Do you want to live in a smart city?


Jane Wakefield from BBC News: “In the future everything in a city, from the electricity grid, to the sewer pipes to roads, buildings and cars will be connected to the network. Buildings will turn off the lights for you, self-driving cars will find you that sought-after parking space, even the rubbish bins will be smart. But how do we get to this smarter future. Who will be monitoring and controlling the sensors that will increasingly be on every building, lamp-post and pipe in the city?…
There is another chapter in the smart city story – and this one is being written by citizens, who are using apps, DIY sensors, smartphones and the web to solve the city problems that matter to them.
Don’t Flush Me is a neat little DIY sensor and app which is single-handedly helping to solve one of New York’s biggest water issues.
Every time there is heavy rain in the city, raw sewage is pumped into the harbour, at a rate of 27 billion gallons each year.
Using an Arduino processor, a sensor which measures water levels in the sewer overflows and a smart phone app, Don’t Flush Me lets people know when it is ‘safe to flush’.
Meanwhile Egg, a community-led sensor network, is alerting people to an often hidden problem in our cities.
Researchers estimate that two million people die each year as a result of air pollution and as cities get more over-crowded, the problem is likely to get worse.
Egg is compiling data about air quality by selling cheap sensor which people put outside their homes where they collect readings of green gases, nitrogen oxide (NO2) and carbon monoxide (CO)….
The reality is that most smart city projects are currently pretty small scale – creating tech hubs or green areas of the city, experimenting with smart electricity grids or introducing electric buses or bike-sharing schemes.”

Sitegeist


“Sitegeist is a mobile application that helps you to learn more about your surroundings in seconds. Drawing on publicly available information, the app presents solid data in a simple at-a-glance format to help you tap into the pulse of your location. From demographics about people and housing to the latest popular spots or weather, Sitegeist presents localized information visually so you can get back to enjoying the neighborhood. The application draws on free APIs such as the U.S. Census, Yelp! and others to showcase what’s possible with access to data. Sitegeist was created by the Sunlight Foundation in consultation with design firm IDEO and with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. It is the third in a series of National Data Apps.”

Data-Smart City Solutions


Press Release: “Today the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School announced the launch of Data-Smart City Solutions, a new initiative aimed at using big data and analytics to transform the way local government operates. Bringing together leading industry, academic, and government officials, the initiative will offer city leaders a national depository of cases and best practice examples where cities and private partners use analytics to solve city problems. Data-Smart City Solutions is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Data-Smart City Solutions highlights best practices, curates resources, and supports cities embarking on new data projects. The initiative’s website contains feature-length articles on how data drives innovation in different policy areas, profile pieces on municipal leaders at the forefront of implementing data analytics in their cities, and resources for interested officials to begin data projects in their own communities.
Recent articles include an assessment of Boston’s Adopt-a-Hydrant program as a potential harbinger of future city work promoting civic engagement and infrastructure maintenance, and a feature on how predictive technology is transforming police work. The site also spotlights municipal use of data such as San Francisco’s efforts to integrate data from different social service departments to better identify and serve at-risk youth. In addition to visiting the initiative’s website, Data-Smart City Solutions’ work is chronicled in their newsletter as well as on their Twitter page.”

Is Cybertopianism Really Such a Bad Thing?


in Slate: “As the historian and technology scholar Langdon Winner suggests, “The arrival of any new technology that has significant power and practical potential always brings with it a wave of visionary enthusiasm that anticipates the rise of a utopian social order.” Technologies that connect individuals to one another—like the airplane, the telegraph, and the radio—appear particularly powerful at helping us imagine a smaller, more connected world. Seen through this lens, the Internet’s underlying architecture—it is no more and no less than a network that connects networks—and the sheer amount written about it in the past decade guaranteed that the network would be placed at the center of visions for a world made better through connection. These visions are so abundant that they’ve even spawned a neologism: “cyberutopianism.”

The term “cyberutopian” tends to be used only in the context of critique. Calling someone a cyberutopian implies that he or she has an unrealistic and naïvely overinflated sense of what technology makes possible and an insufficient understanding of the forces that govern societies. Curiously, the commonly used term for an opposite stance, a belief that Internet technologies are weakening society, coarsening discourse, and hastening conflict is described with a less weighted term: “cyberskepticism.” Whether or not either of these terms adequately serves us in this debate, we should consider cyberutopianism’s appeal, and its merits….

If we reject the notion that technology makes certain changes inevitable, but accept that the aspirations of the “cyberutopians” are worthy ones, we are left with a challenge: How do we rewire the tools we’ve built to maximize our impact on an interconnected world? Accepting the shortcomings of the systems we’ve built as inevitable and unchangeable is lazy. As Benjamin Disraeli observed in Vivian Grey, “Man is not the creature of circumstances, circumstances are the creatures of men. We are free agents, and man is more powerful than matter.” And, as Rheingold suggests, believing that people can use technology to build a world that’s more just, fair, and inclusive isn’t merely defensible. It’s practically a moral imperative.


Excerpted from Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection by Ethan Zuckerman.

Frameworks for a Location–Enabled Society


Annual CGA Conference “Location-enabled devices are weaving “smart grids” and building “smart cities;” they allow people to discover a friend in a shopping mall, catch a bus at its next stop, check surrounding air quality while walking down a street, or avoid a rain storm on a tourist route – now or in the near future. And increasingly they allow those who provide services to track, whether we are walking past stores on the street or seeking help in a natural disaster.
The Centre for Spatial Law and Policy based in Washington, DC, the Center for Geographic Analysis, the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University are co-hosting a two-day program examining the legal and policy issues that will impact geospatial technologies and the development of location-enabled societies. The event will take place at Harvard University on May 2-3, 2013…The goal is to explore the different dimensions of policy and legal concerns in geospatial technology applications, and to begin in creating a policy and legal framework for a location-enabled society. Download the conference program brochure.
Live Webcast:

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Two-Way Citizen Engagement


StuffGovernment Technology: “A couple of years ago, a conversation was brewing among city leaders in the Sacramento, Calif., suburb of Elk Grove — the city realized it could no longer afford to limit interactions with an increasingly smartphone-equipped population to between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m… The city considered several options, including a vendor-built mobile app tailor-made to meet its specific needs. And during this process, the city discovered civic engagement startup PublicStuff. Founded by Forbes’ 30 Under 30 honoree Lily Liu, the company offers a service request platform that lets users report issues of concern to the city.

Liu, who previously held positions with both New York City and Long Beach, Calif., realized that many cities couldn’t afford a full-blown 311 call center system to handle citizen requests. Many need a less expensive way of providing responsive customer service to the community. PublicStuff now fills that need for more than 200 cities across the country.”