Six Notes for Smart City Futures Note 2: INCLUSIVITY

Although we tend to think of cities as amalgamations of diversity, the history of urban planning and development reminds us that our urban geographies are deeply classist and racialized.  The "master builder" of 20th century New York, Robert Moses, designed some bridges on Long Island to be impassable for public buses, keeping lower income communities away from elite beaches. The scarcity of public transport in cities like Houston and in select neighborhoods elsewhere is often the result of historical strategies to keep poorer and more affluent communities isolated. Suburbanization in South Africa explicitly fostered racial division, and continues to have similar impact. Some of the more famed ethnic neighborhoods such as San Francisco's China Town were initially populated by Chinese laborers prohibited from living in other parts of the city. "

Many rural migrants in the Global South continue to have no choice but to live in slums. Cities not systematically planned, as is the case with many in India, have many "spatial illegalities"  which leave communities without access to basic services like water and sanitation.

A 2012 National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences report shows that race is a critical factor in determining exposure to environmental pollutants.


The Inclusive city will leverage ubiquitous technologies to help to shift the legacies of such stark urban imbalances. Measurement and counting are hallmarks of modern governance: being counted means being recognized. Smart devices possess unprecedented capacity to reach disadvantaged populations and communities with diverse needs. They present mechanisms by which hitherto unheard or emerging, unrecognized needs can be vocalized.

The Inclusive city is thus one which starts by addressing both invisibility and silence: it takes cognizance of the disparities that exist by measuring, counting, and mapping them in order to restore and strengthen civic engagement, participation, and voice. And yet it is not often governments that are doing the measuring and the counting, but citizens themselves, building visibility and pressing for recognition from below. The inclusive smart city will not only be citizen-focused and citizen-lead, it will also bring about more #connected and #responsive forms of governance suited to the digital age. 

Inclusivity is first about learning to see differently—to take stock and fully recognize all that has been ignored. We need to remake our maps… 

Unsplash, Natalie Fox

NAIROBI: One of the earlier mapping projects which aims explicitly to make the invisible visible and to amplify community voice is Map Kiberia--an effort to make Nairobi's largest slum and the largest urban slum in Africa cartographically visible. With a bare minimum of training in the use of consumer grade GPS receivers, "volunteer mappers were sent out to traverse Kibera on foot, using their bodies as tools to collect traces of the thousands of streets, alleys, and paths that would form the first ever digital base map of the thriving community" (Townsend 185). The work continues.

According to “Mapping may include surveys of the general features of the slum or other community – like pathways, clinics, water points and markets – or might get into a great deal of detail in one subject – say, health mapping. In that case, surveying can include not just chemist locations but also hours of operation and kinds of services offered.” The Map Kibera project additionally gathers information on local issues, and calls on slum youth to become citizen journalists using video to report on the views of slum residents, “not the kind of people usually seen on television.” 

Unsplash, Maria Darii

New maps help to expand services

BUENOS AIRES: Caminos de la Villa is a platform created to put informal housing settlements in Buenos Aires on the map, literally--their informal and illegal nature meant that they had no street addresses, no cartographic presence, and therefore also no access to public services. The platform is the result of a collaboration between ACIJ (Civil Association for Equality and Justice and Wingu, a hybrid non-profit IT company, and it allows residents in these impoverished areas to mark "X" on a map to report problems that require the city's attention--creating a parallel version of a hotline service that already exists for the rest of Buenos Aires. 

Unsplash, Abigail Keenan
Unsplash, Cristian Newman

Polling data in the UK revealed that 12 million adults were incapable of completing 5 basic online tasks. Go ON UK, in partnership with the BBC, the Local Government Association and the London School of Economics, combined this with a number of other social indicators to produce a "heatmap" of digital exclusion--which reveals complex groupings, such as poor infrastructure in some cities, and poor skill development (correlated with socio-demographics) in others. Such visualizations help to explain variance in citizen engagement by indicating what barriers exist, and where.

But map-based initiatives which report problems – marking out the locations of potholes, reporting on the dangerous conditions of buildings  or noxious odours -- can only be a beginning. Such "services encourage a specific type of public participation, one that reinforces the idea of cities as service providers and of citizenship as a kind of light-weight consumer feedback activity." 

At their best, mapping initiatives can help to build "people-centered metrics"--which constitute the foundation for civic engagement:

Consider that favelas do not appear on maps of Rio. A project spearheaded by a Harvard-trained couple in Rio (Pedro and Caroline de Cristo) propose to create "digital agoras," or spaces which foster innovation and makerism--and their very use of SMS, GPS, and mobile apps would literally and symbolically put favelas on the map. They want the digital agoras to become sites of mobilization: where local residents gain access to information and pressure the government to deliver well on its promises. The goal is to “furnish a way for these citizens to claim their seat at the decision-making table” (Goldsmith and Crawford, The Responsive City, 44)

It matters not just how we collect data, but how we position it 
to build engagement.

Unsplash, Jaimin Desai

Cycle Atlanta is an application for urban cyclists which gathers information about their rides. But the app wants to go further, and become a tool for civic engagement. The data collected is not just about the cyclist and his/her ride, but explicitly to inform planners on where bike facilities should be built, creating a more inclusive landscape for different forms of #sustainable transportation.

Public participation in city planning via traditional processes (neighborhood meetings and townhalls) is low. But over 1500 cyclists have contributed data through Cycle Atlanta, potentially guiding the conversation about city traffic planning and bike lanes through maps and other analyses not typically available at community meetings.

Inclusivity is also
about building connectivity

Unsplash, Aaron Burdenman

"If you're not in the network, you’re invisible. You don’t matter," said Daniel O’Neil, then with the Smart Chicago Collaborative. Getting communities on the grid is then foundational work in building #connectivity and inclusive communities.

Consider the Red Hook Initiative. Red Hook is a fairly isolated part of southwestern Brooklyn, cut off from the rest of the borough by an expressway and poorly served by public transport. Paying bills, doing homework, and searching for jobs is that much harder here in public housing projects without internet access. Red Hook Wifi is a community-led initiative to close this digital divide by training “Digital Stewards” between 19-24 years to install, maintain and promote the WiFi network and use technology to bring about community development—and advance their career prospects simultaneously.

Other programs like Connect Chicago  and CivicSummer  similarly targeted youth training to narrow digital divides.

Community-driven civic technologies are thus “built at the speed of inclusion--the pace necessary not just to create a tool but to do so with in-depth communal input and stewardship, responding to the needs, ideas, and wants of those they’re intended to benefit. In other words, they put communities in the driver’s seat when it comes to identifying civic problems and crafting civic solutions” (Laurenellen McCann, Experimental Modes of Civic Engagement, 2015) 

Unsplash, Scott Umstattd

To draw out the contours of what the "smart city" is and could yet become, we offer six core notes by which the "expressive, cognitive, and imaginative possibilities" of the city in the age of data may be realized—six promises to guide the way to improved urban futures:

· Introduction
· Connectivity
· Inclusivity
· Responsivity
· Heritage
· Mobility
· Sustainability

Subsequent notes will be released in serialized form throughout November 2016. We invite you to join us in our quest to re-imagine the city and our shared urban futures through the data we collect.

Have an example or an idea of how data can be used to address urban dilemmas and build brighter urban futures? Share it with us on our UX Trendspotting page.

Report authors: Deepa S Reddy, Anand Vijayan, and Tushar Jain, for the Institute of Customer Experience at Human Factors International