Making smart cities work for people. No 1: Crowdsourcing flood maps in Jakarta

One of Jakarta's main business districts, during the floods of January 2014. Image: Getty.

The “Smart City” is a vision of what cities might look like in the future if they adopt a range of cutting edge technologies – the Internet of Things, big data, advanced computing, and so on.

But this vision rarely leaves any space for people; nor does it take into account the pressing problems that cities are facing now. As a result, many smart city ideas have failed to deliver on their promise, combining high costs and low returns.

In our recent report, Rethinking smart cities from the ground up, innovation charity Nesta argued that cities need to combine investment in tried and tested hardware with the growing potential of “collaborative technologies”: that is, those technologies that enable greater collaboration between urban communities, their citizens and their governments

Over the next few weeks, in this series of articles we’ll be exploring five examples of cities doing just that. This is the first.

Putting people at the heart of Jakarta's flood data

Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, is a megacity of around 10m people, with over 28m in the wider metropolitan region. As a result, the city faces a huge range of challenges, from the world’s most congested roads to annual flooding that forces thousands to abandon their homes and takes many lives. Alongside investment in infrastructure, the city is exploring the potential of working with citizens to address these challenges.

It’s a surprising fact that Jakarta tweets more than any other city in the world. PetaJakarta – the name means “map Jakarta” in Bahasa Indonesian – was set up by researchers at Australia’s University of Wollongong and the Jakarta Emergency Management Agency (BPBD) to take advantage of this. During the pilot phase of the project, when anyone in Jakarta tweeted the word “flood”, the system would upload the location of the tweet onto a map, to create a real time, crowdsourced map of flooding in the city.

 

A video introduction to the PeteJakarta project.

Accuracy is always a concern with crowdsourced data, so another innovative feature of the platform is its partnership with Twitter. Residents of Jakarta who tweeted the world “flood” during the pilot received a message asking them to confirm that they were trying to report a flood. Only once they’d done this did the report appear on a crowdsourced map.


Could crowdsourcing reports from social media ever replace traditional flood monitoring techniques? The results from the pilot show that crowdsourcing data currently works best as a complement to existing data collection methods: there aren’t yet enough people reporting floods on Twitter to create a comprehensive flood map of the city. This may change in the future, however: BPBD is committed to integrating, developing and promoting the platform.

The city government is also experimenting with crowdsourced traffic reporting to help it address its legendary traffic woes. With around 1m monthly users of Waze, the Google-owned navigation app, Jakarta was a good candidate for the Waze Connected Citizens program.

The programme provides city officials with data about how Waze users move around the city. This, they hope, will improve the city’s ability to manage congestion.

Tom Saunders is a senior researcher at Nesta, the UK innovation charity, and one of the authors of the "Rethinking smart cities from the ground up" report. 

 
 
 
 

Podcast: Uber & out

Uber no more. Image: Getty.

Oh, capitalism. You had a good run. But then Transport for London decided to ask Uber to take some responsibility for the safety of its passengers, and thus did what 75 years of Soviet Communism failed to do and overthrew the entire economic system of the Western world. Thanks, Sadiq, thanks a lot.

In the unlikely event you've missed the news, the story so far: TfL has ruled that Uber is not a fit and proper company to operate cabs, and revoked its licence. Uber has three weeks to appeal before its cabs need to get off the road.

To commemorate this sad day, I've dragged Stephen Bush back into the podcasting basement, so we can don black arm bands and debate what all this means – for London, for Uber, for the future (if it has one) of capitalism.

May god have mercy on our souls.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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