As part of Fields of View’s Research in Play series, we had invited citizens to become researchers for a week and pursue the question – ‘why are Bengaluru’s lakes foaming?’
We had three researchers — Angshuman Das from IIIT-B, Soundarajan R from APU, and Karthik Natarajan, an independent designer and architect join us.
First, the team undertook desk research and went through different news and journal articles on Bangalore’s lakes. Following is a guest post analysing how many people read what articles based on Facebook and Twitter data.
Authors of the post below: Angshuman Das, IIIT-B, Soundarajan, APU
In this article, problems faced by the pedestrians and cars due to heavy foaming like traffic jams, foul smell, skin problems were presented. It mentioned that cleaning of the lakes would be a very difficult task as there was a lot of pollution in that area. The article also blamed the corrupted Government officials for not taking sufficient measures to prevent frothing. Documentary photographer Mr. Ghosh presented some clear photographs of froth formed in the Bellandur Lake.
In this article, views of the local residents regarding the frothing of Varthur and Bellandur Lake were present. A member of citizen action group, Whitefield spoke about the unbearable stench in that region due to foaming. Some residents consider encroachments in and around lakes as the main cause for pollution of the Lake. Most of the residents also blamed the BWSSB for releasing untreated sewage in the Lakes .It also briefly mentioned about poor quality of Lake water (presence of high quantity of ammonia and phosphate, low dissolved oxygen).
In this article, views of angry local residents living near Varthur Lake were present. Residents spoke about the filthy quality of Lake water, presence of urine and faecal matter ,high levels of toxicity in the Lake water. Professor TV Ramachandra from IISc Bangalore is worried about the increasing pollution in the Lake, presence of untreated sewage, carcinogenic nitrates which are causing the froth. While most of the residents blamed the Govt. officials for being negligent, the state’s Pollution Control chairperson Dr.Acharya replied that more sewage plants would be constructed across the city to prevent disposal of untreated sewage into the Lakes.
For more information regarding the reasons for frothing of lakes, constituents of Bellandur Lake water and case study of Bellandur Lake over a period of 10 years, you can refer to these research papers:
“What would you really consider a smart city? Technology, people smart about consumerism? It’s a tricky question to answer,” says Pavan. The popular rhetoric around smart cities has come to us from popular media, industries, and the government, who push for these kind of ideas in the name of development. It is imperative for individuals to introspect and figure out for themselves what they want from a city, rather than such ideas being pushed down, according to Pavan.
Our discussion with Pavan primarily was around sustainable consumerism, and innovation in cities. He discusses the nature of consumerism in cities, and asks “what are we consuming, where are we consuming from, and is our city smart enough to produce these kind of things in a sustainable way?” Is it the city that is smart, or the city dwellers, he asks, and says we have to “look at it holistically instead of myopically looking at just traffic or connectivity. A city where people start introspecting what a city means to themselves. People are smart then city is smart.”
One of the founders of Workbench Projects, a makerspace in Bangalore, Pavan also talks about the importance of such spaces, which enable people to “come, congregate, and explore different things: it could be next best phone using sustainable materials, or a bicycle, skateboard, or terrace gardens.” Cities provide that sort of ecosystem, and these are they sort of innovations that at a high level can change cities, says Pavan.
Last week was quiet sort of week at Fields of View: Bharath + Harsha are still in Europe, Sruthi was in Delhi pitching Convers[t]ation and Ankita + Tarun were tied up with exams. On most days there was only four of us in the studio; seriously, you could hear a pin drop (and that’s saying something in India). Oh, and Iain made the decision last week to go back home to the UK. He’ll be working on the project both from the UK and Amsterdam, which means that he’ll be spending lots of time with the Dutch team. In the meantime, Lisanne has been pushing the project forward: she’s been working on the UI + video chatting with Amsterdam in order to sync up our work as much as possible.
For the UI front, you can head on over to our Tumblr to see more.
As for working with Amsterdam, they’ve got meetings this week with different companies (Ekko, Sims Recycling) that they’re hoping to pull in as stakeholders for their project. They’ve told the companies about our work as well (specifically the Smartbin) + they’re definitely interested. So who knows: maybe we’ll have more crossover between our projects than we could have ever imagined. We’ve also been bringing the designs of the two platforms closer together by sharing the typefaces, colours + iconography that we’re using.
Well…. that’s about it. Super short + sweet, but what can you do when everyone is busy pitching and testing and whatever else? We’re gearing up for a busier week with a Cisco meeting on Thursday, so, catch ya later.
It’s been a pretty great week! We’re getting closer to the end of our project and things are going by pretty fast! This week Tarun and I sort of finalized a prototype description of the bin. It seems doable on paper so time to put our electronics skills to the test. Lisanne and Iain worked on the platform and came up with a beautiful clickable prototype (it looked beautiful to my not so trained eyes) that covers most of the features of the platform.
The two of us IIITians have been time pressed and unable to go the FoV house much (actually at all). Sigh. The bane of course work. Thumbs up for education though! Lisanne and Iain made coming to IIIT part of their schedules to fill us in on everything. Also, IIIT does have the best tea ever. I dare you to try it and not fall in love.
We had our Cisco meeting this week (after a fantastic lunch at their cafeteria). Everyone appreciated our Internet of Bins (I can’t get over how awesome that name is) platform and bin prototype and we got good feedback to think about. Amsterdam has a very similar concept – platform based – to ours. So for the first time in the Design Across Cultures programme we’re having prototype collaboration and sharing backend and frontend elements with different end use. Barcelona is doing some pretty cool research that focuses on smart city trends.
Kickass visual from our presentation by the very talented Lisanne.
We’re also partner hunting. We’re hoping to marry off our Internet of Bins concept to ELCITA, grand Indian style. We should be meeting with them soon! It would be incredible to see everything we’ve been working on actually get implemented in Bangalore – the ultimate satisfaction.
In other news, Tarun and I have a semester end exams the coming week – *says a mental prayer* – and after that we’ll be all set to build our bin and hopefully make it in time for the next presentation.
We’ve been having a pretty crazy time as we’re getting closer to the final stage our project. The past two weeks have been crazy, it’s been work work work. In the previous sprint, we presented our idea to Cisco and they were pretty appreciative of our concept and with all the progress we made. Just a recap: We presented our idea about the platform and the bin, which would serve as the digital and physical components respectively.
Ankita and I have also been busy with college (we have exams coming up) so we divided work amongst the four of us. Lisanne and Iain are focused on outlining and building the platform, while Ankita and I worked on the physical concept – the smart bins (more on these later!). Our goal for this sprint (which is coming to an end soon) was to create a clickable prototype for the platform and have rough design of functionality and aesthetics of the bin.
Lisanne developed the wireframes for a visual representation of the skeletal framework of the platform, while also working on the general front-end with Iain’s help (who is handling the backend of the platform and is very chilled about that). There was some research done into how we can visualize the informal sector as ‘legitimate’. We weren’t able to go to FoV this week what with classes and quizzes being forced down upon us (We’re freaking out about exams).
We sort of figured out what we would require to build the bin, enabling it to communicate with the platform. The platform aims to bring transparency into the post consumption cycle, so we decided on having a timeline, that would track the e-waste as it goes through the cycle. Also, it would connect citizens the informal sector as the citizens would be able to request pick-ups through the platform.
This week, Lisanne had a meeting with Hasirudala, and gave them a walk-through of the platform and the bin concept. That meeting left us with a lot to think about (and a lot of unanswered questions). We also have a meeting scheduled with ELCITA, who have shown interest in our project. Yay! The Amsterdam team have found a company named Eeko that they are hoping to work with. They’ve created a survey to sort of do some more user research and maybe test some of the features of their concept.
The platform has taken a more solid shape since last week with the further development of the wireframes as well as a more cohesive visual language. The Internet of Bins is taking shape! We used the PSI model (Problem space, Social space, Institutional space) to figure out requirements, purpose, and limitations in creating the prototype and a possible usable model.
We have come up with a design (I am finally putting my electronics skills to use, yes!) to equip the bin with sensors, to detect when the bin is full/when something new has been dropped off and accordingly let the bin communicate with the platform for a pick-up request.
There are still some issues that are hard to handle – like designing the bin to prevent theft of potentially valuable e-waste. Hopefully we’ll be able to get good feedback on what we’ve come up with so far and to see if it makes sense to implement in the Bangalore context and make necessary changes. We should have our bins in prototype action soon!
You can listen to the entire podcast below. We apologise for a drop in audio quality after 9.47 due to a technical glitch.
In case the embedded audio doesn’t work, you can download the entire podcast here.
Some of the highlights of the conversation are in the post below.
Smart cities is the usage of certain sensor-driven methods of measuring various patterns of urban life, analyzing that, and acting upon that analysis through various network actuators,says Sumandro. In the Indian context, smart cities are seen more as an “infrastructural initiative” where the Government is interested in developing more efficient systems for urban management, and attracting private investment for such initiatives. He points out two areas where it is probably still early to say how things will pan out. One is about the kind of responsibilities private investment will have when it comes to public infrastructure and the other is about how different government verticals will talk to each other. In the past too, the Government has attempted to use information as a resource to better manage different verticals such as water management, waste management, etc. The challenge continues to be integration of these verticals.
Given Sumandro’s ongoing work with open data, another area where he thinks more clarity would be welcome is about how the Government would share open data related to smart cities. Though the Government has spoken about initiatives like a data portal for cities, it is still not clear what shape such portals would take, and what potential there is for the different kinds of data to be compared and understood across cities.
There are a lot of concerns raised about people’s participation in smart cities, and according to Sumandro, “participation is not a smart city issue – participation is a city issue.” Drawing a distinction between people’s participation in administration, people’s participation in democratic governance, and people’s participation in technological decisions, he says that while we have a sense of how to involve people in administrative processes, it is still unclear how to do the same when it comes to technological decisions. Overall, he says there is more clarity required when it comes to different aspects of technological policy and urban policy, and the ways in which these two overlap and inform each other.
Given our ongoing research on cities, we are keen to explore the emerging discourse on smart cities. As our work involves creating spaces for dialogue, we have planned a series of podcasts, where experts from the government, academia, industry, and civil society reflect on the idea of smart cities, especially the ways that they see this idea being shaped in the Indian context. For our first podcast, we interviewed Prof. Vinod Vyasulu.
Prof Vinod Vyasulu is an Advisor at the Centre for IT and Public Policy in IIIT-B. He was previously an Associate Professor of Economics at IIM Bangalore and then the RBI Chair Professor and Head of the Social Services Management Unit at the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore. He set up the Centre for Budget and Policy Studies, Bangalore in 1998 and was its Director until December 2010. Here are the highlights from our discussion with him.
Prof Vyasulu asks “since when did cities become smart?” “It is citizens, and people who govern cities that make a city smart,” he says, adding that perhaps the awe around information technology makes people believe that such technologies will solve all their problems.
While there is “some truth in the fact that IT will help improve a city,” Prof Vyasulu says it is also how we use IT, how we ask questions, and pose problems that define what ‘smart’ is. Citing examples like Melbourne, often ranking high on lists such as the Economist’s list of smart cities, Prof Vyasulu explains that his conception of a Smart City is one where people can “do their ordinary businesses of life without too much trouble”. For example, Melbourne has retained trams as a means of public transport (while Kolkata has not), and uses numbered bus stops which helps easily identify them. “A Smart City is any city that meets the basic needs of everybody.”
A key issue in talking about the role of IT and the notion of Smart Cities is data. Drawing from one of his works called Essays on Bangalore, which he co-edited in 1985, Prof Vyasulu talks about the problems of different government agencies working on their own and collecting data in non-standard forms such that they are unusable across departments. These problems have not been alleviated to date, and no “city or any government can be considered smart if they collect the same data over and over again!”
Another challenge which he thinks will arise in the current implementation of the 100 Smart Cities Mission is that it was conceptualised and designed in a top-down manner. While the intentions may be good, this has created a “rigidity where it need not have existed.”
Prof Vyasulu then talks about how Bangalore was never governed as a city, but as part of a state. He briefly discusses the history of Bangalore as a city and its governance, the growth and decline of the public sector, followed by the growth of the large private sector. He unravels different threads of history which led to the rapid growth of Bangalore, leading to the creation of Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP, roughly translated as the Greater Bangalore Municipal Corporation) in 2007.
Going forward, citizen engagement is what is pivotal to making cities ‘smart,’ says Prof Vyasulu.
You can listen to the entire podcast here.
In case the embedded media does not play, click here to download the podcast.
The past few weeks have been really exciting: we’ve been brainstorming around our three problems, coming up with new concepts, then narrowing down said concepts + fleshing out our final (gasp) concept moving forward. We’ve also been busy preparing our presentation + subsequently presenting it at Cisco (for our buddies in Amsterdam and Barcelona). Oh, and celebrating Diwali! Happy Diwali to everyone out there who has spent the past week lighting copious amounts of firecrackers in the morning, noon and night, and really, just indulging to the maximum (but hey, isn’t that what the holidays are all about?).
First, a refresh: our three problems from the last sprint were: 1) How can we encourage citizens to see ‘unprofitable’ e-waste as a resource to interrupt the cycle of e-waste disposal? 2) How can we improve awareness about e-waste among citizens so that they become responsible actors in the system? And 3) How can we change the negative perception of the informal sector among citizens, so that more waste is handled through green streams?
We gave ourselves a goal of creating around 100 concepts that address the problems, and used different methods to brainstorm. From the dictionary method – you pick a random word out of the dictionary and have to use it as a starting-point for your idea (it’s harder than it looks people) – to SCAMPER (which is on MediaLAB’s toolkit) to reversal (you pretty much write down what could make the problem worse… then flip these ideas on their heads. It wasn’t the most successful method), we gave pretty much anything a go. Eventually, we came up with 70+ concepts and were faced with the next task: deciding on just one idea (cue horror music, zombie apocalypse sort of an image).
We were able to sort our concepts into a few categories: ideas that were primarily visual (such as illustrating the informal sector as superheroes to give their image a positive spin), ones that were more physical (i.e. creating electronic-free spaces in the city), ideas around open data (which mostly involved tracking e-waste), different sorts of games (one was a board game like Operation, where you “operate” on an old phone) and ones that were suitable for a platform. It was difficult, but by taking elements from different ideas and combining them, we came up with what we’re going to be working on for the rest of the project: a physical bin + digital platform that we’ve decided to call (for now, at least… people apparently either love or hate the name) the Internet of Bins.
The first component of our solution is a (IoB enabled!) physical bin installed in public spaces. It allows citizens to come and drop off their waste at a location that’s convenient for them – they are then given a ticket identifying their waste. When the sensors in the bin detect it being full, a local collector is notified and dispatched to come and collect the waste from the bin. This is where the tracking begins.
This is just one channel for entering waste into the system. Citizens can also schedule collections through the platform, allowing a local collector to come and pick up waste at a time that’s convenient for them. Once the waste has been collected, it is forwarded onto a recycler. The user can see on the platform the timeline of the waste’s journey through the system – this includes which collector/recycler has handled their waste and more importantly where their waste has gone. Recyclers enter information about whether waste was recycled, donated to a makerspace or (hopefully not!) sent to a landfill. This makes the process of collecting and recycling waste completely transparent – boosting confidence from the citizen that the people that handle their waste use ethical practices.
One of the main hurdles in adopting this solution in the Indian context is incorporating the informal sector. We’re hoping that by partnering with Hasirudala (a cooperative of informal waste pickers), we’ll be able to leverage the skillset and outreach of the informal sector, and be able to channel the 95% of waste that they currently handle into a platform that is much more transparent. In this way, the platform will help to improve the perception of the informal sector, whilst increasing waste collection amounts overall. We feel this solution addresses the 3 problems we outlined in the previous sprint, creating an impact on the ground that is measurable. Beyond incorporating the informal sector, there are still other design challenges to overcome, such as how to portray the informal sector as ‘formalized’, or simply: legitimate. Also, as we have a wide variety of actors within the system, we need to consider how we can design a user interface that is usable for people who may be illiterate and not familiar with digital technologies. Finally, we still have a bit of a hurdle in designing a secure, sustainable bin, which is suitable for a public space (we’re worried that putting bins in parks could lead to e-waste robbery… don’t you think?) Whew. That was a lot of new information to throw out there, but the fact remains: we’ve got our concept down, and as of now, we’ve running with it.
As for our Cisco meeting, there were thumbs-up moments: Amsterdam and Barcelona love the name (who would’ve thought) and they also felt that our project has a measurable impact on the cycle of e-waste. They also asked some important question (how will we gain a captive audience?), which we’ll have to consider moving forward. If you want to check out the ideas from Amsterdam, check out their blog here.
Alright, long post, but hopefully you’ve got the main takeaway: we’ve got a game plan now, and we’re excited to start the next challenge of making, making and more making for the next few months! Stay tuned for more updates on our blog. Til next time…
The week before last (like every other week actually), was crazy! We took a vote on our ‘favorite’ problem spaces, selected three solid areas of friction in the e-waste cycle and presented this at Cisco.
So after all the meetings (Skype and tête-à-tête), visits to repair shops, desk research and interaction we came up with a huge ( and kind of scary too) flow of resources, constraints and problems that the formal sector, the informal sector, the bridge between the first two, the makerspaces and the repair shops.
There were two versions of this mapping. One beautifully chaotic mapping, courtesy of Lisanne. You will find some occasional scribbles from Iain on this one. And another more clean (presentable is the important word here) version – thank you Tarun! Not to be stereotypical, but my mother would swoon over this boy’s handwriting like I did (I think Lisanne might have as well)!
The neat one!
We narrowed down every possible problem we could identify into six main ones that encompassed all others on the map. We did get into a little of a tie-breaking issue for which Sruthi came to the rescue, and ultimately got our three problem spaces that will define the rest of this project. The first – people in the informal sector are perceived poorly by citizens, the second – there is a general lack of education and awareness about e-waste amongst citizens, and third – there’s a notion of ‘unprofitable’ e-waste, material recyclers aren’t willing to take in.
The informal sector does consist of marginalized society – poor ragpickers and kabadiwalas. While these people might not actually have the recycling technology that institutions like E-Parisaraa do have, they have an intrinsic knowledge of the recycling process – what can be recoverable and what cannot, how material can be extracted without much technology – and spatial awareness. Where the formal sector lacks in its waste collection abilities, the informal sector shines. However one doesn’t get a very ‘healthy’ image of the informal sector and its practices. The general perception of is one of poverty, dirt and illegal recycling methods.
Now coming to why we chose this as a problem a space. The informal sector, like mentioned above, has invaluable resources in terms of both manpower and collection skills (the informal sector currently handles 95% of e-waste that enters the cycle).The poor perception however is possibly leading to an unwillingness to associate with them and ergo, smaller numbers in terms of the amount e-waste that even enters the cycle. If we could address the negative perception that exists, we could potentially increase the quantity of waste that is given up for recycling.
As with a lot of issues there’s always a lack of awareness and education. Indians don’t know or simply don’t care about their e-waste. CEE told us that there’s just one page in CBSE textbooks that talks about e-waste. (From the amount of desk research we’ve done one page doesn’t cover it. At all.) Pretty shockingly, some of the repair shops didn’t know what e-waste is. (Getting worried, anyone?)
Sahaas has 1.2 tons of e-waste the no one is willing to pick up. Why? Because it’s ‘unprofitable’. WIth the overhead costs of formal sector recycling I suppose looking for ‘profitable’ e-waste is key to survival. But this doesn’t excuse the amount of unattended e-waste that’s potentially ruining the environment and taking up space. Makerspaces like the Banjarpalya Makerspace could be likely partners in dealing with this issue. Waste of one is resource of another, or so we hope!
Three way video call, Cisco style.
Our Cisco meeting was on Dussehra. Cisco was closed for the festival (we figured this out a few hours before the meeting). Security opened the place just for us (#feelingfancy). It was eerie, the office didn’t even smell the same without all it’s employees. (Is perfume that potent?) Barcelona has finally come on board, yay! We finally got to meet and have our first official three-way meeting. The Amsterdam team, with Dutch Design Week going on up there, had the meeting not at Cisco but at Jan’s home. His dog was the cutest distraction ever (insert heart-eyed emoji here). They’ve been conducting research on smartphones using the love/hate letteras a design tool.
Our upcoming sprint focuses on what we can do to address these three problem spaces and come up with three clear concepts that we can narrow down on. Good luck to us!
The Government of India has initiated the Smart Cities Challenge, where they let the states nominate cities that meet the necessary criteria. Among the different entries submitted, 98 cities were shortlisted for the challenge.
Between August and October 2015, the selected cities will further develop their proposals for the final round. It is interesting to see the different approaches being adopted by the cities in this round, while one consistent theme being online modes of citizen engagement. The city councils are planning to interact with citizens in various ways to get feedback about the kind of smart cities they desire.
While cities like Trichy and Vishakapatnam have prepared a questionnaire to share with citizens, but I couldn’t find the links, not sure where they are hidden. Nagpur, on the other hand, wants to go door-to-door and interact with citizens for smart city concepts. Rajkot came up with a unique concept of wanting to paint graffiti on city walls with ‘social messages’; which is a lot of work for artists, says our in-house artist Kshiraja. Agra Municipal Corporation invited intellectuals, social workers, doctors, businessmen and other dignitaries of the city to discuss the smart city project; it does seem to leave out large sections of the general population. Hubli-Dharwad distributed 2 lakh leaflets to its citizens, but I do wonder how that would translate to collecting the citizens’ opinions. Indore on the other hand, has its own website. IMC launched a social media campaign to get feedback and suggestions from residents. The Mangaluru City Corporation organised essay writing competitions for students and general public about smart cities. Kakinada City is quite active on Facebook and they opted to use the digital route to collect data and suggestions from citizens.
It’s really interesting to see how every city has got its own approach in reaching out to public for their opinions and suggestions. Bhubhaneshwar engaged with children and they got some interesting feedback about transportation, waste management and also how elders need to change their behaviour toward children. One step closer to being a child friendly city!
Here is the link of 98 nominated cities, every city page has got its own feedback link where you can share your opinion and suggestions.