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Crowdsourcing is one of the key technologies of smart cities, because it is enabled by information and communication technology.  The reason that crowdsourcing is so appealing is the notion that there is wisdom in the crowd unattainable by smaller groups of individuals.  Crowdsourcing has also started to fill a void left by agencies that are lacking resources they once had.  Last week’s presentations presented the theme of crowdsourcing to solve two different problems: real time traffic conditions and community development.

Crowdsourcing & Traffic Conditions 

Non-crowdsourced traffic conditions are based on sensors in the pavement that can infer speeds and level of congestions on the roads equipped with these sensors.  There are two limitations to the sensors: they are found mostly on highways and roads carrying significant traffic volumes, not on local streets; and they can only report that traffic is moving slowly, not the reason for the delay.  The reason for the delay might provide a sense of how long the delay is expected to last and would also help the transportation agency identify potential solutions for the delay.  Using the drivers as sensors is a way to dramatically increase coverage and the level of information associated with traffic conditions.

One of the apps that uses crowdsourcing to improve information for customers and agenices is Waze.  Waze is a crowdsourcing traffic app that tries to game-ify the driving experience in order to stimulate participation.  Their motto draws us to “outsmart traffic, together.” Wazers can participate in a variety of ways: actively contribute information about accidents, where police are located, etc; and passively by allowing the app to track your speed.  Waze uses the GPS speed information to infer traffic conditions and provide the most up to date travel time predictions and potential rerouting.


Crowdsourcing & Community Development

Non-crowdsourced community development is a top down affair with funding coming from the federal and state governments, funneled through a local government, to eventually reach the community.  As the federal and state resources are drying up, there is little left for investment in the community.  The recession has not helped communities retain their businesses either, which leaves vacant lots and urban blight. Using the neighbors as the funding source can increase the possibility of making a long-lasting change, agreeable to the community.

IOBY (the opposite of NIMBY) is a project that uses crowdsourced funding (aka crowdfunding) to fund neighborhood-level projects with an environmental objective. An example of a project funded through IOBY is Pollos del Pueblo.  The problem was there were no places to buy fresh food (esp. eggs) in a neighborhood of Brooklyn.  Through IOBY, neighbors raised $6200 to fund a community garden and community chicken coup.  Each project has a project sponsor and volunteer team to ensure continuity after the funding phase.

Both Waze and IOBY depend on a large user group to either generate useful information or generate enough funds to support physical construction projects.  With respect to IOBY, there is also a requirement for continuity after the funding phase in terms of maintenance and operations, neither of which are guaranteed under the community-based model. Regardless of some of the hurdles, both applications of crowdsourcing have high potential to disrupt the traditional forms of collecting data and funding community development projects.


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First meeting is tomorrow!

We began this session with a quick overview of what open source means.  The first point to understand is that open source IS a copyright licensing model.  This was an insight for someone like me who knows nothing about software development.  I had always understood open source to be the absence of a license.

In any case, open source licenses specify to what extent users have the right to copy, alter, or redistribute a copyrighted work.

One of the key implications of open source software is that it has the potential to increase transparency.  One interesting application of this is the Open Source Digital Voting Initiative.  (  The underlying principle of this initiative is that voting machine software should be open source so that there is no question about any built in vote fixing “bugs”

Open source licenses are particularly well suited to software, because software can be so easily modified and customized.  If open-source software doesn’t do exactly what you need, you can alter it in any way you want and can redistribute with limited restrictions.  The end result of this freedom is the formation of productive developer communities.  Cities and governments can benefit from these communities as well.

Because most open source software is distributed free one common question is how can it sustain itself in our market-driven economy.

The key insight I learned was that open-source, in and of itself, is not a business model.  It is a product distribution choice – but not the basis for a business.  The presenters used the analogy of a plumber to clarify.

Plumbing knowledge is fairly widely distributed.  Similarly, most plumbers are interchangeable and can work on anybody’s plumbing.   Yet, plumbing is a viable (indeed, lucrative) profession.

Similarly, although open source software, such as LINUX is available for free.  Companies that can add value by packaging LINUX, such as Red Hat, have been able to thrive.

For cities, open source can be particularly attractive.  Non-profits, such as OpenPlans ( are creating open-source platforms to provide citizen services at little to no cost to the city.  For instance, OpenPlans is producing a real-time bus tracking system in NYC that can be further developed by any programmer.

The Open Source model has even been extended into education. Again, in New York, the Public School NYC (, is a disruptive model that proposes to provide fully-customizable classes based on public interest.


The open-source city has arrived.

The video above was made using data from the traces of mobile calls in Geneva, Switzerland.  Besides being extrodinarly beautiful, the video demonstrates the breadth of mobile use in modern cities.  I post this because almost every topic related to smart cities assumes robust mobile networks.

Residents can use the data illustrated in the video above for applications ranging from traffic jam detectors to figuring out what the hottest restaurant, bar, or club is on any particular evening

Meanwhile, city planners can think about urban spaces using these digital mobile traces and build cities to work around the needs of citizens



Transportation ranks as the second highest household expense in the United States, approaching $1 trillion per year.  Sensors, RFIDs, smartphones, and other maturing technologies are being deployed to optimize costs — both monetary and temporal — in this domain.  We began by discussing smart mobility in Dubai and Barcelona and evaluated smart mobility options in the United States in public transit, cabs, cars, and bicycles.

Consider Dubai’s new “Salik” toll system.  It currently consists of four toll gates on some of the city’s more congested roads and bridges.  The toll gates communicate with battery-free RFID transponders that are available to motorists at banks and service stations.  The transponders are charged with funds, and when the motorist passes through a toll gate, the $1 flat fee is deducted.  Motorists that do not have transponders are caught on camera and fined about $15.  In addition to Salik, other congestion mitigation measures include diversion of truck traffic to other routes, and exempting taxis from the tolls.  In concert, these measures have resulted in a palpable reduction in congestion.

Another innovation applied in Dubai is an automated parking guidance system.  The parking guidance system provides motorists with easily readable parking space vacancy information.  Each parking space is instrumented with an overhead detector and LED indicator that lights up green for empty and red for occupied.  This enables drivers to glance down long parking aisles and quickly determine if any spaces are available.  The data from the sensors is aggregated and reported on lighted signs near garage entrances to inform passing motorists of the space availability.  The result is a notable reduction in the time and fuel spent trolling for parking spaces.  Similar systems are operating in China and Barcelona.

Smart phone technology has spawned some new opportunities to optimize transportation costs by increasing transportation awareness, fostering collaboration among transportation users, and leveraging inefficiencies.  One particularly impactful application domain is real-time transit information disseminated by apps such as Transporter, NextBus, 511, and iBART.  This idea has been adapted to taxicabs by applications such as Cabulous and TaxiMagic, which enable users to view the locations of cabs and hail them using smartphones.  For drivers,  services such as Waze enable self-reporting of traffic conditions and consideration of alternative routes.  While an innovative way to actively crowd-source traffic data, some concerns about driver distraction are left up for debate.

Cab sharing, ride sharing, bike sharing are relatively low-tech collaboration concepts that have enjoyed a boost from rapidly growing smart phone technology.  In the cab sharing space, apps like GobiCab and Fare/Share allow users to locate each other and share the cost of a cab ride.  Ride sharing solutions such as Zimride (targeting communities), RideJoy (targeting long-distance riders), Ride Amigos (targeting riders to specific events), and Wheelz (targeting university students) each approach different ride sharing markets.  The value they purport to add over existing solutions such as casual carpool and craigslist are improving reliability and reducing the inherent “sketch factor” of ride sharing.  Bike sharing is reaching the United States.  Washington DC’s Smart Bike, the nations first formal bike share program, launched in 2008.  Since then, Capital Bikeshare emerged, and a pilot program is materializing in San Francisco.  Spotcycle, a smart phone app enables uses to efficiently locate available bikes on a map.

The strong growth and diversity of car sharing schemes is reflects smarter mobility by leveraging the inefficiency of otherwise idle cars and fostering collaboration.  With a market cap of approximately $600M, Zipcar has set the standard for car sharing.  Other companies such as RelayRides and GetAround have varied the car sharing theme with a peer-to-peer approach that enables individual car owners to micro lease their cars to other members.  Finally, services such as Scoot Networks are making a scooter sharing market.


Today the lecture focused on collaborative consumption as a phenomenon that represents a specific manifestation of smart cities and smart living. While sharing and bartering goes back to the earliest days of human interaction, today’s mobile technologies make sharing possible in new ways and at new scales.

The presentation was very interactive and got us all thinking about how we collaboratively consume in our lives.  How many of us have used a public library in the past month?  Bought or sold something from CraigsList? Used a carshare service like Zipcar or a peer-to-peer car service? Located a tool or object to borrow from our neighbors?

After these probing questions, the presentation was divided into two sections. The first part focused on collaborative consumption concept and trends. The second focused on the “so what?,” examining the implications for community-building and social impact and resource efficiency and environmental impact.

Rachel Bottsman and Lisa Gatsby are two women who are at the forefront of the movement, writing books and articles, hosting websites, and speaking internationally on the notion of collaborative consumption.  Their websites ( and serve as clearinghouses for what’s happening in this movement.

Collaborative consumption describes the rapid explosion in systems for sharing, bartering, lending, trading, renting, gifting, and swapping reinvented through network technologies on a scale never possible before. The key idea is that access to goods and spaces is more important than ownership of them. The 20th century (and current model) is “hyperconsumption” – driven by a combination of available credit, aggressive advertising, and a desire for individual ownership. The 21st century model, however, is emerging as one of collaborative consumption – driven rather by reputation, community, and shared access.  This changes the relationship from one of consumer to manufacturer to a whole community sharing.

There are three types of collaborative consumption: product service systems, redistribution markets, and collaborative lifestyles; each of these categories certainly overlap. Product service systems are a product that can be shared or rented by multiple people. You can pay a single company that owns all the resources like Zipcar, or it could be a peer to peer system. Examples include Zipcar, Relay Rides, Zimride, Zilok.  Redistribution markets such as craigslist, ebay, hey neighbor, swap style, book mooch, and thread up are emerging as ways to sell things across the community.  Finally, collaborative lifestyles includes the sharing of lots of things including space.  Examples include CouchSurfing, air bnb, loosecubes, Landshare – (offering yard space for others to grow vegetables), kickstarter, and skillshare.

The group discussed the ways in which some of these monetized “shares” are also not just about making money, but also about building community. For example, couchsurfing is not merely about finding a couch to sleep on, but has become a way that individuals can share their community with travelers, providing a place to sleep but also tips on where to go and what to see in their hometowns.

There are four main components that make collaborative consumption work.

  • Trust between strangers
  • Belief in the commons, a notion that we should take care of things that are shared
  • Idling capacity, the recognition that we have space and objects that are underused
  • Critical mass, a lot of people in a network for you to find what you need when you need it

Again, sharing and bartering are age-old, so what’s different now?  First, technology allows people to add and access content to/from the web easily. Some have said that there is a resurgence of “community” – are we recreating community? Tapping it in a new way? Today has also seen an increase in the public’s concern of the environment and a greater attention to the ways our consumption patterns impact the environment. Finally, some are concerned about cost consciousness.


How is collaborative consumption working for Community Building and Social Impact?

One example is HUB Bay Area, which is a non-profit community organization that serves as a  “place for purpose-driven people to connect based on membership.” They provide a curated workspace, community events, and accelerator tools that build community, focused on mentors, funding, and other resources for small business development. Tangibly, HUB provides workspace for small businesses interested in creating social change, and intangibly they provide a space to harness the potential requires the strength and participation of the community.

A second example is the New York based Breakout! Festival which was an experiment in 2009 that explored new and productive ways for people to work together, but creating an “anywhere, anytime office” through utilization of ICT support. The goal was to liberate knowledge-based workers from traditional office spaces, and move their work space to outdoor offices. While high rise office buildings used to be best solution of workers to be close to each other and their paper files, today new modes and spaces of working may make more sense as documentation and paperwork are all digital and telecommunications and formerly fixed office tools are now distributed and portable. Certainly, traditional office buildings will not completely disappear, but the idea is that there is the promise for a new vision of office work and on flexible work schedule and new urban patterns that allow people to divide time between traditional office setting and new spaces.


How is collaborative consumption working for improving resource efficiency and environmental impact?

Each of the categories of collaborative consumption offers something to using resources more efficiently and improving environmental outcomes. 

Product service systems address issues of problems of products that we own but only use for small fraction of shelf life . These can now be shared over a number of households. Likewise, Redistribution Markets allow us to access things for the short term but pass them to others for the long term. For example, when we need cardboard boxes for moving, we don’t need to buy them we can trade them on sites that allow us to recycle to others moving after us. Collaborative lifestyles allow us to minimize the “idle” spaces in communities such as office space.

Given these opportunities, does collaborative consumption offer an alternative to “hyperconsumption”? Can it help reduce the rate at which we consume natural resources? And if sharing increases, what does that mean for our communities and how will they grow and change?

The presentation then briefly mentioned a couple of other issues that this movement raises. The first is a question of corporations vs. the people. In what ways is collaborative consumption a democratizing force that enables regular people to save money and reduce dependence and earn income? Or is this just business-as-usual for big corporations? Second, is a question of inclusivity. Who can benefit from collaborative consumption and how does this match up with who is currently using collaborative consumption technology? What culture is reflected in collaborative consumption marketing and branding?

These issues led to lively discussion among our diverse classmates. Some offered that the take-away from a business perspective is that this presents new opportunities for new business models. The example of the recording industry and their slow response to changing demand for listening to music was raised.  Really the question for businesses is how can they innovate to make shared products? And the divide between corporations and people is not a fair one.

Others suggested that while the dichotomy between corporations and people is arguably reductive, it remains true that in the last several decades hyperconsumption funded by debt has meant that consumers generally lost out. The fix that was offered was to keep buying more stuff to great detriment to environment and consumers. Corporations found ways to reinvent themselves but not in a way that was balanced and supported consumers. Perhaps collaborative consumption can bring corporate and consumer interests closer, but at the same time it raises some serious questions about whether production will have to be restructured as demand gets more efficient. If that does occur, what will happen to people making living in the production facilities?

Further, others suggested that the leading edge of this kind of paradigm is in fact coming out of an anti-corporate perspective, and that this ethos is important part of origins of movement. Discussion then moved towards big picture questions of macroeconomics and are these models that can fit into traditional capitalistic growth, will they kill or industries, and what does this all mean? Will the collaborative consumption efforts remain the purview of informal cash exchange or incorporated into more formal parts of economic growth models?

The group also discussed how collaborative consumption was the norm before hyperconsumption and in fact resource sharing is still the norm in many parts of the world and lower income communities in the United States.  Trust and social bonds is the only way to live in poor communities in the developing world. Corporations developing “products for the poor” are actually aiming to break these communal bonds. So while this movement is talking about how to move our economy to a more collaborative model, there is a question of if we are going to force economies to go through the same cycle of individual hyperconsumption first, or can developing countries leapfrog to new economy that is grounded in collaborative consumption and builds on their current mode of consumption?

This example of collaborative consumption in India spurred additional conversations about who is using these models? Is it only people on the internet? Is this phenomenon just going to be affluent creative class? What is the opportunity to use collaborative consumption as a way to rethink redistributive potential of the economy? How do we account for less demand? Does this decrease production? How do countries deal with the prospect of 20% permanent unemployment rates? What is the role of the government in regulating production to ensure that we have equitable distribution of the profits from selling less goods?

While these big questions are exciting, we also are reminded that this movement is happening gradually and probably will be adaptation in the long term, but for now, among more affluent people, it remains a nascent process in the United States, Europe and Australia.

Finally, additional questions were raised about how to tax income, the impacts on municipal finance of lost tax revenue (e.g. with tourists staying at airbnb instead of traditional hotels that charge a hotel tax), and issues of trust and liability (in the case of peer-to-peer carsharing). To what extent does anonymous lending make a difference in issues of trust and liability? To what extent does peer-lending and social pressure and bonds encourage positive social behavior and cultivate trust?


Will others follow car insurance companies in threatening to strip insurance from car sharers?

According to a New York Times article, “Share a Car, Risk Your Insurance,” some car insurance companies including USAA, Allstate, and the Insurance Information Institute are reportedly considering stripping coverage from car owners if they even hear that owners are participating in car sharing. While car sharing company Relay Rides provides $1 million of liability coverage in the event that someone is killed or seriously maimed by a driver of the owner’s vehicle such that the owner isn’t in a bad position if their car insurer refuses to cover such an incident, car insurers still stated that the owner may not be renewed or may even lose their coverage after an accident.

In addition to car sharing companies, will other sharing companies’ participants such as couchsurfing, air bnb, and landshare that share property find themselves subject to scrutiny over insurance coverage issues by property and home insurance companies? Three states, California, Oregon, and Washington have passed laws that keep car insurance companies from stripping car coverage from car sharing owners. Can they do the same for home/land hosts if home and property insurance companies follow the path of car insurance companies?

After two users of air bnb were victims of vandalism and theft the company announced a $50,000 insurance policy but this would in no way cover total property or home destruction. A possible solution to concerns with insurers may be the development of a new insurance profile that includes sharing that will still allow sharing to be feasible for owners. Currently, owners have no choice but to deceive insurers in the event that their insurance companies state that sharing of their property, home, or cars will lead to rescinding of their coverage. If not, owners will have to find other companies that are accepting of sharing or go without coverage at all. It would seem that the best solution to these concerns would be for insurance companies and sharing companies to increase the dialogue on the topic and collaborate. Eventually details will have to be hashed out as the sharing community continues to increase in size.

Developing a smarter energy grid offers tremendous opportunities and benefits. As presented during class, energy resources can be generated and transmitted more intelligently and efficiently, such as routing those resources to where they are needed most. Consumers and businesses can better understand how they use energy in their everyday activities.Variable pricing models can shape users’ energy consumption, particularly during peak load times during extreme weather. Grid operators will have access to improved intelligence for detecting, preventing, and recovering grid failures.

To date smart grid efforts have encountered numerous challenges, often focusing on cost. As presented in the Boulder, Colorado case study – who will pay for converting the existing grid? Consumers, energy providers, utilities, and government agencies agree that a smart grid is beneficial for all, however it is unclear who will bear the financial burden. Should those who benefit most pay a larger share? Should all consumers pay an equal amount, or should those who use more energy pay a larger share? Often these conversion costs are foisted onto consumers, who often have few energy provider choices given existing federal regulations. Utilities are regulated regarding the specific rates they may charge, limiting their ability to generate additional revenue  for needed conversion costs. These challenges highlight the complex power dynamics between users, providers, utilities, and the government.

Towards the end of the presentation Monday we briefly discussed the privacy implications of smart grid technologies. As posed in class, a utility could remotely turn off your air conditioner during peak usage. Or see which appliances you own. Perhaps utilities could limit when you could wash and dry your clothes, watch television, or use a blow dryer. While such control is likely far off, it raises question of whose energy could be controlled. Would it be all users, or could some users pay to use energy whenever they choose? Could such measures adversely affect low-income users, who may not be able to afford the latest energy efficient appliances? We must foster conversations among users, providers, utilities, and the government to resolve these questions.

Throughout the presentations this semester we should stay mindful of such privacy impacts. For smart transit, what are the privacy implications of gathering and using individuals’ data to plan and route buses, trains, and traffic? For smart governance, how might gathering such data from marginalized communities impact the perception of those communities? Does smart (grid|transportation|governance|etc.) data accurately reflect individuals and their activities? If not, what can we do to ensure that it does?

Do planners need to be aware of contemporary privacy laws and regulations?^ If so, how do we integrate this topic  into curriculum?

^ I have some experience in this space, and would be happy to present a half-class later this semester. – Andy