Note — Oct 31, 2021

City Data Commons for the Climat Crisis

Excellent article at Branch magazine by Renata Avila and Guy Weress, proposing a bold vision for city data commons against the enclosure of citizen data and for the climate crisis.

The vast majority of so-called smart city projects have been pushed by large corporations with goals of automation and data collection for profit, purposefully or unwittingly (if we’re being generous) grabbing data which should, in the authors’ view and mine, be a public good. While cities often ‘don’t see’ civic data (they don’t track them, don’t legislate around them, and don’t pay attention to their citizens’ data), corporations do and position themselves to capture it.

Beyond this enclosure, the global value of all that city-level data could be aggregated as a shared resource between cities to better understand, prepare for, and act when confronting the climate crisis. Imagine cities asserting control on all the data created within their limits, building resources locally to leverage that data for the good of their citizens, and then collaborating globally, pooling their learnings for the benefit of their collective populations.

Cities are where we live, and as procurers of the tech that surrounds us, city governments find themselves in a unique position. They are the custodians of personal and aggregate data from the largest human concentrations of more than half of the world, and this is especially critical in the context of the climate crisis. […]

It aspires to define city data as commons, instead of property, and enable a space—a data commons space as opposed to a “data marketplace” where collectives can access and get the benefits from high-quality datasets collected with public funds, including data about water quality, the environment, public transport and energy systems, all the data collected by privately-managed bike sharing systems, water sensors, and taxi platforms. […]

Cities are epicentres of knowledge of many kinds. Cities concentrate universities, practitioners and experts and, when a city procures data & tech driven solutions, consideration and priority should be given to processes that place the local knowledge above companies offering “in-a-box” solutions produced somewhere else.