Adrian Smith at The Guardian: “…The Smart City is an alluring prospect for many city leaders. Even if you haven’t heard of it, you may have already joined in by looking up bus movements on your phone, accessing Council services online or learning about air contamination levels. By inserting sensors across city infrastructures and creating new data sources – including citizens via their mobile devices – Smart City managers can apply Big Data analysis to monitor and anticipate urban phenomena in new ways, and, so the argument goes, efficiently manage urban activity for the benefit of ‘smart citizens’.
Barcelona has been a pioneering Smart City. The Council’s business partners have been installing sensors and opening data platforms for years. Not everyone is comfortable with this technocratic turn. After Ada Colau was elected Mayor on a mandate of democratising the city and putting citizens centre-stage, digital policy has sought to go ‘beyond the Smart City’. Chief Technology Officer Francesca Bria is opening digital platforms to greater citizen participation and oversight. Worried that the city’s knowledge was being ceded to tech vendors, the Council now promotes technological sovereignty.
On the surface, the noise project in Plaça del Sol is an example of such sovereignty. It even features in Council presentations. Look more deeply, however, and it becomes apparent that neighbourhood activists are really appropriating new technologies into the old-fashioned politics of community development….
What made Plaça del Sol stand out can be traced to a group of technology activists who got in touch with residents early in 2017. The activists were seeking participants in their project called Making Sense, which sought to resurrect a struggling ‘Smart Citizen Kit’ for environmental monitoring. The idea was to provide residents with the tools to measure noise levels, compare them with officially permissible levels, and reduce noise in the square. More than 40 neighbours signed up and installed 25 sensors on balconies and inside apartments.
The neighbours had what project coordinator Mara Balestrini from Ideas for Change calls ‘a matter of concern’. The earlier Smart Citizen Kit had begun as a technological solution looking for a problem: a crowd-funded gadget for measuring pollution, whose data users could upload to a web-platform for comparison with information from other users. Early adopters found the technology trickier to install than developers had presumed. Even successful users stopped monitoring because there was little community purpose. A new approach was needed. Noise in Plaça del Sol provided a problem for this technology fix….
Anthropologist Clifford Geertz argued many years ago that situations can only be made meaningful through ‘thick description’. Applied to the Smart City, this means data cannot really be explained and used without understanding the contexts in which it arises and gets used. Data can only mobilise people and change things when it becomes thick with social meaning….(More)”