Project Manager: Andrew Mondschein and Mona El Khafif

Next Cities Institute-Networked Public Spaces: Expansion of the research infrastructure of the Next Cities Institute, committed to improving urban living environments.

Approved: Summer 2019

Project Dates: 12/01/2019 – 11/30/2023

Total Funding: $332,000

Executive Summary

As cities become “smarter,” they also need to become better for the people who live in them. The Next Cities Institute Project is an interdisciplinary project committed to improving urban living environments. Using civic and individual engagement, as well as cameras and sensors to collect data about public spaces, the project will study how people live and how they want to live, and help figure out how cities can integrate technology in new and meaningful ways.      

Current Status: Active


The Networked Public Spaces project investigates how environmental sensors in public spaces serve as more than a means of data extraction but may also deepen human relationships to their local environments and empower communities to take personal and collective action local environmental issues. The project emphasizes three broad areas of integrated research, including open, low-cost sensing and networking systems, responsive public space architectures, and collaborative practices of urban planning and placemaking. Taken as a whole, Networked Public Spaces (NPS) develops a replicable, networkable streetscape and civic infrastructure system prototype that creates open technologies, methods, and knowledge necessary for our focus communities in Virginia, as well as other communities globally to mitigate alienation and foster engagement.

Despite persistent delays to fabrication and community engagement due to COVID-19, NPS has completed many of its original objectives across design, technology, and engagement. The project has developed a prototype of responsive public space architecture, which embeds environmental sensors and response elements (such as lighting) within architectural elements that are themselves linked to an online analytics and visualization platform. The development of open, low-cost, low-power sensing and networking system has reached completion, and community-oriented “instructables” are in their final stages of development. In addition, the prototype includes an online analytics and visualization component. The project has come to focus on the Shockoe community in Richmond, Virginia because of a clear interest in the community on the issues of environmental justice and making environmental data a part of a larger pursuit of social and environmental justice. In the community, we have established relationships with the City of Richmond, the Science Museum of Virginia, and community-based groups focused on local history and future transformation from enslavement to gentrification. Using a creative placemaking approach to public space planning and design, the team is deploying the NPS system as a catalyst for understanding environmental justice in a broader social and historical context. NPS has a broad team spanning design, planning, data science, and engineering including faculty, a project manager, multiple graduate and undergraduate students, as well as community partners.