How can citizens use technology to act at the civic level? How can data be used for the common good? How can people in Barcelona be more aware of their urban environment? These are some of the questions that we are trying to tackle through the Making Sense project, a CAPS EU funded initiative that is locally coordinated by the Fab Lab Barcelona, under the umbrella of the Fab City Research Lab. Our consortium partners are Waag Society, University of Dundee, The Peers Educators Network and JRC.
We are using the open source infrastructure of Smart Citizen; a civic technology that includes a sensor kit and a data platform, which allow users to collect and share open data about phenomena such as temperature, humidity, noise, and air quality. The project will run three pilots where citizens are invited to galvanise around urban environmental issues that they care about, and collaborate with experts and techies to effect positive change.
The first pilot, which we call ‘Beta Pilot’ (because it’s an opportunity to test our methodologies and technologies), was launched on the 5th of November, where around 85 people joined and used a commons target to track what they were willing to contribute to the project: from resources to time, skills, data, and connections to other communities of interest (such as neighbourhood associations and NGOs). They also mapped environmental issues that they knew of in different districts of Barcelona. A short summary is available here.
From those attendees, 25 expressed their interests to become community champions. This entails having a more active participation, adopting a Smart Citizen Kit 1.5 to be deployed at home, and joining a series of workshops aimed at developing skills: learning about sensors and open source technology, making sense of data and using it, learning about digital fabrication and maker practices.
According to the community issue mapping exercise, noise pollution is clearly a pressing environmental issue in Barcelona. In particular, the participants identified noise hotspots in Gracia and in Sarria. Following a “community level indicators” approach, they decided to tackle noise pollution, and to focus on measuring noise levels in different areas of the city, as well as collecting evidence of stress levels caused by noise.
To date, over 25 sensors have been rolled out in Barcelona, allowing us to collect data on noise levels in different areas of the city. We have discovered that in many of these areas noise levels are above those recommended by health experts. For example, in Barcelona noise levels should not be above 55 db during the day and 40 db at night. However, we have found places where constant noise averages 80 bd, even during the night.
We will continue to work as part of the Beta pilot until February to collect as much evidence as possible and envision ways in which we can use the data to foster remedial actions. We want to raise awareness regarding noise pollution in the city, but also regarding the amazing contributive power of local residents who want to improve the city for all of us. During 2017 we will be running two more pilots. We don’t know how much we will achieve. But we trust Margaret Mead’s words: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”.