative is the first and only urban movement to generate interest on the part of all urban stakeholders. This includes citizens, governments, and even industry, which is the most interested party due to its opportunities to sell tech solutions and services to governments, in order to better serve citizens. However, although there are many technological means to help cities successfully perform in the three pillars of sustainability, social sustainability of smart cities is not yet fully considered. And this constitutes a lost opportunity to positively impact citizens’ lives. This research proposes a mechanism to account for the social pillar of sustainability, which consists of measuring the “citizen-centeredness” of city policies and local governance. This citizen-centric approach is measured by monitoring performance of cities in safeguarding citizenship rights. Accordingly, a set of indicators measuring the safeguarding of citizens’ rights in the city included in its fundamental text, The European Charter for the Safeguarding of Human Rights in the City, has been elaborated. Acknowledging the potential of market standards promoted by national and international standardization bodies such as the International Standards Organization or the National Standardization Association in Spain, proposed indicators have been designed to serve as a basis for what could be the first-ever social standard. Since market standards have an econometric nature, this research has been carried out in total fairness to city council responsibilities, only accounting for those which are mandatory, for which a budget is assigned. Finally, in the last section of the paper, conclusions show the triple-win—for citizens, private stakeholders, and city councils, that the inclusion of social standards brings into the governance of cities.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7


  1. 1.

    Taking an official master’s degree program in smart cities, like the one offered at the University of Girona,, makes it possible to subsequently obtain a doctorate in the same field:

  2. 2.

    European Commission H2020 Call Smart Cities and Communities (H2020-SCC), 92M€: Urban Europe’s Call ERA-NET Smart Cities and Communities (ENSCC), 20M€:

  3. 3.

    Current standards under developement in Spain:

    PNE 178101, Redes de Servicios Públicos. GT1. Realizado al 85 %

    PNE 178102, Redes Municipales Multiservicio. GT2. 80 %

    PNE 178103, Convergencia de los Sistemas de Gestión-Control en una Ciudad Inteligente. GT3. 70 %

    PNE 178104, Sistemas integrales para una Ciudad Inteligente. GT4. 50 %

    PNE 178105, Accesibilidad universal, planeamiento urbano y ordenación del territorio. GT5. Iniciando

    PNE 178106, Guías de Especificaciones para Edificios Públicos. GT6. Iniciando

    PNE 178201 Ciudades inteligentes. Definición, requisitos e indicadores

    PNE 178301 Ciudades inteligentes. Datos abiertos (OPEN DATA)

    PNE 178302 Requisitos mínimos para considerar interoperable una infraestructura de recarga de

    vehículos eléctricos

    PNE 178303 Ciudades Inteligentes. Gestión de activos de la ciudad. Especificaciones

    PNE 178401 Ciudades inteligentes. Alumbrado público. Tipología de telecontrol según zonificación

    PNE 178501 Sistema de gestión de los destinos turísticos inteligentes. Requisitos

    PNE 178502 Indicadores de los destinos turísticos inteligentes.

  4. 4.

    ISO/TC 268/SC 01 “smart urban infrastructure metrics”. Project PWI37151. General principles and requirements.

  5. 5.

    Directorate General for Internal Policies in the EU. Mapping smart cities in the EU., IP/A/ITRE/ST/2013-02. Jan. 2014.

  6. 6.

    European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities Operational Implementation Plan: First Public Draft.

  7. 7.

    ISO/TC 268/SC 01 “smart urban infrastructure metrics”. Project PWI37151. General principles and requirements.

  8. 8.

    ISO/TC 268/WG 01 “Management Systems standards for sustainable development in communities” Project ISO 37101 Internal Design Specifications.

  9. 9.

    ISO/TC 268/WG 02 “Urban indicators” ISO 37120 Sustainable Development and Resilience. Indicators for City Services and Quality of Life.


  1. Attoh, K. A. (2011). What kind of right is the right to the city? Progress in Human Geography, 35(5), 669–685.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Burchardt, T., & Vizard, P. (2011). ‘operationalizing’ the capability approach as a basis for equality and human rights monitoring in twenty-first-century Britain. Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, 12(1), 91–119.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Carrillo, F. J. (2006). Knowledge cities: Approaches, experiences and perspectives. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Council of Europe. (1985). European charter of local self government. Accessed 20 August 2015.

  5. Clery, E., Tsang, T., & Vizard, P. (2014). The children’s measurement framework: a new indicator-based tool for monitoring children’s equality and human rights. Child Indicators Research, 7(2), 321–349.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. D’Acci, L. (2011). Measuring well-being and progress. Social Indicators Research, 104(1), 47–65.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Davis, K. E., Kingsbury, B., & Merry, S. E. (2012). Indicators as a technology of global governance. Law & Society Review, 46(1), 71–104.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Deneufville, J. I. (1982). Social-indicators of basic needs. Quantitative data for human rights policy. Social Indicators Research, 11(4), 383–403.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Dreyer, L. C., Hauschild, M. Z., & Schierbeck, J. (2006). A framework for social life cycle impact assessment. International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 11(2), 88–97.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Dreyer, L. C., Hauschild, M. Z., & Schierbeck, J. (2010). Characterisation of social impacts in LCA. International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 15(3), 247–259.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Florida, R. (2002). The rise of the creative class. New York: Basic Books, Perseus Books Group.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Fukuda-Parr, S. (2005). Millennium development goal 8: Indicators for international human rights obligations? Human Rights Quarterly, 28(4), 966–997.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Fukuda-Parr, S., Yamin, A. E., & Greenstein, J. (2014). The power of numbers: A critical review of millennium development goal targets for human development and human rights. Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, 15(2–3), 105–117.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Gilbert, M. R. (1990). From the “Walk for Adequate Welfare” to the ‘March for our Lives”: Welfare rights organizing in the 1960s and 1990s. Urban Geography, 22(5), 440–456.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Green, M. (2001). What we talk about when we talk about indicators: Current approaches to human rights measurement. Human Rights Quarterly, 23(4), 1062–1097.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Harvey, D. (2003). The right to the city. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 27(4), 939–941.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Harvey, D. (2012). Rebel cities: From the right to the city to the urban revolution. London-NYC: Verso.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Horlitz, S., & Vogelpohl, A. (2008). Something can be done!—A report on the conference ‘Right to the City. Prospects for Critical Urban Theory and Practice’. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 33(4), 1067–1072.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. International Electrotechnical Commission. (2014). White paper. Orchestrating infrastructure smart cities. Accessed 18 Dec 2014.

  20. International Standards Organization. (2014). 37120 sustainable development and resilience. Indicators for city services and quality of life. (Standard briefing note and outline available on-line, and standard on purchase at). Accessed 18 Dec 2014.

  21. Ishida, T., Isbister, K. (Eds.). (2000). Digital cities: Technologies, experiences, and future perspectives. Lecture notes in computer science, 1765: Springer.

  22. Jenks, M., & Jones, C. (Eds.). (2010). Dimensions of the sustainable city. Future City: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Klein, J. T. (2014). Discourses of transdisciplinarity: Looking back to the future. Futures, 63, 68–74.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Koo, J. W., Kong, S. K., & Chung, C. (2012). Measuring national human rights: A reflection on Korean experiences. Human Rights Quarterly, 34(4), 986–1020.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Landman, T. (2004). Measuring human rights: Principle, practice, and policy. Human Rights Quarterly, 26(4), 906–931.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Lefebre, H. (1995). Introduction to modernity (trans: Moore, J.). London: Verso

  27. Lefebvre, H. (1996 [1968]). Writings on cities (edited and translated: Kofman, E., & Lebas, E.). Oxford: Blackwell.

  28. Marcuse, P. (2007). The politics of public space/the right to the city: Social justice and the fight for public space. Journal of the American Planning Association, 73(1), 1.

  29. Marcuse, P., Mayer, M., & Brenner, N. (Eds.). (2011). Cities for people, not for profit: Critical urban theory and the right to the city. Abingdon/New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Purcell, M. (2014). Possible worlds: Henri Lefebvre and the right to the city. Journal of Urban Affairs, 36(1), 141–154.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Shields, R. (2013). Lefebvre and the right to the open city? Space and Culture, 16(3), 345–348.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Sokhi-Bulley, B. (2011). Governing (through) rights: Statistics as technologies of governmentality. Social & Legal Studies, 20(2), 139–155.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Tayebi, A. (2013). Planning activism: Using social media to claim marginalized citizens’ right to the city. Cities, 32, 88–93.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. United Cities and Local Governments, Committee on Social Inclusion, Participatory Democracy and Human Rights UCLG-CISDP. (1998). The European Charter for the Safeguarding of the Human Rights in the City. Accessed 18 Dec 2014.

  35. United Cities and Local Governments, Committee on Social Inclusion, Participatory Democracy and Human Rights. (2006). Global Charter-Agenda for human Rights in the City. Accessed 18 Dec 2014.

  36. United Nations, General Assembly. (1948). Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Accessed 18 Dec 2014.

  37. United Nations, General Assembly. (2000). United Nations Millennium Declaration. Accessed 18 Dec 2014.

  38. United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. (1966a). International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Accessed 18 Dec 2014.

  39. United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. (1966b). International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Accessed 18 Dec 2014.

  40. United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. (1993). Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. Accessed 18 Dec 2014.

  41. United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. (2005). Declaration for the 60th Anniversary of the United Nations. Accessed 18 Dec 2014.

  42. United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. (2012). Human Rights indicators. HR/PUB/12/5. Accessed 18 Dec 2014.

  43. United Nations, World Commission on Environment and Development. (1987). Our common future. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Van Ginneken, W. (2011). Social protection, the millennium development goals and human rights. IDS Bulletin-Institute of Development Studies, 42(6), 111–117.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Walby, S., & Armstrong, J. (2010). Measuring equalities: Data and indicators in Britain. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 13(3), 237–249.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Wigfield, A., & Turner, R. (2013). The development of the good relations measurement framework in Britain: A template for experiential social measurement. Social Indicators Research, 114(2), 655–686.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Woodcraft, S. (2012). Social sustainability and new communities: Moving from concept to practice in the UK. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 68, 29–42.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This research is consuming a huge amount of work and dedication. The elaboration of indicators would not have been possible without the valuable contributions and help of this team, who disinterestedly met with me once a week during months, always active, helpful, and bringing lots of great ideas: Dr. Pere Soler (University of Girona, Director the Director of the Joint Master’s Program in Youth and Society (MIJS); Dr. Imma Boada (University of Girona, Director of the Institute of Informatics and its Applications); Dr. Joaquim Meléndez (University of Girona, Director of the Doctoral Program in Technology); Ms. Anna Serra (Lawyer at Red Cross Girona); Mr. Fran Quirós (Responsible of Cooperation Programs at Charity Girona); Mr. Lluís Puigdemont (Responsible of the Rights Department at Charity Girona); Dr. Montse Aulinas (Project Manager at Grup Fundació Ramon Noguera); Ms. Yolanda García (Responsible of social programs at Grup Fundació Ramon Noguera). Special thanks to Mr. Mark Segal, international consultant on democratization issues, for his valuable comments and general editing support during the elaboration of this research.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Maria-Lluïsa Marsal-Llacuna.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (PDF 109 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Marsal-Llacuna, M. City Indicators on Social Sustainability as Standardization Technologies for Smarter (Citizen-Centered) Governance of Cities. Soc Indic Res 128, 1193–1216 (2016).

Download citation


  • City indicators
  • Smart cities
  • Social sustainability
  • Standardization
  • Citizenship rights
  • Urban policies