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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *