SenseCity Africa: a collaborative project
The digital transition in Africa
In Africa, the digitalization process is happening faster and is more ubiquitous than one might expect. In fact, about a decade before payments through mobile phones became common in the North Atlantic, such technology was already available in several African countries, a famous example being MPesa in Kenya. Also, Internet connectivity is increasing rapidly in sub-Saharan Africa: with nearly 300 million internet users in 2019, the Internet penetration rate in the region has not grown faster anywhere in the last decade, progressively closing the gap with the rest of the world. This development is mainly based on the growth of mobile telephony and telecommunication infrastructures - in 2019, nearly 790 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lived in an area covered by at least 3G signal. Today, people may have access to a phone before they can access basic services such as safely managed water and sanitation.
Potential applications in urban planning
African cities are resilient by nature: for the many, dealing with limited resources and challenging environmental conditions is their routine, which results in largely "informal" social arrangements and spatial developments. However, current urban planning policies and tools often fail to address the significant portion of the urban population that lives in "informality". One of the main limitations is, indeed, access to reliable and updated data on all areas of the city, especially on informal settlements.
As digitalization seems to outpace the expansion of basic infrastructures and services, urban planners should reconsider, at this point, the role that digital technologies could play in the spatial development of African cities. As the latter go through drastically fast changes in their demography and morphology, they could certainly benefit from more dynamic monitoring tools based on mobile communication devices and crowdsourced data.
With recent advances in geospatial and communication technologies, virtually any connected citizen is now able to share their own urban experience - and thus "have a voice" - by providing both qualitative and quantitative data useful for urban planners. This opens the way for more participatory and inclusive planning practices that, by nature, rely on more plural and complete databases to inform decision-making.
SenseCity Africa: crowdsourcing urban data
SenseCity Africa explores the potential offered by communication technologies and the ubiquity of Internet access to address urban challenges in Africa. In this way, SenseCity displays urban data produced by "human sensors", in a process that Michael Goodchild has coined as "Volunteered Geographic Information" (VGI). This experiment builds on previous works elaborated by the CEAT team.
The results of SenseCity will be materialized in the form of georeferenced images featuring qualitative attributes given by "tags", collected throughout the African continent. The preliminary outputs of this experiment will be presented at the 2021 Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism.
Everyone is entitled to contribute to the development of the database. Simply go to the "Upload" tab and upload a photo of an African urban landscape. Please do not forget to add "tags" to your photo, suggesting how you perceive the place being photographed: for example, "bad traffic", "great view", "work", "home" or anything that comes up to your mind. For the sake of consistency, each contribution will be carefully examined before being published online.
All contributors concede SenseCity Africa the right to display any uploaded material, and to use it for research purposes. SenseCity Africa and its developers are not responsible for any issues related to image rights. Contributors must be attentive to anonymity and avoid having any personal details shown in the uploaded picture. In addition, contributors shall not take pictures of people in a way they can be recognised, unless they have their explicit consent. SenseCity Africa reserves the rights to use the uploaded photos in social media to promote the project.