Smart Citizen – environmental monitoring kit

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Marshall (1950) defines citizenship as being composed of civic, political and social elements, which as Sassen (2002, p.7) describes, form a legal status entailing “the specifics of whom the state recognizes as a citizen and the formal basis for the rights and responsibilities of the individual in relation to the state”. Recently Sassen (2008) has identified what she calls a certain “denationalizing” transformation in the institution of citizenship that occurs as a result of changes in the territorial and institutional organization of state authority and globalization (Sassen, 2008, p.7). In other words, as the conditions in which citizenship is embedded change, so does the institution itself. Sassen (2008, p.281) suggests that the global city is a key driver of this change, a “partly denationalized space that enables a partial reinvention of citizenship as a practice and a project”. In place of questions of nationality the practices and informal politics of citizenship can move toward the enactments of a large array of particular interests or “rights to the city”.

In this context, one particular interest or civil rights issue that a many citizens living in cities face is air pollution, which is the focus of the Smart Citizen environmental monitoring project (Fab Lab Barcelona, Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia). The Smart Citizen kit is an open-source environmental monitoring platform consisting of arduino-compatible hardware, a data visualization web API, and mobile app to measure localised environmental pollution (CO, NO², temperature, humidity, light intensity and noise levels) (Waag, 2014). The citizen or perhaps Smart Citizen in this project is potentially able to contest traditional sources of environmental data and by sharing information online gain wider global support for a local issue. Aligning with Sassen’s (2008) critique, this project certainly taps into a contemporary version of citizenship, that identifies with a particular issue and asks questions of citizenship’s traditional national boundaries. The challenge for the project is to remove the boundaries in terms of cost and technological proficiency that may stand in the way of making this a democratic endeavour.

Marshall, T., 1950. Citizenship and Social Class. In: J. Manza. and Sauder, M. ed. 2008.  Inequality and Society. W.W. Norton and Co.: New york.

Sassen, S., 2002. The Repositioning of Citizenship: Emergent Subjects and Spaces for Politics. Berkeley Journal of Sociology, [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 27 April 2014].

Sassen, S., 2008. Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

WAAG Society, 2014. Projects: Smart Citizen Kit. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 27 April 2014].

Image source:

Press reports of the project:

More about the project from an initial trial in Holland:

Interview with Saskia Sassen discussing contemporary citizenship:

Press report about contested air pollution data in Beijing:

What is a Smart Citizen?Hill, D,. 2013. Smart Citizens Make Smart Cities. In: Hemment, D. & Townsend, A., 2013. Future Everything publications: Smart Citizens. Available at: < > [Accessed 27 April 2014].

Smart Citizen: Sensing the city

Smart Citizen is a project started by the Barcelona FabLab and is in the process of being extended to other places globally. Most recently launched in Manchester during the Future Everything conference. Funding for the project is a mix of bottom-up and top-down partners, initial funding was through crowdfunding (Kickstarter), now they have sponsorship by Intel and individuals can purchase sensors direct from the website.

The project aims to engage citizens in gathering environmental data through the use of an Aurduino sensor, open software and geolocation. The eventual goals of the project are quite open and ambiguous, as they want to encourage citizens to become active participants in their cities by observing and monitoring their immediate environment by producing big data from global cities.

“In an age of Big Data, some suggest we have an opportunity to connect, aggregate analyse and integrate information about the urban environment in ways that enable us to better visualise, model and predict urban processes, simulate probable outcomes, and lead to more efficient and sustainable cities.” Shephard & Simeti, 2013, p 13

To be useful the data gathered will need to to be taken beyond an observation project, which although “has the potential to uncover meaning; it does not identify problems or solutions” Smyth, 2013, p40.  The hope is that individuals will make use of the global data productively by designing and making solutions to environmental problems within cities. As smart citizen projects are not “just about local innovation. It is also about global collaboration.” Hemment & Townsend, 2013, piii However, solutions are not the start point for this type of project instead the data collected could feed into a process of critical design, as “a catalyst or provocation for thought rather than the presentation of complete solutions. Here it is a means of opening dialogues.” Smyth, 2013, p41. Allowing citizens to become active in the process of city design and building enabling “‘bottom-up’ innovation and collaborative ways of developing systems out of many loosely joined parts” Hemment & Townsend, 2013, p2 (where I imagine the citizens are included in the definition of ‘loosely joined parts’ as well as technology and data).

Although ambitious the project as has barriers before it can successful, for example how can it become widely known about and used as there is the danger that it will “merely provide another platform for proactive citizens already more likely to engage within the community” Shephard & Simeti, 2013, p 15, seeing as it requires specialist equipment to gather information and technical knowledge to make the data meaningful and useful. Having open source information might create a bottom-up approach, however “[o]pen source movements only care about who participates, not those who don’t. But cities can’t afford to neglect those who lack the means to participate” Hemment & Townsend, 2013, p3. Currently the solution offered is an open source, citizen centred approach and this is not without problems.

(my words = 306)


Hemment D. & Townsend A. (2013) Smart Citizens – Introduction in Hemment D. & Townsend A. (2013) Smart Citizens, FutureEverything Publications p.iii accessed April 2014

Hemment D. & Townsend A. (2013) Here Come the Smart Citizens in Hemment D. & Townsend A. (2013) Smart Citizens, FutureEverything Publications pp.1-4 accessed April 2014

Shephard M. & Simeti A (2013) What’s so smart about the Smart Citizen? in Hemment D. & Townsend A. (2013) Smart Citizens, FutureEverthing Publications pp.13-18 accessed April 2014

Smyth M. (2013) Critical Design: A Mirror of the Human Condition in the Smart City in Hemment D. & Townsend A. (2013) Smart Citizens, FutureEverything Publications pp.39-42 accessed April 2014

shantyTown _smartCity

On the fringes: as cities grow many struggle to cope with the influx of migrants

On the fringes: as cities grow many struggle to cope with the influx of migrants

The promise of smart, the promise of information technology, the promise of transparency and efficiency is great for buses but not always for people. A city is not a machine and neither are its citizens. Rural migration and urban overpopulation is not a new phenomenon, nor is urban planning. Campbell (2012) estimates that by 2025, there will be 1200 large or intermediate sized cities (p.28) and that 75% of the world’s population will be in urban areas. The solution has been to make a city smarter, sold to urban planners by technology providers with a mantra of efficiency and sustainability. Hemment and Townsend, 2013 argue that this vision is flawed, that a top-down centrally controlled provision; vulnerable to political churn does not work for billions of excluded informal citizens.

Inclusive, bottom-up philosophies conclude that open and accessible big data for the smarter citizen will hold accountable the legacy of Fortune 500 urban planning for politically expedient new cities. Yet there are currently a billion people living on less than a dollar a day (ibid. p.35), 1 in 5 people live in slum conditions and by 2050 it is estimated to be 1 in 3 (Lea REKOW, 2013: 35). Kibera, Africa’s purportedly largest slum (Nairobi, Kenya) was officially registered as a forest (Hagen, 2010)  until residents were able to document and map their community using GPS and . Without documented infrastructure, residents lack any agency in policymaking and are powerless to hold institutions to account. Similarly, in Brazil, children’s kites attached to a digital camera have been used to conduct aerial surveys of Rio’s favelas.  These smarter citizens can then use their smart phones to document and geotag areas of contention and negotiation. These two examples of micro-social behaviour have the potential to encourage ‘landscapes of collective desire.’

” …landscapes that are characterised through the politics of self-positioning, regardless of the form of technology used.” (Lea REKOW, 2013: 38)





CAMPBELL, T.E.J., 2012. Beyond smart cities: how cities network, learn and innovate, Abingdon, Oxon: Earthscan.

HAGEN, Erica (2010.) Putting Nairobi’s Slums on the Map. Development Outreach, Special Report: WORLD BANK INSTITUTE. Available at: <> [Accessed 28apr3014]

HEMMENT, D. & TOWNSEND, A., (2013). Here Come the Smart Citizens in Hemment, D. & Townsend, A., ed. (2013) Smart Citizens – FutureEverything. Available at: <> [Accessed 01apr2014]

REKOW, Lea (2013). Including Informality in the Smart Citizen Conversation in Hemment, D. & Townsend, A., ed. (2013) Smart Citizens – FutureEverything. Available at: <> [Accessed 01apr2014]



HEATHCOTE, Edwin (2012). Compare and Contrast. ©Eyevine. <Available at: <> [Accessed 28apr2014].



Masdar, UAE.  Norman Foster designed city without residents.

Gurgaon, India. The ‘millenium city’ , filled with Fortune500 blue chip companies and a failed infratructure.


What do Points Make? Prizes!

bullet hole

Lorenzo QUINN,
Italian Pavilion at the 54th International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale, 2011.

Sex, food, mood, location, sleep, alertness, productivity, exercise, mental health and spirituality (Whitson, 2013): always on; always gaming; always working to be the best. The game world never stops, expanding the temporal borders of Montola’s “magic circle” (deSouza e Silva and Sutko, 2009:1). The acceptable face of pervasive surveillance is play, as long as you know the rules.

Whitson analyses the effectiveness of gamification to the quantification of everyday life by linking it to aspirational self-surveillance, participatory and social surveillance and hierarchical management surveillance. The concept of gamification as play works as long as it is participatory, be it incremental improvements in health and exercise or becoming a foursquare mayor, control and ownership over the accumulated data is key. However, the ‘black box of software’ is not transparent, nor is the commodified data free. In a process of function creep, the accumulation of intimate and long-term data of desires and behaviour could be exploited for marketing, government agencies and law enforcement. In work and education, the individual can no longer choose to quit where gamified applications facilitate the lateral surveillance of workers, generating a competitive and panoptic coercion “used to judge, rank and punish.” (Whitson, 2013:174)

Torres and Goggin (2014) expand the ‘magic circle’s’ social border in their paper on mobile social gambling and the increased normalisation of wagering as entertainment. Free from local or national jurisdiction, social gaming and mobile gambling has become play in everyday spaces. <footnote 1> “Digital wagering for play money blurs the distinction between gaming and wagering, in effect expanding the notion of gambling.” (p.96). This has serious implications for policy makers and those who are vulnerable to addiction.

The most obvious expansion of the ‘magic circle’ is location-based mobile games. Blast Theory in 2001, began to use mobile technologies to transform urban space. <footnote 2> Pac Manhattan, Brazilian frogger and London zombie chase games are examples of urban infrastructure being redefined and gamified.

Mobile technologies are blurring the borders of time, community and space facilitated by surveillance, games and play, conflating online and offline identity and making it ever harder to determine which side of the screen is which.







1) In-app purchases for Zynga poker accounted for 12% of Facebook’s total revenues in 2011 (Torres and Goggin, 2014:102), where players send and receive gifts of poker chips (Zynga, 2013 cited in Torres and Goggin, 2014:104), as well as chatting and making friends.

2) fAR-Play uses the Layar app to allow game players to create and share their own points of interest using augmented reality. These ideas are also of benefit to the corporate world and this example shows how AR games are used to promote team-building, key messages and training.



de SOUZA e SILVA, A., and SUTKO, D., (2009). Merging Digital and Urban Playspaces: An Introduction to the Field. In: de Souza e Silva, A., and Sutko, D., (2009). Digital Cityscapes Merging Digital and Urban Playspaces. New York: Peter Lang Publishing. Ch.1

TORRES, César Albarrán and GOGGIN, Gerard (2014) Mobile social gambling: Poker’s next frontier. Mobile Media & Communication 2: 94 <Available at:> [Accessed 22apr2014].

WHITSON, J. R., (2013). Gaming the Quantified Self. Surveillance & Society 11(1/2): 163-176. <Available at:> [Accessed 22apr2014].


Lorenzo QUINN (2011). This is not a game Italian Pavilion at the 54th International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale, 2011. <Available at:> [Accessed 22apr2014].

Huddersfield Examiner (2013). World Record for the largest playable game projection. The Gadget Show and Running in the Halls:  London, Victoria Dock building. <Available at:> [Accessed 22apr2014].

Parallel Kingdom (2013) Screenshot of gameplay on android mobile. <Available at:> [Accessed 22apr2014].


Layar augmented reality for googleGlass, 19Mar2014


projection mapping snake onto 3D buildings


Multi-platform console game based on the darker elements of surveillance, Watchdogs. UK Release Date 27may2014, © 2013 Ubisoft Entertainment.




Future Everything 2014

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Smug post from the festival… The event definitely seems to be an intersection for different visions of digital cities that we’ve talked about. You can see how large tech companies like Intel are connecting with the event and putting funding into ‘smart city’ projects such as Smart Citizen – a research project aimed at providing people with cheap air pollution monitoring kits to gather huge amounts of data on air quality. At the other end of the spectrum there are some really interesting bottom up initiatives for example Rachel Raynes artist in residence at Raspberry Pi was really inspiring as was the Zuolark’s El Campo de Cebad public space project in Madrid.

Download a list of people, projects and references that caught my attention during the conference here Future_Everything_2014