ORGANICITY.EU: IMPROVING CITIES THROUGH DATA AND EXPERIMENTATION
Three-quarters of Europeans are currently living in urban areas. The ever-increasing complexity of urban ecosystems is proving to be a challenge both for government authorities and citizens.
How could cities find new answers for all of these new issues? Can the latest technology lend a helping hand in finding new answers to old and new problems in cost-effective ways?
OrganiCity project is a three-year EU-funded innovation research project born with the aim to help cities to "reach their potential to be truly healthy, inclusive and sustainable places" through Experimentation-as-Service, technology and data.
What does this mean? It's all based on the Smart City approach as a basis for urban development, that is, incorporating technology, data and devices to improve all kinds of environments in our cities.
OrganiCity project adds a couple of new layers on top of this.
On one hand, it promotes co-creation: instead of vertical decision-making, the project enables all stakeholders involved so they are able to gather data, generate ideas and test them in collaboration. Citizens, innovation and data specialists, academia, businesses and city authorities... all of them work together to create digital solutions to urban challenges so as to get a full understanding of all necessities and to include as many points of view and experiences as possible.
On the other hand, OrganiCity teaches cities how to test their ideas through an Experiment-as-service approach: using data and technology to test an idea or solution at a small scale to tackle a specific issue before iterating and expanding it. Afterwards, the results are publicly shared so other cities can also benefit from the experience. They are finding models for how experiments should be conducted. That is, an experiment on how we should experiment.
Three cities have been the main drivers in this adventure: Aarhus (Denmark), London (UK) and Santander (Spain) are the core OrganiCity Team but many more have taken part on it: Edinburgh, Lisbon, Brussels, Oslo, Novi Sad, Copenhagen... even Santiago de Cali in Colombia. Academic institutions such as Aarhus University and Universidad de Cantabria have also been a part of the team.
Crowdsourced data and cloud data storage, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, tailor-made apps, Virtual Reality (VR) devices, beacon technology wireless transmitters, Arduino and Raspberry motherboards, LoRaWAN devices... are some of the tools that have been used in the tests. Working with this more affordable and easy to learn technologies allows any person to take part in the development of the urban landscape that surrounds them and provides a richer understanding of the intricate patterns, environmental conditions and behaviours in a city's daily routine capturing real-time and user data.
How are OrganiCity tests conducted? Here is the step-by-step methodology:
1. Gather a team with a diverse range of skills and expertise: researchers, developers, local volunteer groups or individuals...
2. Research the issue to gather as much information as possible about it and then meet with city authorities to discuss the resources and implementation.
3. Launch the experiment at a small scale.
4. Co-Create finding ways to include regular citizens/city user's input and data in the project (i.e. via apps, sensors or Social Media campaigns)
5. Measure results.
6. Share the findings so that other cities can take advantage of them.
7. Iterate and scale the tested solution to the whole system.
This model can be adapted to find answers to a wide range of crucial city challenges: public transport, pollution, mental and physical health, waste management, water usage, tourism optimization, senior and mobility-impaired citizens' particular needs...
But perhaps, the best way to understand all the possibilities brought by this way of experimenting is by breaking down some of the experiments run by OrganiCity during the last three years:
London - Implemented real-time analysis of the city transport network usage by mobility-impaired commuters to find their pain-points, used beacon data to allow vision impaired citizens to independently navigate indoor spaces such as London Underground, shopping malls and hospitals via an app, mapped tranquil spaces with low noise and pollution in a crowdsourced web-app so everybody can enjoy calmer city areas, monitored traffic in correspondence with specific events through IoT sensors, enabled local communities to be able to collect and interpret data about water usage, rainfall, and river and air pollution...
Aarhus - Engaged neighbours in mapping underused spaces and crowdsourced ideas to use or repair them, implemented sensors to help bikers find less polluted biking routes, used VR and projection systems to involve local citizens in brainstorming ideas for the greening of a city area, established a platform so citizens can seed their own development ideas and be taught and guided to test them by themselves via cost-effective devices...
Santander - Developed a carpool service network for commuters integrated with parking data, worked towards reducing loneliness and enhancing physical health (particularly on senior citizens) through outdoor activities and social walking via apps, combined real-time information of various modes of transport for seamless mobility, promoted better knowledge of parks and green areas to help city dwellers to discover them in-depth and use them, created a tool for potential solar energy users to check the renewable energy potential of their rooftops, deployed conversational interfaces for urban data collection, launched a platform for tourists to receive recommendations of local residents about hidden-gems and lesser-known areas...
The possibilities seem endless. Maybe, the most exciting aspects of OrganiCity are the democratic and community building sides of it; how it empowers regular, non-tech-savvy city dwellers in becoming proactive problem-solvers.
In this regard, Lasse Steenbock Vestergaard from Alexandra Institute, a partner in OrganiCity Aarhus projects focused on helping citizens to develop and test their own experimental ideas, concludes:
"Some people have great ideas but not the technical competencies to develop them, nor the money to hire someone to do so. It's quite satisfying to enable citizens to be able to propose and conduct experiments by themselves. Technology and IoT devices are becoming cheaper and cheaper and easier to use with the aid of some tutorials, practical guides and open-source documentation we've created plus a little guidance. To me, it's quite fascinating to see them develop and implement their own experiments within a few weeks. It's a vibrant atmosphere”.
For those who'd wish to launch similar Experimentation-as-a-Service projects in their cities, OrganiCity has created some didactic materials to help them with the kick-off:
Some of the ideas raised from OrganiCity are now extended to a new EU project, SincroniCity, https://synchronicity-iot.eu/ enabling small businesses and cities to develop AI an IoT services to improve local communities and economies.