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: Completed


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 collaborative practices of urban planning and placemaking, open, low-cost sensing and networking systems, and responsive public space architecture. 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.

NPS has fulfilled its objectives across design, technology, and engagement. The project has developed a series of prototypes of responsive public space architecture, which embed environmental sensors and response elements (such as lighting) within architectural elements that are linked to an online analytics and visualization platform. The development of an open, low-cost, low-power sensing and networking system andcommunity-oriented “Instructables” are complete. In addition, the prototype includes an online analytics and visualization component. The project’s primary case study is the Shockoe Bottom community in Richmond, Virginia. At Shockoe Bottom, there is a clear interest on the part of the community in the issues of environmental justice, and in making environmental data a part of a larger pursuit of social and environmental justice. NPS has established relationships with the City of Richmond 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 deployed the NPS system as a catalyst for understanding environmental justice in a broader social and historical context. NPS’s efforts and collaborations span design, planning, data science, and engineering, and has engaged with faculty, project staff, multiple graduate and undergraduate students, as well as community partners.