Citizen Science: Enabling Participatory Urbanism

Citizen Science: Enabling Participatory Urbanism

Eric Paulos (Intel Research Berkeley, USA), RJ Honicky (University of California, Berkeley, USA) and Ben Hooker (Intel Research Berkeley, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-152-0.ch028
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In this chapter, we present an important new shift in mobile phone usage—from communication tool to “networked mobile personal measurement instrument.” We explore how these new “personal instruments” enable an entirely novel and empowering genre of mobile computing usage called citizen science. We investigate how such citizen science can be used collectively across neighborhoods and communities to enable individuals to become active participants and stakeholders as they publicly collect, share, and remix measurements of their city that matter most to them. We further demonstrate the impact of this new participatory urbanism by detailing its usage within the scope of environmental awareness. Inspired by a series of field studies, user driven environmental measurements, and interviews, we present the design of a working hardware system that integrates air quality sensing into an existing mobile phone and exposes the citizen authored measurements to the community—empowering people to become true change agents.
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Tell me, I forget.

Show me, I remember.

Involve me, I understand.

—Chinese proverb



Mobile phones are powerful tools indeed—collapsing space and time by enabling us to reach out to contact others at a distance, to coordinate mico-planning events, and to reschedule activities at a moment’s notice. But with all of their abilities they lack the superpower we perhaps need most—the ability to measure and understand the real world around us.

We carry mobile phones with us nearly everywhere we go; yet they sense and tell us little of the world we live in. Look around you right now. How hot is it? Which direction am I facing? Which direction is the wind blowing and how fast? How healthy is the air I’m breathing? What is the pollen count right now? How long can I stay outside without getting sunburned? Is the noise level safe here? Were pesticides used on these fruits? Is this water safe to drink? Are my children’s toys free of lead and other toxins? Is my new indoor carpeting emitting volatile organic compounds (VOCs)? Now look to your phone for answers about the environment around you. What is it telling you? For all of its computational power and sophistication it provides us with very little insight into the actual conditions of the atmospheres we traverse with it. In fact the only real-time environmental data it measures onboard and reports to you is a signal to noise value for a narrow slice of the electromagnetic spectrum (Figure 1).

Figure 1.

The only real-time environmental data displayed on a mobile phone: a narrow slice of the electromagnetic spectrum with a tiny readout of cell tower signal strength

Certainly one could imagine accessing the web or other online resource to find an answer to some of these questions. But much of that online data is calculated and published for general usage, not for you specifically. For example, the civic government may say that the temperature is currently 23ºC by taking one measurement at the center of the city or averaging several values from multiple sites across town. But what if you’re in the shade by the wind swept waterfront where it is actually 17ºC or waiting underground for the subway where it is a muggy 33ºC. The measurement that means the most to you is likely to be the one that captures the actual conditions you are currently experiencing, not citywide averages.

Imagine you are deciding between walking to one of two subway stations and could gather live data from the passengers waiting on the platform at each stop about the temperature and humidity of each station at that very moment? What if you were one of the 300 million people who suffer from asthma (WHO, 2006b) and could breath easily as you navigated your city with real-time pollen counts collected by your fellow citizens? What if you could not just be told the level of noise pollution in your city but measure and publish your own actual decibel measurements taken in front of your home? What if you were one of the more than 3 billion people, nearly half the world’s population, that burned solid fuels, including biomass fuels (wood, dung, agricultural residues) and coal, for their energy, heating, and cooking needs indoors and yet had no way to monitor the health effects of the resulting pollutants on yourself and your family even though nearly 2 million people die annually from indoor air pollution (Ezzati & Kammen, 2002)?

Key Terms in this Chapter

Citizen Science: Citizen science is a term used for projects or ongoing program of scientific work in which individual volunteers or networks of volunteers, many of whom may have no specific scientific training, perform or manage research-related tasks such as observation, measurement or computation. The use of citizen-science networks often allows scientists to accomplish research objectives more feasibly than would otherwise be possible. In addition, these projects aim to promote public engagement with the research, as well as with science in general. Some programs provide materials specifically for use by primary or secondary school students. As such, citizen science is one approach to informal science education. The longest-running citizen science project currently active is probably the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, which started in 1900.

Air Quality Index (AQI): An index for reporting daily air quality. It reports a number, between 0 and 500 to reflect how clean (low AQI) or polluted (high AQI) the air is, and what associated health effects might be of concern to citizens. The AQI focuses on health effects people may experience within a few hours or days after breathing polluted air. AQI is measured for five major air pollutants: ground-level ozone, particle pollution (also known as particulate matter), carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. For each of these pollutants.

World Health Organization (WHO): The directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends. They are the leading international body on air quality health research and standards.

Participatory Urbanism: A research initiative directly focused on the potential for emerging ubiquitous urban and personal mobile technologies to enable citizen action by allowing open measuring, sharing, and remixing of elements of urban living marked by, requiring, or involving participation, especially affording the opportunity for individual citizen participation, sharing, and voice. Participatory urbanism promotes new styles and methods for individual citizens to become proactive in their involvement with their city, neighborhood, and urban self-reflexivity. One such example of Participatory Urbanism is the use of mobile phones to be transformed into environmental sensing platforms that support community action to effect positive societal change.

Urban Computing: Urban Computing focuses on our lifestyles and technologies within the context of public urban spaces. Its research challenges differ from those found within the home where technologies readily intermingle across our intimate relations with friends and family members. It diverges from office and work environments where productivity and efficiency often dominate our computing tools. It is also not simply concerned with mobile or social computing. Urban Computing establishes an important new framework for deconstructing and analyzing technology and urban life across five research themes - people, place, infrastructure, architecture, and flow. The diversity of these important themes promotes rich interdisciplinary research within the field of Urban Computing. Urban Computing leverages such forces as expanding urban populations, rapid adoption of small, powerful, networked, mobile devices, bluetooth radios, tiny ad hoc sensor networks, and the widespread influence of wireless technologies across our growing urban landscapes.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): An agency of the federal government of the United States charged with protecting human health and with safeguarding the natural environment: air, water, and land. The are the primary reporting and regulation mechanism for air quality within the United States.

Toxic Avengers: founded in 1988 by a group of high school students who organized themselves to raise community awareness about environmental pollution in their Brooklyn neighborhood. The name came from a comic book of the same name, whose characters were crusaders against toxic waste.” The students were from the El Puente Academy high school and the community organization’s program on community health, youth service, and leadership. What began as a science-class project turned into an organization that raised environmental awareness in the community and helped galvanize a community coalition that would be instrumental for taking action against neighborhood environmental hazards. The young people who formed the Toxic Avengers were part of a science class that was doing a unit on understanding the neighborhood environment. The class researched local hazards by gathering readily available information from local, state, and federal environmental agencies on the environmental performance of facilities in the community. The students also searched through newspaper archives to find references to environmental pollution in their neighborhood. They discovered, for example, that the Radiac Corporation—a storage and transfer facility for toxic, flammable, and low-level-radioactive waste located in the neighborhood—was the only facility of its kind in the entire city.

Complete Chapter List

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List of Reviewers
Table of Contents
Anthony Townsend
Marcus Foth
Marcus Foth
Chapter 1
Amanda Williams, Erica Robles, Paul Dourish
This chapter critically examines the notion of “the city” within urban informatics. Arguing that there is an overarching tendency to construe the... Sample PDF
Urbane-ing the City: Examining and Refining the Assumptions Behind Urban Informatics
Chapter 2
Jaz Hee-Jeong Choi, Adam Greenfield
Once a city shaped by the boundary conditions of heavy industrialisation and cheap labour, within a few years Seoul has transformed itself to one of... Sample PDF
To Connect and Flow in Seoul: Ubiquitous Technologies, Urban Infrastructure and Everyday Life in the Contemporary Korean City
Chapter 3
Nancy Odendaal
Recent literature on African cities examines the way in which social networks function as critical livelihood arteries in the ongoing survival... Sample PDF
Creating an Analytical Lens for Understanding Digital Networks in Urban South Africa
Chapter 4
Wayne Beyea
Community planning is facing many challenges around the world, such as the rapid growth of megacities as well as urban sprawl. The State of Michigan... Sample PDF
Place Making Through Participatory Planning
Chapter 5
Mike Ananny, Carol Strohecker
In this paper, we describe the design and installation of a new kind of public opinion forum—TexTales, a public, large-scale interactive projection... Sample PDF
TexTales: Creating Interactive Forums with Urban Publics
Chapter 6
Jenny Preece
This chapter describes a small networked community in which residents of an apartment building in Washington, D.C., USA supplement their... Sample PDF
An Event-Driven Community in Washington, DC: Forces That Influence Participation
Chapter 7
Fiorella De Cindio
After more than a decade of e-participation initiatives at the urban level, what remains obscure is the alchemy—i.e., the “arcane” combination of... Sample PDF
Moments and Modes for Triggering Civic Participation at the Urban Level
Chapter 8
Michael Veith
Societies face serious challenges when trying to integrate migrant communities. One-sided solutions do not pay tribute to the complexity of this... Sample PDF
Fostering Communities in Urban Multi-Cultural Neighbourhoods: Some Methodological Reflections
Chapter 9
Victor M. Gonzalez, Kenneth L. Kraemer, Luis A. Castro
The practical use of information technology devices in domestic and residential contexts often results in radical changes from their envisioned... Sample PDF
Beyond Safety Concerns: On the Practical Applications of Urban Neighbourhood Video Cameras
Chapter 10
Colleen Morgan
This chapter explores how we may design located information and communication technologies (ICTs) to foster community sentiment. It focuses... Sample PDF
The Figmentum Project: Appropriating Information and Communication Technologies to Animate Our Urban Fabric
Chapter 11
Barbara Crow, Michael Longford, Kim Sawchuk, Andrea Zeffiro
The Mobile Media Lab (MML) is a Canadian interdisciplinary research team exploring wireless communications, mobile technologies and locative media... Sample PDF
Voices from Beyond: Ephemeral Histories, Locative Media and the Volatile Interface
Chapter 12
Helen Klaebe
This chapter defines, explores and Illustrates research at the intersection of people, place and technology in cities. First, we theorise the notion... Sample PDF
Embedding an Ecology Notion in the Social Production of Urban Space
Chapter 13
Vassilis Kostakos, Eamonn O’Neill
In this paper, we describe a platform that enables us to systematically study online social networks alongside their real-world counterparts. Our... Sample PDF
Cityware: Urban Computing to Bridge Online and Real-World Social Networks
Chapter 14
Katharine S. Willis
In our everyday lives, we are surrounded by information which weaves itself silently into the very fabric of our existence. Much of the time we act... Sample PDF
Information Places: Navigating Interfaces between Physical and Digital Space
Chapter 15
Viktor Bedö
This chapter contributes to the ongoing effort to understand the nature of locative urban information by proposing that locative urban information... Sample PDF
A Visual Approach to Locative Urban Information
Chapter 16
Tristan Thielmann
Car navigation systems, based on “augmented reality,” no longer direct the driver through traffic by simply using arrows, but represent the... Sample PDF
Navigation Becomes Travel Scouting: The Augmented Spaces of Car Navigation Systems
Chapter 17
Daisuke Tamada
A lot of street view services, which present views of urban landscapes, have recently appeared. The conventional method for making street views... Sample PDF
QyoroView: Creating a Large-Scale Street View as User-Generated Content
Chapter 18
Hideyuki Nakanishi, Toru Ishida, Satoshi Koizumi
Many research projects have studied various aspects of smart environments including smart rooms, home, and offices. Few projects, however, have... Sample PDF
Virtual Cities for Simulating Smart Urban Public Spaces
Chapter 19
Andrew Hudson-Smith
Digital cities are moving well beyond their original conceptions as entities representing the way computers and communications are hard wired into... Sample PDF
The Neogeography of Virtual Cities: Digital Mirrors into a Recursive World
Chapter 20
Laura Forlano
This chapter introduces the role of community wireless networks (CWNs) in reconfiguring people, places and information in cities. CWNs are important... Sample PDF
Codespaces: Community Wireless Networks and the Reconfiguration of Cities
Chapter 21
Katrina Jungnickel, Genevieve Bell
From WiFi (802.11b) with its fixed and mobile high-speed wireless broadband Internet connectivity to WiMAX (802.16e), the newest wireless protocol... Sample PDF
Home is Where the Hub Is? Wireless Infrastructures and the Nature of Domestic Culture in Australia
Chapter 22
Andres Sevtsuk
This chapter presents the iSPOTS project, which collects and maps data of WiFi usage on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus in... Sample PDF
Mapping the MIT Campus in Real Time Using WiFi
Chapter 23
John M. Carroll
We discuss the vision, plan, and status of a research project investigating community-oriented services and applications, comprising a wireless... Sample PDF
Supporting Community with Location-Sensitive Mobile Applications
Chapter 24
Christine Satchell
Early 21st century societies are evolving into a hybrid of real and synthetic worlds where everyday activities are mediated by technology. The... Sample PDF
From Social Butterfly to Urban Citizen: The Evolution of Mobile Phone Practice
Chapter 25
Jong-Sung Hwang
u-City is South Korea’s answer to urban community challenges leveraging ubiquitous computing technology to deliver state-of-the-art urban services.... Sample PDF
u-City: The Next Paradigm of Urban Development
Chapter 26
Dan Shang, Jean-François Doulet, Michael Keane
This chapter examines the development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in urban China, focusing mainly on their impact on social... Sample PDF
Urban Informatics in China: Exploring the Emergence of the Chinese City 2.0
Chapter 27
Francesco Calabrese
The real-time city is now real! The increasing deployment of sensors and handheld electronic devices in recent years allows for a new approach to... Sample PDF
WikiCity: Real-Time Location-Sensitive Tools for the City
Chapter 28
Eric Paulos, RJ Honicky, Ben Hooker
In this chapter, we present an important new shift in mobile phone usage—from communication tool to “networked mobile personal measurement... Sample PDF
Citizen Science: Enabling Participatory Urbanism
Chapter 29
Mark Shepard
What happens to urban space given a hypothetical future where all information loses its body, that is, when it is offloaded from the material... Sample PDF
Extreme Informatics: Toward the De-Saturated City
Chapter 30
Roger J. Burrows
Is it still the case that one can symptomatically read the early work of the cyberpunk author William Gibson as a form of prefigurative urban theory... Sample PDF
Urban Informatics and Social Ontology
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