Automating the War on Noise Pollution

Article by Linda Poon: “Any city dweller is no stranger to the frequent revving of motorbikes and car engines, made all the more intolerable after the months of silence during pandemic lockdowns. Some cities have decided to take action. 

Paris police set up an anti-noise patrol in 2020 to ticket motorists whose vehicles exceed a certain decibel level, and soon, the city will start piloting the use of noise sensors in two neighborhoods. Called Medusa, each device uses four microphones to detect and measure noise levels, and two cameras to help authorities track down the culprit. No decibel threshold or fines will be set during the three-month trial period, according to French newspaper Liberation, but it’ll test the potentials and limits of automating the war on sound pollution.

Cities like Toronto and Philadelphia are also considering deploying similar tools. By now, research has been mounting about the health effects of continuous noise exposure, including links to high blood pressure and heart disease, and to poor mental health. And for years, many cities have been tackling noise through ordinances and urban design, including various bans on leaf blowers, on construction at certain hours and on cars. Some have even hired “night mayors” to, among other things, address complaints about after-hours noise.

But enforcement, even with the help of simple camera-and-noise radars, has been a challenge. Since 2018,  the Canadian city of Edmonton has been piloting the use of four radars attached to light poles at busy intersections in the downtown area. A 2021 report on the second phase of the project completed in 2020, found that officials had to manually sift through the data to take out noise made by, say, sirens. And the recordings didn’t always provide strong enough evidence against the offender in court. It was also costly: The pilot cost taxpayers $192,000, while fines generated a little more than half that amount, according to CTV News Edmonton.

Those obstacles have made noise pollution an increasingly popular target for smart city innovation, with companies and researchers looking to make environmental monitoring systems do more than just measure decibel levels…(More)”.

A tale of two labs: Rethinking urban living labs for advancing citizen engagement in food system transformations

Paper by Anke Brons et al: “Citizen engagement is heralded as essential for food democracy and equality, yet the implementation of inclusive citizen engagement mechanisms in urban food systems governance has lagged behind. This paper aims to further the agenda of citizen engagement in the transformation towards healthy and sustainable urban food systems by offering a conceptual reflection on urban living labs (ULLs) as a methodological platform. Over the past decades, ULLs have become increasingly popular to actively engage citizens in methodological testbeds for innovations within real-world settings. The paper proposes that ULLs as a tool for inclusive citizen engagement can be utilized in two ways: (i) the ULL as the daily life of which citizens are the experts, aimed at uncovering the unreflexive agency of a highly diverse population in co-shaping the food system and (ii) the ULL as a break with daily life aimed at facilitating reflexive agency in (re)shaping food futures. We argue that both ULL approaches have the potential to facilitate inclusive citizen engagement in different ways by strengthening the breadth and the depth of citizen engagement respectively. The paper concludes by proposing a sequential implementation of the two types of ULL, paying attention to spatial configurations and the short-termed nature of ULLs….(More)”.

Cities and the Climate-Data Gap

Article by Robert Muggah and Carlo Ratti: “With cities facing disastrous climate stresses and shocks in the coming years, one would think they would be rushing to implement mitigation and adaptation strategies. Yet most urban residents are only dimly aware of the risks, because their cities’ mayors, managers, and councils are not collecting or analyzing the right kinds of information.

With more governments adopting strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions, cities everywhere need to get better at collecting and interpreting climate data. More than 11,000 cities have already signed up to a global covenant to tackle climate change and manage the transition to clean energy, and many aim to achieve net-zero emissions before their national counterparts do. Yet virtually all of them still lack the basic tools for measuring progress.

Closing this gap has become urgent, because climate change is already disrupting cities around the world. Cities on almost every continent are being ravaged by heat waves, fires, typhoons, and hurricanes. Coastal cities are being battered by severe flooding connected to sea-level rise. And some megacities and their sprawling peripheries are being reconsidered altogether, as in the case of Indonesia’s $34 billion plan to move its capital from Jakarta to Borneo by 2024.

Worse, while many subnational governments are setting ambitious new green targets, over 40% of cities (home to some 400 million people) still have no meaningful climate-preparedness strategy. And this share is even lower in Africa and Asia – where an estimated 90% of all future urbanization in the next three decades is expected to occur.

We know that climate-preparedness plans are closely correlated with investment in climate action including nature-based solutions and systematic resilience. But strategies alone are not enough. We also need to scale up data-driven monitoring platforms. Powered by satellites and sensors, these systems can track temperatures inside and outside buildings, alert city dwellers to air-quality issues, and provide high-resolution information on concentrations of specific GHGs (carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide) and particulate matter…(More)”.

Smart Cities: Mapping their Ethical Implications

Paper by Marta Ziosi, Benjamin Hewitt, Prathm Juneja, Mariarosaria Taddeo, and Luciano Floridi: “This paper provides an overview of the various definitions and labels attached to the concept of smart cities in order to identify four dimensions that ground the analysis of ethical concerns emerging from the current debate. These are: (1) network infrastructure, with the corresponding concerns of control, surveillance, and data privacy and ownership; (2) post-political governance, embodied in the tensions between public and private decision-making and cities as post-political entities; (3) social inclusion, expressed in the aspects of citizen participation and inclusion, and inequality and discrimination; and (4) sustainability, with a specific focus on the environment as an element to protect but also as a strategic component for the future. Notwithstanding the persisting disagreements around the definition of a smart city, the article uses these four dimensions to analyse both the different types and conceptions of smart cities and the multiple aspects in which smart cities reinforce old and introduce new ethical problems…(More)

Toward A Collaborative Smart City: A Play-Based Urban Living Laboratory in Boston

Paper by Eric Gordon, John Harlow, Melissa Teng & Elizabeth Christoferetti: This article reports on an urban living laboratory that designed a suite of play-based prototypes, as an attempt to “institution” collaborative smart city governance in the city of Boston. This project was called “Beta Blocks,” and it geographically defined “Exploration Zones,” governed by local residents and business owners, who decided whether, where, and why to temporarily install technologies in the public realm. To recruit and facilitate the participation of Zone Advisory Group members, the authors fabricated a lavender, parking-space-sized, inflatable art exhibition (Beta Blob) that hosted a suite of public-facing activities. Although the composite model failed at “institutioning” itself into Boston’s government through this prototype, the discrete components succeeded in centering play in public learning situations and prototyping a model for collaborative governance between publics, and the public and private sectors…(More)”.

Amsterdam introduces mandatory register for sensors

Sarah Wray at Cities Today: “Private companies, research institutions and government organisations in Amsterdam are now obliged to report sensors deployed in public spaces.

The information is being displayed via an online map to give residents more insight into how, where and what data is collected from sources such as cameras, air quality and traffic sensors, Wi-Fi counters and smart billboards. The map shows the type of sensor, the owner and whether personal data is processed.

A statement from the city said: “Amsterdam believes that residents have the right to know where and when data is collected. The sensor register and the reporting obligation help to create awareness. It is one of the 18 actions from the Amsterdam Data Strategy.”

The requirement applies to new sensors and those that are already installed in the city, including mobile sensors.

So far, only sensors from the City of Amsterdam have been included in the register. Other owners are now urged to report their sensors and have until 1 June 2022 before enforcement action will be taken.

If there is no response even after warnings, the municipality can remove the sensor at the owner’s expense, the city said.

The obligation to report sensors  is part of a regulation update recently passed by the City Council…(More)”.

“If Everybody’s White, There Can’t Be Any Racial Bias”: The Disappearance of Hispanic Drivers From Traffic Records

Article by Richard A. Webster: “When sheriff’s deputies in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, pulled over Octavio Lopez for an expired inspection tag in 2018, they wrote on his traffic ticket that he is white. Lopez, who is from Nicaragua, is Hispanic and speaks only Spanish, said his wife.

In fact, of the 167 tickets issued by deputies to drivers with the last name Lopez over a nearly six-year span, not one of the motorists was labeled as Hispanic, according to records provided by the Jefferson Parish clerk of court. The same was true of the 252 tickets issued to people with the last name of Rodriguez, 234 named Martinez, 223 with the last name Hernandez and 189 with the surname Garcia.

This kind of misidentification is widespread — and not without harm. Across America, law enforcement agencies have been accused of targeting Hispanic drivers, failing to collect data on those traffic stops, and covering up potential officer misconduct and aggressive immigration enforcement by identifying people as white on tickets.

“If everybody’s white, there can’t be any racial bias,” Frank Baumgartner, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina of Chapel Hill, told WWNO/WRKF and ProPublica.

Nationally, states have tried to patch this data loophole and tighten controls against racial profiling. In recent years, legislators have passed widely hailed traffic stop data-collection laws in California, Colorado, Illinois, Oregon, Virginia and Washington, D.C. This April, Alabama became the 22nd state to enact similar legislation.

Though Louisiana has had its own data-collection requirement for two decades, it contains a loophole unlike any other state: It exempts law enforcement agencies from collecting and delivering data to the state if they have an anti-racial-profiling policy in place. This has rendered the law essentially worthless, said Josh Parker, a senior staff attorney at the Policing Project, a public safety research nonprofit at the New York University School of Law.

Louisiana State Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, attempted to remove the exemption two years ago, but law enforcement agencies protested. Instead, he was forced to convene a task force to study the issue, which thus far hasn’t produced any results, he said.

“They don’t want the data because they know what it would reveal,” Duplessis said of law enforcement agencies….(More)”.

Social Media and the Contemporary City

Book by Eric Sauda, Ginette Wessel and Alireza Karduni: “The widespread adoption of smartphones has led to an explosion of mobile social media data, more than a billion messages per day that continuously track location, content, and time. Social Media in the Contemporary City focuses on the effects of social media on local communities and urban space in a variety of political and economic settings related to social activism, informal economic activity, public art, and global extremism.

The book covers events ranging from Banksy art installations, mobile food trucks, and underground restaurants, to a Black Lives Matter protest, the Christchurch mosque shootings, and the Pulse nightclub shooting. The interplay between urban space, local community, and social media in each case study requires diverse methodologies that are both computational (i.e. machine learning, social network analysis, and natural language processing) and ethnographic (i.e. semi-structured interviews, thematic analysis, and site analysis). The book views social media not as a replacement for the local community or urban space but rather as a translation of the uses and meanings of all three realms….(More)”.

Crime Prediction Software Promised to Be Free of Biases. New Data Shows It Perpetuates Them

Article by Aaron Sankin, Dhruv Mehrotra for Gizmodo, Surya Mattu, and Annie Gilbertson: “Between 2018 and 2021, more than one in 33 U.S. residents were potentially subject to police patrol decisions directed by crime prediction software called PredPol.

The company that makes it sent more than 5.9 million of these crime predictions to law enforcement agencies across the country—from California to Florida, Texas to New Jersey—and we found those reports on an unsecured server.

The Markup and Gizmodo analyzed them and found persistent patterns.

Residents of neighborhoods where PredPol suggested few patrols tended to be Whiter and more middle- to upper-income. Many of these areas went years without a single crime prediction.

By contrast, neighborhoods the software targeted for increased patrols were more likely to be home to Blacks, Latinos, and families that would qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program.

These communities weren’t just targeted more—in some cases they were targeted relentlessly. Crimes were predicted every day, sometimes multiple times a day, sometimes in multiple locations in the same neighborhood: thousands upon thousands of crime predictions over years. A few neighborhoods in our data were the subject of more than 11,000 predictions.

The software often recommended daily patrols in and around public and subsidized housing, targeting the poorest of the poor.

“Communities with troubled relationships with police—this is not what they need,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “They need resources to fill basic social needs.”…(More)”.

Evaluation Guidelines for Representative Deliberative Processes

OECD Report: “Evaluations of representative deliberative processes do not happen regularly, not least due to the lack of specific guidance for their evaluation. To respond to this need, together with an expert advisory group, the OECD has developed Evaluation Guidelines for Representative Deliberative Processes. They aim to encourage public authorities, organisers, and evaluators to conduct more comprehensive, objective, and comparable evaluations.

These evaluation guidelines establish minimum standards and criteria for the evaluation of representative deliberative processes as a foundation on which more comprehensive evaluations can be built by adding additional criteria according to specific contexts and needs.

The guidelines suggest that independent evaluations are the most comprehensive and reliable way of evaluating a deliberative process.

For smaller and shorter deliberative processes, evaluation in the form of self-reporting by members and/or organisers of a deliberative process can also contribute to the learning process…(More)”.