Messy Human Elements

“The city is its people” (Hill, in Hemment & Townsend, 2013, p.88). In the quest for efficiency in the technologically driven and overridden smart ‘ghost’ city, the human person is stripped of its central role in the dynamic venture through life’s everyday interaction and experiences of communication. Thus the smart city can be pictured as a barren factory endowed with machinist capabilities, serviced by the human person sleepily pushing buttons for function and routine activity. Such a structured, routinely and highly efficient state of being may actually be in conflict with the nature of the human person, the citizen of the city, whose “profoundly human elements… the messy ones” made up of “events never planned” calls on what citizens may actually want, “a slightly less ‘connected’ journey to experience serendipity in their lives once in a while” (Mulligan, in Hemment & Townsend, 2013, p.83).

One cannot envision the city without its citizens. However making the citizen a passive consumer of technologies presented and decided upon by corporations and government, excludes the Smart Citizens from their central role in the livelihood of the Smart City, that of engagement in the process of deciding on technology use and its design. Dan Hill quotes Cedric Price in asking, “Technology is the answer. But what is the question?” (in Hemment & Townsend, 2013, p.87): This in the quest of understanding the central and active state of Smart Citizens in the existence of the Smart City; “smart, engaged, aware and active citizens” (Hill, in Hemment & Townsend, 2013, p.89). “We make cities in order to come together, to create commerce, culture, conviviality, and the very notion of living in cities. Buildings, vehicles and infrastructure are mere enablers, not drivers. They are a side-effect, a by-product, of people and culture” (Hill, in Hemment & Townsend, 2013, p.88).

Among various art and design projects, which engage citizens in the active, smart running of the city, is Hackair. Such an open platform hands over direct responsibility to citizens and engages them in measuring and publishing air pollution levels. This increases citizen engagement and awareness in the well-being of its city environment, through technologies that enable smart citizens’ direct and active commitment, rather than a passive consumerist approach to technologies.






Digital Single Market. 22 new CAPS projects in Horizon 2020 [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 24 April 2016].

Hackair [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 24 April 2016].

Hemment, D. & Townsend, A., 2013. Smart Citizens: FutureEverything [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 24 April 2016].

Hemment, D. & Townsend, A., 2013. FutureEverything Publications: Smart Citizens [pdf] Available at: <> [Accessed 24 April 2016].

Hill, D., 2013. Essay: On the Smart City; Or, a ‘manifesto’ for smart citizens instead [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 24 April 2016].


Coming Up for Air

When discussing ‘smart cities’ and grassroots technological movements for a better future, the first thing I always think of is pollution and environmental sustainability. Despite EU laws regarding industrial pollution and changes in public transportation regulation all across Europe, the world is still in danger. Surely there must be a way for citizens to monitor and improve the environment beyond just separating rubbish into the ‘waste’ and ‘recycle’ bins?

Hemment and Townsend wrote that “digital culture has given rise to a collaborative code ethic, and there has been a trend towards applying thinking and methods from open source software development to other domains”. One of these domains has been environmental sustainability. HackAIR, one of the 22 new CAPS projects for 2016, is a Europe-centric open technology platform for the monitoring of air quality. Users can access information on air quality in a particular city or area as well as, through an easy-to-build “low-tech measurement setup involving paper filters and aquarium air pumps”, collect said information and contribute to the HackAIR air quality database via Bluetooth.

The HackAIR mobile app can be used on smartphones and tablets and for those not carrying the DIY air quality sensor module with them at all times, users can submit photographs of the sky.

A data fusion algorithm then merges “air quality information from various sources and produce a normalised map of air quality” (HackAIR website), becoming a ‘social tool’ that “can be layered over the city, giving us real time access to information about the things and people that surround us”.

The only problem that comes to mind is access to HackAIR; not all people have the means to pay £799 for an iPhone up-front. Nancy Odendaal, however, when writing about African cities, points out that lack of means to purchase a device in one go does not necessarily mean inability to access those devices:

“The Smart City is dominated by cell phone access. Private individuals use flexible payment options provided through private service providers to access mobile telephony and the Internet without onerous contractual obligations (not possible if you do not have informal employment). Community services are enabled through less formal to highly informal provision through phone shops and kiosks.”

HackAIR is a tremendously exciting app for anyone remotely concerned about the wellbeing of our planet, and, as explained by Odendaal, access can be available to those under the poverty line via community-oriented setups and flexible payment options. What better way to connect with others in your area while raising awareness of environmental issues at the same time?


Hemment, D. & Townsend, A., Here Come the Smart Citizens, in Hemment, D. & Townsend, A., 2013. Smart Citizens – FutureEverything (1-4)

Odendaal, N., “You have the presence of someone” The Ubiquity of Smart, in Hemment, D. & Townsend, A., 2013. Smart Citizens – FutureEverything (31-34)


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Sm-art and Practical Projects


CCTV and art

Smart citizens need to wake up over the topic of subtle or not really subtle surveillance done by the spread of mobile devices and social media. In fact, “taking control of tools has been a central factor in promoting a participatory, hands on approach to our relationship with technology” (Future Everything, Tools for Unknown Futures, 1995-2016).

Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a speaker at Future Everybody, is crystal clear that, in order to be smart citizens and active members of a community, citizens need to understand the importance of participation by being co-creator of the society. In her words,

“I am a hacker in Parliament, I went into the system in order to understand how it works and my conclusion is clear: Install new system with a new form of democracy of the future, where we move away from democratic dictatorship with many representative heads to a direct responsibility of direct liquid democracy.” (Future Everybody, p.33,

Is she being naïve and too idealistic or is she foreshadowing the future for real? What are certain are the new proposal projects for smart citizens sponsored by the EU. One of these, COMRADE aims to be a practical technologic help in crisis situations, crisis caused either by nature (earthquakes, floods) or by men (war).



Going thorough this server, the enormous amount of data is filtered so to have useful and reliable information at hand when most needed. By using it, people take collective actions to respond to moment of crisis by actively participating. Both locals and remote users interact together, as explained by COMRADE creators:

“Enabling local (communities in crisis zones) and remote (digital activists and responders) individuals and communities to come together and share knowledge through their crises reports (community reporters), to produce and access filtered and quality collective information, and to be connected with others based on emergency needs and offers”(COMRADE fact sheet, 2016, p.2,

It does seem a very thoughtful idea and hope it may work because, after having experienced a bad earthquake, having the certainty of being connected and having access to news, whether you are living in a central area or not, might be vital.


Future Everything, Tools for Unknown Futures,, [Accessed: 25 April 2016]

Hemment, D., Gere, C eds (2012) Future Everybody. Future Everything: Manchester, UK,, [Accessed: 25 April 2016] and PDF [Accessed: 25 April 2016]

COMRADE Fact Sheet, (2016), [Accessed: 25 April 2016]

Signing Up for Smart Citizenship


The idea that the ‘Smart City’ is shaped by the ‘providers of big technology’ (Hemment, D & Townsend, A  2013; Pg 1) is being challenged by our developing ideas of what a smart citizen of the future will be. Net Commons is an initiative to develop and promote community networks so that there is a workable infrastructure to create ‘a sustainable alternative, to the global Internet’s current dominant model’. (Net Commons Project Summary; pg 1) This bottom up approach is a key part of current thought regarding the role of the smart citizen and how we can empower ourselves with developing not only our access to data, but our role in shaping it too.

The Smart Citizen Kit was created as a Kick Starter campaign to develop an open sourced environmental monitoring platform which allows you to to monitor your city environment; CO2 and NO2 levels, temperature and humidity, light intensity and sound levels.The companies website talks about how this device creates a ‘community-powered system for collecting, visualising, and sharing environmental data as measured in our own backyards!’ This idea of citizen empowerment, by collecting our own data, indicates a shift from our data being controlled  by the ‘network gatekeepers’ (Castells, M 2011: pg 1) who are influenced  by commercial or political interests, to having access to, and controlling our data for ourselves.

But to be able to develop this concept there needs to be citizen responsibility as well as empowerment. As the Net Commons initiative demonstrates, this needs to work at a grassroots community level in order for it to be able to be implemented and to succeed. This means we need to take on a collective responsibility in becoming the stake holders in our future environments. Within the ‘Future of Everything’ Frank Kresin has created a ‘Manifesto for Smart Citizens’. Which states the following; ‘We, citizens of all cities, take the fate of the places we live in into our own hands. We care about the buildings and the parks, the shops, the schools, the roads and the trees. But above all, we care about the quality of the life we live in our cities’. (Kresin, F (Hemment, D & Townsend, A) 2013; Pg 33).

If this is to be more than a utopian vision, there does seem to be the need for a structured, collective approach in order for the digital citizen to play a key role in developing future smart cities and communities.


Castells, M 2011 ‘A Network Theory of Power’ International Journal of Communication 5 (2011), 773–787

EC-funded ‘Collective Awareness Platforms’ Available at;

Environmental Monitoring Platform. Available at;

Hemment, D. & Townsend, A., 2013. Smart Citizens – FutureEverything. Available at:

From Netizens to Cityzens

Until recently much of the debate as to what makes a smart city, and the technology and innovation to reach that goal, has been driven by governments and corporate technology companies. However, there is a growing realisation that this ‘top-down’ approach leads to proprietary systems that often overlook the most important element of the city – the citizen. It is only by bringing individuals, communities and businesses into the debate that innovative, bespoke solutions can be designed through local innovation that can be replicated, leading to global collaboration (Hemment, D. & Townsend, A. 2013 pp1-3).

Open4Citizens (2016) is a Collective Awareness Platform (CAPS) project that puts the citizen at the centre of new technology, in this case access to data. Its aim is to give all citizens the means to benefit from the huge amount of data generated by cities, described as “open air data factories”.


An example of data generated by a city, in this case Manchester

By creating a platform for citizens to collaborate Open4Citizens will harness this resource, raising awareness of its availability, how to access it and how to use it. Most importantly they want to create a circle whereby data collected within a smart city is used where it is most important – for improving the lives of the citizens that generate it, thus allowing citizens to play a pivotal role in creating the city of the future through an innovative, collaborative ‘bottom-up approach’ that responds to their needs (Hemment, D. & Townsend, A. 2013 pp1-3).

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 22.26.09

How Open4Citizens plan to engage people with their city through data

Government does have a role to play in this process by providing the infrastructure to allow access and ensuring it’s accessible and usable to everyone and not just those with coding skills (Maltby, P. 2013 pp57-61). But access and usability on their own are not enough and governments need to set aside their risk-aversion, self-interest and bureaucracy to allow innovations to flourish; good projects that have come out of community initiatives and hackathons are often failed to be adopted and a change in political approach is needed to remove barriers to innovation and truly involve the citizen (Madriz, M. 2013 pp67-70).


Hemment, D. & Townsend, A. Ed. (2013) Smart Citizens, pp1-3. Future Everything Publications. Available at: [accessed 23 April 2016].

Madriz, M. (2013). Hemment, D & Townsend, A. Ed. Smart Citizens, pp67-70. Future Everything Publications. Available at: [accessed 23 April 2016].

Maltby, P. (2013). Hemment, D & Townsend, A. Ed. Smart Citizens, pp57-61. Future Everything Publications. Available at: [accessed 23 April 2016].

Open4Citizens (2016). Available at: [accessed 23 April 2016].

Collective Awareness Platform (2016). 22 New CAPS Projects in Horizon 2020. Available at: [accessed 23 April 2016].


Learning how to know thyself?

The Collective Awareness Platform(CAPS) project called MAZI is a DIY networking toolkit for location-based collective awareness which aims to ‘develop technology and knowledge in order to empower those who are in physical proximity, to shape their hybrid urban space, together, according to the specificities of the respective local environment’ (MAZI 2016). This is a hybrid program developing physical components with the use of low cost technology. In addition, facilitating hybrid, virtual and physical, local networks, which supports the emerging role of ‘smart citizen’.

The methodology of the pilot demonstrates an iterative feedback system with data collection and synthesis towards social learning. The working of the project shows a lot of meetings, events and infrastructure development, working with skills within the locality, supported by the MAZI program.


Authors (Hemment and Townsend 2013: 1-3) consider that this approach is a necessary shift away from only ‘big technology’ solutions in smart city design. A focus on ‘bottom up’ innovation and collaborative working has potential to re-engage people as the centre of the process with investment in ‘place’ at local level.IMG_0041

The MAZI project initiating a range of activities in Deptford, is developing skills and community network infrastructure in collaboration with local people and organisations.



MAZI CreekNet profile.

In ‘To know thy City, know Thyself’ Townsend looks at ‘small scale place making’ drawn in part from the historic work of Geddes and how currently the way people interact in urban life is changing through technology. Personal mobility generates data through ‘smart’ locative technology and allows near constant communication, both individual and linked to broader data streams. This informs how ‘grassroots efforts to reshape cities are actually trying to change the ways things work at a local level, amongst people, to create new (healthier, greener) systems.’(p.25)




Blog 8 19.4.16 Last Tango? Janet Jones 13801643

Digital gaming within an urban context can bring together people and place in a connected lived experience which links to historic forms of artistic expression and play. In ‘Merging Digital and Urban Play Spaces’ (2009), the authors suggest ‘communication, collaboration and social interaction can occur in a combination of the physical and the digital’ (p.1). Digital games fall into categories linked to levels of engagement with reality both spatially, temporally, through interaction with other people and also type of digital connectivity. Pervasive games refers to activities extending into reality in the manner of historical characters the ‘flaneur'(p.8) and later the ‘phoneur’ who moved through urban spaces in a ludic form which disrupted and modified the normal flow of people. Location based mixed reality, Augmented reality and Big games are played through a combination of online and location aware technology. Players interact with each other in physical locations, informed by GPS and Cellular positioning.

The game Ingress is an augmented-reality massively multiplayer online location-based game created by Google and Niantic Inc. Players use cell phones to log into a Google Maps-based interface to highlight “portals” around their location, which the game’s two factions must fight to control. When a player is near a portal, they can take it over and set up virtual defences. The opposing factions in the game are based around a ‘good and evil’ world domination format which sets people up to take control of geographic locations.IMG_0031IMG_0023

The app requested access to my address book(which I declined but put my own email in to proceed), this indicates the Google corporate data mining objectives of the game.

IMG_0033 IMG_0030

Playing on iPhone from a location in Halifax gave me a map of the area around the hotel and a triangle of operation for locating game elements and attempting to link them defensively. There was also the possibility of locating other players in the vicinity. Physically moving towards locations guided by the on screen pointer gives ‘portal’ interaction.


View from room window Premier Inn Halifax 17.5.16

Ingress tutorial from YouTube

As the game was played during a trip back to the town of my childhood home, I was struck by the perspective of Hjorth(2011) in highlighting a relationship between notions of home and the digital in the game context.

‘Far from eroding a sense of home and kinship ties, mobile technologies are reinforcing notions of locality and place. Indeed mobile, networked technologies – under the rubric of mobile media – not only transform how we experience place'(p.368)

An augmented reality version of the town centre of Halifax was certainly an interesting experience physically and emotionally.



De Souza e Silva, A, and D. M. Sutko, eds. (2009) Digital Cityscapes: Merging Digital and Urban Playscapes. New York: Peter Lang: 1-17

Hjorth, L. (2011). Mobile@game cultures: The place of urban mobile gaming. Sage Convergence, 17(4), 357-371.

Montola et al Pervasive games: Theory and design


Flâneur: Phoneur: Dérive



As one reflects on the totality of the Digital Cities experience, it is well noted that predominant to the themes encountered are the notions of physicality, virtuality, a sense of place and identity, in the playful meandering through space mediated by mobile technologies. Such notions seem to have reached a noticeable fulcrum in the sphere of mobile gaming, which embraces a redefinition and “interruption/disruption of everyday practices” (Hjorth, 2011, p.361) in the spaces of urban life. Urban mobile games which encompass the three forms of mobile games, namely location-aware, location-based, and hybrid reality games, emphasize bodily movement through urban spaces, connected to virtual environments enhancing the embodied experience of locality and place. One connects with the concept of place as being “constructed by an ongoing accumulation of stories, memories and social practices” (Harvey, 2001 cited in Hjorth, 2011, p.358). Such an interaction of experiential processes is augmented by blurred distinctions between the online and offline, physical and virtual presence reconciled by mobile media gaming technologies.


Shoot me if you can is one such mobile game that deploys the ocular-centric capabilities of mobile media together with the physical experience of movement in urban spaces, wherein metaphorically, photos are the bullets of the mobile camera that shoots. Players are virtually connected together and to the system, through the mobile phone, with their body present in physical space. Shoot me if you can is a photographic experience as one is free to shoot and capture images of strangers/opponents; a comment on the prominence of the digital image in our everyday lives; a statement on the image-based big-brother surveillance effect on our culture. “Shoot me if you can also reveals Korean youngsters’ paranoiac desire to photograph and the violence of surveillance camera in city life… attempts to interpret urban data through a public performance” (




Blast Theory. Available at:

Hjorth, L., 2011. Mobile@game cultures: The place of urban mobile gaming [pdf] Available at: <> [Accessed 16 April 2016].

Shoot me if you can [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 17 April 2016].

Shoot me if you can: Leonardo Electronic Almanac [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 17 April 2016].


Run For Your Life!

I tend to be someone who appreciates what De Souza and Sutko introduce as pervasive games, as in games that “include elements of everyday life” (Nieuwdorp, 2005) and “extend the gaming experience out into the real world” (Benford et al, 2005) either in spatial or temporal terms.

I’m personally familiar with games that tend to ‘go on in the background’ even when you’re not playing and many non-location-based games, such as console games, have adopted that technique since it subconsciously draws the player back into the game – either to see if there is a special event going on or, in the case of the Fable and Elder Scrolls series, if your tenants have paid you thousands in rent after you invested in all those houses throughout the kingdom.

That said, in the subject of location-based mobile games, I’m bringing back Zombies, Run! since it is a terrible underrated app in being considered a ‘fitness app’.


Zombies, Run! is an incredibly complex location-based mobile game insofar as it incorporates an intricately written storyline worthy of a console game with all the ‘perks’ of a location-based app – accurate interaction with your local map via Google Maps and a virtual ‘geocaching’ system that fits into the storyline. Huizinga’s “magic circle” in this case is your desired running/jogging/walking area – it can expand from a street to an entire city, and develops as you keep running in whichever direction you desire. The game also incorporates a core feature of fitness apps which is to allow you to listen to your ‘exercising playlist’ while you run, and story updates come randomly between one song and the next, sometimes catching you off guard.


What is incredibly interesting, and many people who categorise it as simply a fitness app don’t point out, is that these pre-recorded story updates will be accurately timed to take into consideration your local road map, giving you random optional missions such as saving a little girl or collecting supplies, and a voice will tell you to follow directions. This can lead to a whole new interaction with your city by taking you running in places you had never seen before, or into terrains you are not familiar with. It works precisely as De Souza and Sutko wrote: it equates the magic circle with the urban space, encouraging players to discover unknown areas of the city and bringing a digital layer to the construction of the “urban playful space”.

The physicality of the game – having zombies chase you if you choose to activate that option – as well as the complexity of its writing also brings to mind Richardson’s passage on the mobile phone being “both multiform and multifunctional, an ‘open work’ requiring a complex range of hermeneutic skills on the part of the user, and also highly mutable because ‘it is held very close to the body or stays on the body surface’ (Fortunati, 2005: 152–153, 156).”.

Although it is not a temporally-pervasive game, it doesn’t end when you stop running. One of the features that make it so encouraging for people who normally hate exercise is the rewards that you ‘collect’ while you are running, regardless of speed. These rewards then allow you to upgrade buildings and facilities in your “survivor’s camp” which will then unlock more chapters in the story.


It may be a form of abstraction insofar as it is fictional, but merging wellbeing and exercise with an exciting storyline plays with the (drawing from De Souza and Sutko’s work) co-presence of digital and physical spaces and flows in and out of them with ease. It allows for a certain level of daydreaming that is only highlighted and enriched by physical reality, possibly even discovering hidden parts of our cities – “attaching digital information to places and reconfiguring urban spaces” (De Souza and Sutko).


De Souza e Silva, A, and D. M. Sutko, eds. (2009) Digital Cityscapes: Merging Digital and Urban Playscapes. New York: Peter Lang: 1-17

Richardson, I. (2011). The hybrid ontology of mobile gaming. Convergence, 17(4), 419-430. 

Play the City


Digital games have nowadays become active games additionally by exploring the surrounding physical environment. is an Italian site where people may subscribe to a specific event/game running in the city. People are divided into groups and they have to fulfil different tasks around the city by using their mobile devices within a certain amount of time. The city is no longer only a practical place for the circulation of people but rather a place of active exploring, discovery and learning.


First and Last Templar. Treasure Hunt in the historic centre of Ferrara |

One of the latest Play the City events was “The First and Last Templar, Treasure Hunt in the historic centre of Ferrara” (picture above) and it can be defined as a “location-based mobile game (LBMG)”. One fundamental requirement to participate in the hunt is to have at least one 3G smartphone per team in order to be connected for the entire time of the game alongside the use of the city as the physical game space. This wholly satisfies the definition of LBMGs as “games played with mobile phones that are equipped with location awareness (i.e. GPS) and Internet connection” (Hjorth, 2011, pp. 362-363).

Main page of the site |

Main page of the site |

It is fundamental to have the city as an in between game space to let the virtual and the real merge together. In fact, “these games connect physical and digital spaces, in that players may be walking around urban spaces” (De Souza e Silva, 2009, pg.3). In addition, the motto of the site is “not just visit, play” and it is self-explanatory. This particular site operates in different cities around Italy but it also exists a bigger site based in the Netherlands ( where the work is on a bigger scale.

Projects of Play the |

Projects of Play the City.nd |

If the Italian organization is for mere fun and amusement, instead this other Play the City deals with social change and with the challenge of urban development. For instance, “Play the City of Cape Town” ( raised awareness in the citizens and stakeholders about the lack of investments in a specific area by setting up game sessions. In the end, virtual games have the potentiality to stimulate work action in the city whether by exploring and spending valuable time in the city or when trying to improve the quality of living.




Play the, [Accessed: 17 April 2016]

Play the, [Accessed: 17 April 2016]

Play the, Play Cape Town, [Accessed: 17 April 2016]

De Souza e Silva, A, and D. M. Sutko, eds., 2009, Digital Cityscapes: Merging Digital and Urban Playscapes. New York: Peter Lang: 1-17

Hjorth, L.,2011, Mobile@game cultures: The place of urban mobile gaming. Convergence, 17(4), 357-371.