Tackling complex urban problems requires us to examine and leverage diverse sources of information. Today, cities capture large amounts of information in real-time. Data are captured on transportation patterns, electricity and water consumption, citizen use of government services (e.g., parking meters), and even on weather events. Through open data initiatives, government agencies are making information available to citizens. In turn, citizens are building applications that exploit this information to solve local urban problems. Citizens are also building platforms where they can share information regarding government services. Information that was previously unavailable is now being used to gauge quality of services, choose services, and report illegal and unethical behaviors (e.g., requesting bribes). To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper to examine the range of citizen applications (“citizen apps”) targeting urban issues and to address their effects on urban planning, decision-making, problem solving, and governance. We examine citizen apps that address a wide range of urban issues from those that solve public transportation challenges to those that improve the management of public utilities and services and even public safety.

Kevin C. Desouza & Akshay Bhagwatwar (2012). Citizen Apps to Solve Complex Urban Problems. Journal of Urban Technology.


The data-citizen driven city is a project done for the 4th Advanced Architecture Contest: Shaping our environment with real-time data (awarded with an honorable mention). A project done by: Sara Alvarellos,Cesar García, Jorge Medal, Sara Thomson.


Understanding reality with data, changing personal habits.
Using open source technologies, like Arduino-based sensor units or mobile apps, data-citizens will be able to gather their own real-time data regarding issues they are really concerned about, such as air quality, noise levels, street deficiencies, plagues, etc. All data will be shared in open public repositories, like Pachube, available for everyone. Long term data archival will allow citizens to gain a better understanding of the urban environment and to improve their daily personal habits.

Collective intelligence and critical mass. Social Cohesion.
Once there is a critical mass of participants, distributed citizen sensor networks will reveal new emerging patterns that will lead to a collective intelligence. Citizens will soon become aware of the political power of data and they will begin to get organized in local work groups to develop new strategies to improve their neighbourhoods. The massive adoption of sensors will bring their price down, allowing anyone to participate in the extension of this smart city data layer, regardless of their income.

Renovation of the Social Contract. Collective emerging actions.
Involvement and commitment will be part of a new social contract in which the rights and obligations of the citizens and the institutions will be redefined.
The maintenance and development of local resources will be delegated to neighbours that will feel engaged in the improvement of the urban ecosystem. Alarm warnings will not be accounted for in an isolated way; an holistic approach based upon data modelling will provide a global solution taking into account all the gathered data. Open data governance and accountability will be enforced through civil actions. The mission of local institutions will consist in supporting these local processes and developing long term plans.

Conclusion: A more sustainable and democratic city.
By the year 2020, citizens will participate in direct democratic processes at a local scale to transform the city into a more sustainable and efficient environment. Data will enable new uses of public spaces offering streamlined solutions. People will feel highly engaged towards their neighbours and surroundings in contrast to their previously detached postures. The success of radically open transparent processes will constitute a genuine milestone in the transformation of 21st century public institutions.

… Obviamente, si las empresas están interesadas en el concepto es porque se traduce en negocio. En el sector de las soluciones para smart cities insisten en que es siempre un beneficio en una doble dirección: las compañías venden servicios, pero a los municipios les interesa porque supone mejorar la vida de sus ciudadanos e incluso ahorrar. Hay jugadores de todos los tamaños: desde pymes que han creado aplicaciones para el móvil hasta gigantes como Telefónica, Endesa, Schneider Electric, Agbar, Accenture, Siemens, Cisco, Ferrovial…

Last month, three leading thinkers on smart cities (and regular ones too) expressed concerns about issues of digital inclusion and citizen-technology dynamics. Saskia Sassen wrote about the need to ‘urbanise the technology,’ Anthony Townsend discussed the absence of the urban poor from smart city visions and Adam Greenfield asserted the need to have rights over ‘public objects’