Cities are the greatest creation of humanity, and at the same time its biggest challenge. In the upcoming years, technology is bound to play an important role in cities, and finding a new intersection between technology and the reality of the city is crucial. Smart City has been proposed as a means to insert technology into the urban context; however this concept is insufficient, it does not go beyond the implementation of new technological infrastructure in cities, hyper-connection of autonomous devices or populating streets with LED screens. A true Smart City will only be possible if Smart Citizens are capable of finding open infrastructure for creation, ranging from the use of open data platforms or allowing their devices to be part of the city planning, to the use of digital fabrication infrastructure to address local solutions while being connected to global networks. Cities can be productive as they were in the past, when artisans worked and lived mostly in the same place and when goods still were produced inside medieval cities' walls; today digital artisans located in Fab Labs and makerspaces are shaping not only new software tools and platforms, but also hardware ones in a distributed and non-hierarchical manner; this is major opportunity to enable future cities' development.
Fab Lab, Smart Citizen, Smart City
Cities are the greatest creation of humanity, and at the same time it’s biggest challenge. According to the United Nations up to 66% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050 (UN-Department of Economic and Social Affairs 2014), which will represent the incorporation of more population to the existing problems and challenges that cities have today. Advancements in technology allowed city managers and planners to improve people’s quality of life over time through the development of infrastructure for health, water, transport, and communications, among others. While these commodities have been one of the greatest achievements in today’s cities, there are new challenges that arise from the present context in terms of sustainability in cities, democracy practice by citizens, inclusiveness in the production of the city, political and active participation and other societal realms. Finding a new intersection between technology and the reality of the city is crucial for the upcoming years, decades and centuries of urbanity. The recently Smart City agenda pretend to insert technology into the urban context in a new level, but it should go beyond the extension of new technological infrastructure in cities, hyper-connection of autonomous devices or populating streets with LED screens. The Smart City will be possible as long as Smart Citizens are capable of finding open infrastructure for creation, ranging from the use of open data platforms or allowing their devices to be part of the city planning, to the use of digital fabrication infrastructure to address local solutions while being connected to global networks. Cities can be productive as they were in the past, when artisans worked and lived mostly in the same place, and goods were produced inside medieval cities’ walls.; today digital artisans located in Fab Labs and makerspaces are shaping not only new software tools and platforms, but also hardware ones in a distributed and non-hierarchical manner; this is major opportunity to enable future cities’ development.
The last few decades
Beyond single instruments to augment our existing capabilities, the integration of computers in our everyday life has provided us extra skills to perform new activities; we have become producers of information by recording, editing and uploading videos, images, text, or sound; and even things in form of 3d files which can be turn into objects by using a 3d printer in our house or a laser cutter in our nearest Fab Lab (Diez 2012). Additionally, he accessibility to fabrication and electronics prototyping tools has boosted the way new technologies (such as ubicomp and IoT,) are developed, tested and deployed in the field (Mellis & Buechley 2012). Groups of researchers and hackers with access to prototyping tools in fab labs, maker spaces and hacker spaces, have been able to explore and produce new devices and technologies (Mota 2011; Kera et al. 2013), and take them out of the lab in form of products through crowd funding campaigns, allowing them to fund raise thousands (and even millions) of dollars in order to accelerate the process of going from prototype to product, and distribution around the world (Gerber et al. 2014). Examples like Air Quality Egg, Safecast, Balloon Mapping, Ninja Blocks, Twine, or Smart Citizen (Diez & Posada 2013), the latter founded by myself and Alex Posada, and developed with colleagues in Barcelona, have explored the power of platforms like Kickstarter or Indiegogo to create and deploy new technologies out of the lab, and even scale these in collaboration with corporations and local governments (Balestrini 2014). Local production and crowdfunding help new products toreach out to the public in the middle of expectations, promises and illusions to improve people’s life; this is bringing upfront a complete disruption to the existing way products are created and distributed in our ~200 year old industrialized model (J. S. Hui, Greenberg, & Gerber 2014).
More recently, ubiquitous computing technologies (ubicomp) have contributed to the construction of new scenarios to the field of urbanism, making possible an interconnected reality (Weiser 1991), and opening fields for investigating on how a new plethora of devices available at home and in cities can interoperate with humans to improve the relationship with our environment. Weiser’s vision (1991) places technology in the background in order to make our life easier (as with the example of Sal in his seminal article “The computer of the 21st century”). Ubicomp technologies have evolved in recent years with the appearance of new protocols, interfaces, programming languages and applications, now they might be called the Internet of Things (Gershenfeld 2000). Now they are just not in the background, but as suggested by Rogers (2006), ubicomp, or now IoT, should invite users to play with them, and enhance their daily activities by amplifying their capabilities, furthermore, today’s realm in the use of open platforms in hardware like Arduino, 3d printing, digital fabrication and others, allow not only think about an user-product relationship, but to envision the raise of new technologies being developed by citizens in fab labs, hackerspaces or makerspaces, which can compete with industrial products in a disruptive way
A Smart City
The Smart City “traditional”approach to city development offers the promise for technologies to improve the urban environment in an initiative led mainly by governments and corporations (Talasila 2013). Smart Cities agendas focused on the creation of a new layer of technological infrastructure deployed by corporations that help city managers to centrally control stoplights, driverless buses or on demand environmental monitoring, or CCTV cameras in any corner of the city in an operation room.. However, in recent years the general Smart City approach has been looking into the importance of the citizen , not as a mere user of infrastructures or services, but as the center of the city ecosystem (Talasila 2013).
This is opening a new field of investigation that puts people beyond the data source for economic exploitation: it becomes an opportunity to create a new welfare for people (Lanier 2014). Lanier claims that while technology has been replacing human labour during the last two centuries (Rifkin 2009), and reducing the amount of traditional jobs, personal data and information can become the main source of revenue to maintain a solid middle class. An articulated relation between devices and humans can become an opportunity to generate not only participation of citizens in their city (DiSalvo 2012), but an opportunity to generate a new society. The relationship between people and technology is changing the way we produce, consume and relate with each other. Key questions arise on the use of ubiquitous computing and distributed manufacturing in the development of the cities of the future:
- Who provides these technologies?
- Which is the role of the citizens?
- How the public sector is going to participate in the empowerment of the citizens?
- How IP and R+D departments in corporations are going to react to these new scenarios?
- Is crowd funding changing the industry already?
The role of the citizen as endusers is being enhanced and amplified, from being just mere consumers of given technologies, to become producers of data, things and knowledge. However, today’s most used technologies like smartphones, RF transport cards, or our credit cards are leaving records of our location in the city, buying habits, interactions with others, or preferred vacation sites, turning people into calm producers of data. We produce vast amount of data everyday, when we wake up and start to interface with the digital world. The interaction of data and humans is creating billions of dollars of profit to new tech corporations who use Siren Servers (Lanier 2014) that turn non aggregated information into patterns and profiles, which generate customized offers, packages and products for passive citizens to buy and consume. Data and information production are conscious (active) or unconscious (calm) processes performed by people in their everyday life. However, besides the disruption in the economy and industry that digital fabrication tools, open source and crowd funding might represent, there is a social value behind it, which can lead to the development of new relations between the project’s leaders and supporters, backers of crowd funding campaigns, or ad hoc contributors. People’s support on projects or crowd funding campaigns rely on values beyond the desire to obtain a reward pr buy a product, supporters also want to be part of a community (Hui et al. 2014). Do it yourself (DIY) and open source platforms can offer a possibility to link publics concerns with action in community-based physical places like Fab Labs or makerspaces; this opens up a new approach on how novel technologies that can solve local needs are designed and deployed; and how can enable political action of people in their neighbourhood or city (Kuznetsov, Davis, Cheung, & Paulos 2011).
Access to digital fabrication tools are opening new ways explore how people relate with technology, not only by using but producing devices, interfaces and new tools. DIY and open source platforms can offer a possibility to link citizens’ concerns with local community places like Fab Labs or makerspaces in order to deploy novel technologies that can solve local needs, and can activate the action of people in their community..
This can serve as a starting point to investigate the potential to build technology development strategies on top of existing matters of concern in publics of interest in cities, and build new frameworks for political action in cities through participatory design processes in communities of supporters of open source and crowd funded projects that can lead to make people smarter, and in consequence: Smarter Cities.
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