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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