Tag Archives: geothink students

Augmented Reality in Real Life: Evaluating the Potential of New Digital Tools for Use in Municipal Planning Practice

By: Laura Brown, Natalia Dmuchowska, Brodie Johnson, Teresa Liu, Corinna Prior, Matthew Zentner

Pokémon Go was a phenomenon that swept the world this past summer. Cities around the globe experienced an influx of citizens into their public spaces as everyone tried to ‘catch-em-all.’ Crazed Pokémon trainers wandered the city swiping their phones and battling to win gyms, ultimately searching for the coveted Pikachu. The significance of these movements within the urban environment has been covered here.

The game is based on augmented reality (AR) technology that overlays a game world on top of a live map of the city, creating new ways for players to interact with the spaces around them. While other applications like Google Maps and Foursquare use similar technology, it was Pokémon GO that became the first game to achieve widespread success.

Over the last three months, a group of graduate researchers from the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Ryerson University also caught the PokéFever and sought to explore more serious aspects of the game. Working with clients from the City of Toronto Manager’s Office and Public Consultation Unit, their research investigates the challenges that municipalities face in working with new and emerging technologies and how urban planners might be able to use similar technology to consult and engage with the public. The potential of AR technology such as Pokémon GO to alter the behaviour of people in real space presents both opportunities to attract people to certain locations and animate space, as well as concerns regarding public safety and security, and inequities arising from disparities in access.

Pokémon GO Findings
Conducting an exploratory analysis into the relationship between game data and demographic data, the team first investigated the distribution of PokéStops and PokéGyms throughout Toronto. In the game, PokéStops are locations where players receive items necessary for gameplay, and players may join one of three teams and “battle” for possession of PokéGyms. For their research, however, the team was interested in these landmarks as fixed locations that draw players to visit them in the real world. In addition, the locations of these markers were selected based on the Google database as well as player suggestions from a previous AR game by the same developer called Ingress. According to the developer, the markers that were frequented most by Ingress players became Gyms in Pokémon GO, and the others became PokéStops.

While 90% of people within the city lived within a five-minute walk of game elements, access varies significantly in terms of density, disproportionately making the game play experience much richer in the downtown core. Whereas overcrowding in open spaces and parks became the focus of media attention, there was actually a much higher concentration of game elements along major corridors like Queen Street. Narrowing our boundaries to just the downtown core, however, did reveal higher concentrations of gyms and stops in open spaces. These results were surprising and suggest the different forms that the public realm takes across the city.

Figure 1. Indicators of concentrated play spaces in the City of Toronto, as represented by the fixed landmarks in Pokémon GO (PokéStops and Gyms)

Public Realm
As we moved through our analysis, something meaningful emerged. We started to think about Stops and Gyms as indicators of concentrated play spaces. The map below depicts what happens when you remove the road lines – clusters of dots begin to reflect desire paths into areas of the public realm that were appropriated for game play. Rather than simply revealing the distribution of the game throughout the urban fabric, the placement of the Stops and Gyms hint at the fine-grained spaces that interconnect more formal “Open Spaces” across the city. This may contribute to a more nuanced view of the public realm, in addition to the more obvious areas defined by parks and open spaces.

Figure 2. PokéStops and Gyms in the City of Toronto, without road lines

Because many of the Stop and Gym locations were user generated and determined on the basis of usage (based on Niantic’s previous AR game Ingress), they may serve as indicators of where players might want to linger and occupy the public realm, as well as landmarks that hold cultural significance. While we recognize that this data only reflects a segment of the public, we think it might be possible for city planners to use this data in their analyses of streetscapes and cultural heritage, to better visualize existing public assets. Further it provides insight into how citizens use spaces in the city.

Augmented Reality and Planning
Current public consultation and engagement practices with citizens and stakeholders are predicated on in-person interaction, although they are increasingly occurring through online and other platforms. AR technology can draw people to new spaces and change the way they move around the city. Harnessing AR could bring new opportunities for reaching different demographics in the places where they live, work, and play.

We looked at the potential of using augmented reality technology to enhance development proposal signs through geo-location and visualization. Imagine walking down a street and receiving a notification on your smartphone for a nearby development proposal. By clicking it on it, the user is guided to the location where they are shown a visualization of the project conveniently through their phone. This would provide more meaningful information about the size and scale of the project, allowing people to see the full extent of the proposal in human scale and in context, while reviewing specific details right then and there.

Figure 3. Application of AR technology for visualization of a development project. Source: Augment

Finally, augmented reality can be used as a platform for public education and collaboration between community groups to enhance heritage planning and the public realm. This could potentially transform the whole city into a new type of living museum without borders, inspiring people to feel greater ownership over the city and its heritage.

Evaluating Technology for Planning
It is also necessary to understand how emerging technologies are created, implemented, and used. We have created an evaluative framework that explores the different areas planners must be aware of when evaluating new technology, an overview of which is shown in the figure below. These include the technical aspects and requirements (such as the platform of the technology), opportunities for greater engagement (ways to break down barriers like language and visual or auditory impairment), and potential inequalities and liabilities (such as data security concerns and differing abilities to access technology). Most importantly, this assessment allows planners to determine the usefulness of a technology in their daily planning practice.

Figure 4. Evaluative framework for planners for examining new technologies

The continually changing world of technology creates new opportunities that have the potential to enhance the way people interact with their city and the processes that govern it. We feel that planners are well placed to harness these emerging technologies to augment their cities in real life.

Although the Pokémon craze has since died down, it provided us with a unique opportunity to discover the potential of emerging technologies. We look forward to seeing what the future has in store for cities and for urban planners.

The full evaluative framework and results from the Pokémon GO analysis will be posted to the Geothink website shortly.

For more information please feel free to contact us at teampokeplan@gmail.com. Team PokéPlan is comprised of Laura Brown, Natalia Dmuchowska, Brodie Johnson, Teresa Liu, Corinna Prior and Matthew Zentner.

Thank you to our supervisor and Geothink co-applicant Dr. Pamela Robinson (Ryerson University, School of Urban and Regional Planning) and our clients at the City of Toronto!

New Geothink graduate: Dr. Harrison Smith

Dr. Harrison Smith recently completed his PhD at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information under the supervision of David J. Phillips and co-supervised by Geothink co-applicant Dr. Leslie Shade (University of Toronto). In this article, he tells us how his research examined the impact of location data in marketing. Dr. Smith’s next endeavour is a post doctoral research position at Newcastle University’s Global Urban Research Unit in the UK under the direction of Roger Burrows and Steve Graham.

By Harrison Smith

My dissertation, “The Mobile Distinction: Economies of Intimacy in the Field of Location Based Marketing”, examines the cultural and economic significance of location data in new kinds of marketing applications. When you survey existing research on location-based media, you tend to see a focus on user-centric studies that examines how these new interfaces can produce new kinds of intimacies and affective relationships between people and places. While certainly important, I argue there is a gap in our understanding of the political economy of locative media, and in turn the geo-spatial web, particularly with respect to how audiences are commodified and classified into specific segments through location data. I hypothesized that marketers are using location data to measure consumer lifestyles and tastes in ways that are similar to geodemographic classification. Traditionally, audiences are segmented by postal codes; in my dissertation, I sought to understand how location data can be used in a similar way to measure and classify lifestyles along particular hierarchies of cultural and economic worth. This allows us to theorize a broader political and cultural economy of the geo-spatial web, and questions certain dominant beliefs concerning the relationship between interactive cartography, big data, and power, particularly as urban environments are increasingly mediated by mobile for a variety of civic and commercial applications.

I focused specifically on the emergence of location based marketing using Pierre Bourdieu’s conceptual framework of habitus, capital, and field. I gathered my data through qualitative interviews with mobile and location-based marketers, participant observations of marketing conferences, as well as document analysis of mobile and location based marketing literature.

I asked two basic questions:

  1. What is the political economy of location data in mobile and location-based marketing?
  2. What are the underlying values, beliefs, philosophies of location data in the field of location based marketing?

These two questions are complimentary because the economic value of location data is contingent upon how marketers can successfully imbricate audiences into new fields of cultural production by appealing to specific logics of consumer lifestyles and practices through mobile media. Put differently, I discovered that the potential success of location based marketing depends on audience consent to participate and interact with marketers. This is important because it reveals a deeper level of understanding about geo-locative media and data that is structured by social, cultural, and economic relationships between consumers and institutional forces such as marketers.

I was particularly interested in understanding the specific values and philosophies that marketers are trying to enact in order to reveal how location data can inform geodemographic classifications using new kinds of metrics. I discovered that marketers employ numerous strategies for collecting location data from audiences that extend beyond GPS sensing. Sometimes, audiences may not even realize this is happening on an everyday basis because of the numerous methods it is possible to collect or infer location data from smartphones without our knowledge. For example, in some cases, location data is not actually collected by marketers themselves, but instead harvested from third party advertising exchanges during routine advertisement requests. When that happens, location data can be used to measure the efficacy of advertising. Third parties analyze the extent to which mobile advertising can drive audiences into particular stores, effectively offering a mobile measurement for audience conversion rates, namely by driving audiences into particular locations.

Furthermore, this can also be done through the passive collection of MAC (media access control) addresses, which are unique identifiers for hardware that are broadcast by smartphones on regular intervals. This is interesting because it represents a non-intrusive method for collecting location data. It is also worth considering how this kind of location data could also be used by non-commercial institutions, such as urban planners. In fact, there are many examples in which public spaces such as parks are now layered with sensors that collect location data from visitors, and can measure who they are, where they came from, and what other places they visited.

However, this is not an inevitable trend in the future of smart cities, as I argue that the capacity for collecting location data depends on the production of consent or the negotiation of resistance. A lot of work and investment must be done to convince large brands and individual stores of the value of targeting consumers in this way. The smartphone is a very personal, intimate device, and there may be resistance from consumers to letting marketers track them all the time, with ubiquitous access to their location history, or the ability to send targeted push notifications to mobile audiences in specific locations. This necessarily brings up important ethical questions around surveillance and privacy, as well as the kinds of lifestyles and consumer practices that are encouraged through mobile media. In my own interviews, many marketers side-stepped the issue of privacy by focusing instead on the inherent value exchange of data for various kinds of rewards or distinctions.

We will definitely see many different conversations emerge around how location data intersects with our values and attitudes towards surveillance in increasingly automated urban environments. In an interdisciplinary context such as Geothink, this will allow us to ask better questions concerning the value of location data, and be more critical on these issues.

I would like to thank my supervisory committee, which includes David Phillips, Leslie Shade, and Ronda McEwan. I also want to thank Geothink, particularly for the friendships I have developed on the team, and which has helped me appreciate the broader significance of my research.

Leveraging Open Data: International perspectives presented at URISA’s GIS-Pro 2016 conference

This is a cross-post from Geothink co-applicant Dr. Claus Rinner‘s website, written by Geothink student Sarah Greene, Ryerson University. Sarah is Candidate for the Master’s of Spatial Analysis at Ryerson University. Her research focusses on open data.

By Sarah Greene

This past week, URISA held its 54th annual GIS-Pro conference in Toronto, bringing together GIS professionals and businesses from around the world. The conference provided many interesting sessions including one focused entirely on open data. This session, titled “Leveraging Open Data”, included government as well as private sector perspectives.

The session began with a presentation from the Government of North Carolina, discussing the importance of metadata. They are currently collaborating with a number of agencies to create and share a metadata profile to help others open up their data and understand how to implement the standards suggested. They have produced a living document which can be accessed through their webpage.

The next speaker at the session represented Pitkin County in Colorado. They represent an open data success story with a number of great resources available for download on their website including high quality aerial imagery. An important aspect to their open data project was their engagement with their local community to understand what data should be opened, and then marketing those datasets which were released.

The Government of Ontario was also present as this session, presenting on the current status of open data for the province. The Ontario Government promotes an Open by Default approach and currently has over 500 datasets from 49 agencies available to download through their portal. They are working towards continuing to increase their open datasets available.

A presentation by MapYourProperty provided an interesting perspective from the private sector using open data to successfully run their business. They heavily depend on visualizing open data to provide a web-based mapping application for the planning and real estate community to search properties, map zoning information and create a due diligence report based on the information found. This is one example of many that exist in the private sector of open data helping build new companies, or help existing companies thrive.

Lastly, a representative from Esri Canada’s BC office wrapped up the session reminding us all of the importance of opening data. This included highlighting the seemingly endless benefits to open data, including providing information to help make decisions, supporting innovation, creating smart cities and building connections. Of course, open data is big business for Esri too, with the addition of ArcGIS Open Data as a hosted open data catalog to the ArcGIS Online platform.

This session showcased some great initiatives taking place in Canada and the United States that are proving the importance of opening up data and how this can be done successfully. It is exciting to see what has been taking place locally and internationally and it will be even more exciting to see what happens in the future, as both geospatial and a-spatial data products continue to become more openly available.

A talk at the GIS Pro 2016 conference. Photo credit: Claus Rinner

A talk at the GIS Pro 2016 conference. Photo credit: Claus Rinner

See the original post here

The State of the Map 2016

Recently graduated Geothink student Julia Conzon (McGill University) has recently returned from the State of the Map conference in Brussels, on a travel grant. Julia was able to meet individuals interested in different social, political, and technical components of OpenStreetMap, which solidified her beliefs that the success of volunteered geographic information relies on both social and technical fields. Julia’s interests in mapping include: increasing diversity to reduce the digital divide and harnessing government support.

SOTM group photo (photo by Tatiana Van Campenhout)

SOTM group photo (photo by Tatiana Van Campenhout)

By Julia Conzon

I recently attended the State of the Map (SOTM) in Brussels, Belgium. SOTM is a conference that discusses various social, political, and technical components of OpenStreetMap (OSM), a mapping website that aims to map all of Earth’s landscapes, such as social and physical infrastructures. You may wonder, doesn’t Google already do this? In short, yes, Google has done an efficient job producing Google Maps and its associated routing/navigation software; but it still has its limitations. First, Google Maps has several unmapped locations. As addressed by SOTM’s keynote speaker Allan Mustard, US Ambassador to Turkmenistan, if you compare the map of Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, between Google Maps and OSM, you will certainly see a difference (Figure 1). Secondly, Google’s spatial data is not open, which hampers equality and empowerment. Thanks to Ambassador Mustard’s initiative to use OSM, he and several Ashgabat locals have mapped out the remote city and now the citizens can use this open spatial data for various socio-economic purposes. For example, prior to the OSM maps, Ashgabat taxi drivers did not know where all the gas stations were located. Now, with a local map openly accessible to all citizens, Ambassador Mustard says taxi drivers are more efficient at navigation. In short, OSM provides an open-source platform that allows worldwide internet users to contribute geographic features of anywhere from anywhere, which then can be freely downloaded by anyone to use.

Figure 1. Differences in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan between OSM (left) and Google Maps (right) (screenshots from OSM and Google Maps)

Figure 1. Differences in Ashgabat between OSM (left) and Google Maps (right) (screenshots from OSM and Google Maps)

Government Support
As seen with Ambassador Mustard, there are some within government who do support crowdsourced mapping initiatives. With Federal funding, Statistics Canada has announced a pilot crowdsourcing project starting in October 2016 to use OSM’s platform to crowdsource building data. It was also exciting to see the government presence at the conference (such as a member of Statistics Canada) and government partnerships such as between Etalab (a French government organisation) and OSM France.

Through one of the Birds of a Feather (BoF) discussions I participated in, it is apparent that OSM’s platform is positively reshaping certain government’s perceptions on how to produce open data. However, a presentation from Usman Latif, a journalist from Pakistan and the founder of Open Humanitarians (formerly DigitalHumanitarians.pk), reminded the SOTM audience that not all governments are democratizing their data. In Pakistan, broad laws have made unauthorised mapping activities by locals illegal. Usman risks penalties if he encourages local mapping, but he explained that to follow the law, he encourages students and youth to map parts of the world outside Pakistan and “to be a part of a global humanitarian society.” Usman’s goal is to proliferate a vibrant community of humanitarian mappers in Pakistan who can eventually use their mapping skills to participate in the global humanitarian society, particularly in disaster response. With Pakistan prone to earthquakes and floods, Usman hopes these educated Pakistanis will contribute to domestic disaster responses once Pakistan opens up local mapping. With this mindset, Usman now educates university students in Pakistan on using OSM. Although not all governments are supportive of open spatial data, Usman’s goals illustrate how educating locals about OSM and encouraging them to contribute to global (digital) humanitarian society can promote local empowerment, something I believe is a worthwhile alternative.

Smart Cities
Apart from social and political components of OSM, many presentations also addressed technical components; more specifically, new automated tools for OSM users. Some of these tools can be used to promote smart cities. Christian Quest and Michel Blancard from Etalab presented OpenSolarMap (view Figure 2). This presentation discussed using machine learning to identify which rooftops throughout France are most suitable for solar panel instalment based on rooftop aspect direction (north, south, west, east, or flat). Although there are still some variables that are excluded (e.g., solar intensity or rooftop angle), the software does highlight a more efficient methodology.

etalab-visualisation

Figure 2. Etalab’s map visualization of rooftop directions (photo by Julia Conzon).

There were also three presentations proposing different methods to map indoor areas. Indoor data can be used for a series of smart city applications, such as geomarketing. For instance, a mobile app could link indoor routing with a store’s product information to direct a customer to the product they want in the store while also encouraging them to pass by other similar products. Although each presentation proposed slightly different methodologies to map out indoor areas, all three shared similar concerns on mapping certain features, such as whether a stairway takes you up or down a floor. There were also different stances on opening up the indoor data to the public. For example, French National Railway Company (SNCF) have mapped the interiors of all popular stations in Paris; but, instead of this data being openly accessible to the public, they combined their data with OSM data to create an app that provides maps of these stations’ interiors. Unfortunately, this app is not available for free, which disappointed myself and my neighbouring audience members. On the other hand, Roland Olbricht’s and Roland Wagner’s workshop taught the audience how to map building interiors with OpenStationMap, which is an OSM project that aims to incorporate indoor mapping onto OSM’s station polygons. As Google Maps has also introduced indoor mapping, Carto Cité’s presentation on indoor mapping reminded the audience, ‘We can’t leave it all to Google’ (Figure 3). If we leave indoor mapping to a few corporations, data accessibility may be restricted for commercial interests.

Figure 3. Indoor mapping efforts should not be undertaken by only a few actors

Figure 3. Indoor mapping efforts should not be undertaken by only a few actors (screenshot from YouTube)

Conclusion
Overall, the State of the Map presented two trends: collaborative learning and machine learning. The latter trend reflects discussions on automation of mapping processes, while the former trend reflects discussions on on-the-ground mapping with locals. Although these trends seem diverging, OSM’s platform is capable of incorporating both. As OSM Foundation’s Mikel Maron mentioned, it is about being “a part of the database.” Whether it be building technical tools to ease mapping complex areas or educating locals to contribute geospatial data, both trends aim to provide open geospatial data for all to use.

This collaborative environment has ultimately encouraged me to sustain the initiative for open spatial data. With the knowledge I have gained from the conference, I will introduce several new activities to Maptime MTL. Feel free to contact me at juliaconzon@gmail.com or maptimemtl@gmail.com if you are interested in participating or collaborating. You can also connect with me on Twitter @julconz and LinkedIn.

Paulina Marczak – looking back on her co-op at Open North

paulina-marczak

As she is now embarking on a Master’s degree, I interviewed Paulina Marczak (former Geothink student) to reflect on her four month co-op with Geothink partner, Open North.

What have you been up to since your internship at Open North?
After Open North, I did another co-op in the fall term with Dr. Derek Robinson under an NSERC USRA [Natural Sciences and Engineering Resource Council Undergraduate Student Research Award] grant, where I looked at variations in aboveground vegetative carbon storage across different spatial resolutions within Southwestern Ontario.
I just finished my undergraduate degree at the University of Waterloo. My undergraduate thesis looked at landscape configurations with wetlands in the boreal plains and asked: Is there a relationship between geology and wetland landscape configuration?

Right now I have just begun pursuing a Master’s degree in Geography at Queen’s University in Kingston. So I went into another sub-field still related to geography, but diverging from open data.

Your work in open data and open government are quite removed from your current course
Yes. I wanted to go into climate change after my undergrad, particularly through GIS and remote sensing. However, this summer I had the opportunity to work for the Canadian Open Data Exchange (ODX) and got to help develop their plans for commercialization of open data. They wanted someone who understood the value of open data.

What do you think you got out of your time at Open North?
I learned a lot. I started out from zero experience with open data. You know, it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of open data and explore one particular aspect of it, like metadata, without even touching another aspect Being able to co-author white papers that contribute to a global-scale initiative, and interview people from around the world, that was a really valuable and unique experience.

What was it like working for a non-profit?
James, Stéphane, and everyone at Open North were really great. It was different because all my previous co-ops were in government, federal and municipal. They were very structured. Open North was smaller, and it required you to be more. They want you to be a part of that team. They make you feel like you are a critical component of the team, not to mention the valuable mentorship they provide. Infomediaries, they prod governments, they speak on behalf of and give a voice to the people. That’s why I think their work is impactful. Working at Open North also gave me the opportunity to attend the Canadian Open Data Summit 2015 in Ottawa, where I got to meet various members of the open data community and speak to panelists.

What skills did you bring from Open North to your current position?
Being able to critically research, and experience with technologies such as APIs and R (statistical software). Most important is writing. At Open North I learned to write on a deadline, such as our OGP [Open Government Partnership] white papers, and I also learned about academic writing from Professor Renee Sieber.

It’s been interesting as a new Master’s student. I was talking to a librarian here in Kingston and they were interested in the idea of open data, but were surprisingly satisfied with the very restrictive data agreements that are currently in place…there is more work to be done on the advocacy side. On the other hand, I was able to talk to the City of Kingston and they are about to roll out a new open data initiative, per Council approval. From my interactions with the librarian, I realized that I could talk about this topic now and I had some idea of how things should be done. In fact, they were looking to me for advice, which was a new milestone for me.

It sounds like you may be interested in advocating for open data in your new environment?
Sure. I can talk about it, but I don’t feel I have the capacity and knowledge to spearhead it. But I do feel it is my responsibility to inform people if they don’t know what open data is or want to learn about some of current issues surrounding open data these days.

Do you feel more confident in talking about open data now?
Yes, but I don’t feel like I’m the expert. I feel like I’m an apprentice. Constantly learning.

The Future of AR: Negotiating Virtual Space Guided Movements


This is a guest post from Geothink student Wei Jiang at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law, under the supervision of Professor Teresa Scassa.


By Wei Jiang

While not everyone is out to catch ‘em all, few people in Canadian cities and in many countries around the world are unaffected by the recent Pokémon Go craze. Alongside the wide range of more or less amusing incidents that have been reported arising out of Pokémon Go, articles have also explored the current legal ramifications of this popular Artificial Reality (AR) app. In this blog post, I explore the possible legal developments that may be necessary in response to the potential explosion of AR apps like Pokémon Go.

Though the Pokémon Go craze appears to be fading, the impact of the popular AR app, which overlays virtual critters (Pokémon) on the geography of the real world, is likely to remain. Already, Niantic and other app developers are working on the next wave of games that redefine how we interact with our physical surroundings. Furthermore, as Virtual Reality (such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive) and wearable technologies mature, AR apps could see a further boost in popularity.

Currently, legal analysis of Pokémon Go focus mainly on the impacts of the app in terms of the existing legal framework. These include legal actions like trespass, nuisance, and infringements of intellectual property (IP) rights. Homeowners not only face the prospect of trespassers damaging their property, but could also be responsible for harm that trespassers sustain on their property as part of their occupier liability. Indeed, with homeowners responsible for the conditions of sections of the sidewalk in many Canadian cities, the increase in the number of pedestrians playing Pokémon Go could present a significant risk. At the root of these potential legal actions is one fundamental reality: someone has altered the qualities of a physical space (be it a home, park, or restaurant) by designating it as a virtual landmark known as a “Pokéstop” or “gym”.

In broader terms, the challenge posed by AR apps is who can decide the qualities of the virtual space that overlays the physical world. Although future AR apps may not turn real world locations into “Pokéstops” and “gyms”, the core attraction of AR remains unchanged: the juxtaposition of the real world geography with a set of virtual meanings and rules. Currently, it is Niantic (the company behind the overlaying of virtual materials over physical geography) that asserts the right to determine the meanings associated with virtual space, presumably because the virtual space is a part of an application over which they have IP rights.

There is, however, a danger in applying a purely intellectual property framework to the situation of AR apps. IP ownership is only one aspect of overlaying a virtual space on top of a physical one. Other aspects of this behaviour, mainly issues of allocation of risk in case something bad happens, are often separated from the beneficial aspects. Such is the situation with Pokémon Go: while profiting from the IP aspects of Pokéstops and gyms, Pokémon Go developers subtly avoid confronting the issue of why property owners should bear increased risks associated with the same action of designating a location as a Pokéstop and gym.

The development history of Pokémon Go’s Pokéstops and gyms serves to illustrate the interests in keeping the IP and risk dimensions of Pokémon Go separate. Pokémon Go developed relatively quickly by importing a network of virtual landmarks from Niantic’s previous AR app – “Ingress”. These virtual landmarks were submitted by the users of “Ingress”, but did not draw much attention because of the relatively smaller player-base of that app. Any risk of legal liabilities was passed on to the app’s users through the terms of service. With Pokémon Go’s success, however, the developers are beginning to monetize their virtual landmarks by selling the right to become a “Pokéstop” or “gym” to businesses. For example, McDonald’ s in Japan was the first business to sign on to the “sponsored locations” scheme. In spite of the app’s recent decline in popularity, businesses are still signing on to this model.

Presumably, the logic of sponsored locations is that businesses can leverage the success of Pokémon Go’s brand to increase their own revenues. However, this IP-focused interpretation narrows in on only the commercial aspect of being designated a virtual landmark and keeps the other, potentially less positive, dimensions separate. In reality, when McDonald’ s signed on to the sponsored locations scheme, the full range of consequences was probably considered and accounted for: the increase in occupier liability, the possible nuisance created by the swarming players, and the possibility of attracting unwanted app users. People living on or near virtual landmarks imported from Ingress, however, often did not even know that they were affected by the app and thus did not have the opportunity to negotiate the placement of the marker. Risk was allocated to them without their knowledge or consent.

Indeed, considering that Pokémon Go’s successful system depends on these virtual landmarks, it could even be argued that the company took advantage of someone else’s rights without paying compensation. The problem with this assertion is that there are no rights to the virtual space that exists at a particular location. While some thinkers have began questioning whether real property rights should extend to the virtual space on top of it, few have explored this idea in detail.

One way to think about this question is to compare the placing of a virtual landmark to the placing of a sign on a physical space: both markers transmit information, impact the physical location, and have value because of the qualities of that physical location. The difference between signs on the internet and these virtual landmarks in an AR app is precisely that AR apps depend on and affect these physical locations.

Unlike advertising on the internet, virtual landmarks, where information is embedded in a location in virtual space as part of an AR app, are intricately bound up with the physical location on which they sit. Pokéstops are often established on top of landmarks and scenic locations because Pokémon Go advertises itself as an application that guides people to explore interesting locations in the real world. In addition, a certain concentration of virtual landmarks is required for the game to function properly (which is part of the reason why Pokémon Go is so difficult to play in rural regions). In both instances, Pokéstops derive value for the game based on attributes of the physical space on top of which they are placed.

Simultaneously, the benefit derived by Pokémon Go from placing these virtual landmarks also has an impact on the underlying physical space. The main impact is the increase in the number of people visiting a particular location, which carries with it associated consequences like increased noise levels, congestion on sidewalks, loitering, and the risk of harm. Only certain kinds of businesses can appropriately leverage the increase in visitors. For most residential areas, the result of being designated a virtual landmark is negative. Indeed, any potentially positive aspects of being designated a virtual landmark, such as possible increases in real estate value, could turn out to be less certain since the app developers can decide to remove the virtual landmark at their discretion.

Finally, the impact of layering information on top of a physical location is not to be underestimated. The Auschwitz Holocaust Museum incident, where a Pokémon Go player snapped a picture of a poison-gas Pokémon inside the museum, is a good example of how losing control of the ability to determine the meaning associated with a property publicly could undermine important aspects of the property, especially those with cultural significance. The Chinese takeover of the Pokémon Gym on top of Japan’s Yasukuni Shrine is another example of how dramatically an AR app could interfere with an owner or community’s ability to determine and preserve the meaning of a physical property. While everyone is free to hold their own opinions about what things mean, the overlaying of information through AR presents a new realm that resides in between the public display and the private mind.

Many of these issues exist because the legal dimensions of AR applications are ill-defined. As AR continues to develop, essential questions to be considered include “what is a virtual object” and “where is a virtual location”? Two legal frameworks come to mind. First, rights to physical space could be extended to the overlaid virtual space. This essentially makes the virtual space on top of a physical location an additional wall or sign area that is available for transmitting information, thus giving owners the ability to bargain for its use. Second, defining aspects of AR applications (such as virtual landmarks) as objects that could interact with the physical world may allow property owners to better defend themselves through the trespass framework, as they could now resist the placement of the virtual objects pre-emptively rather than wait for the scattered trespasses and nuisances that occur as a consequence of the placement of that object.

These developments could come either as a result of legislation or with courts interpreting virtual property into the existing property law frameworks. Another potential development in response to AR is the regulation of public space. With AR apps sending more people onto streets and into public spaces, issues of overcrowding in downtown spaces by AR players may prompt governments to regulate how AR developers guide player movement. As Professor Renee Sieber points out, the algorithms for Pokémon Go are not objective and contain biases that affect where people playing the game are attracted to. How the movement aspect of AR apps is regulated can have significant implications not only for issues of discrimination, but also for issues of access to public spaces and the gentrification of space. Developers and regulators should be aware of not only how AR apps create movement and gatherings, but also who the AR app users are pushing out of particular spaces, so as to avoid doing damage to already marginalized groups.

Wei Jiang is a J.D. student at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He is a Geothink student under the supervision of Professor Teresa Scassa.

A Summer Student Exchange to McGill University


This is a guest post from Geothink student Qing Lu (Lucy), University of Waterloo, under Professor Peter Johnson. She writes about her recent experience in a Geothink student exchange.


By Qing Lu (Lucy)

In the middle of August, I had the opportunity to visit McGill University via the Geothink Summer Exchange Programme. Approaching the completion of my graduation thesis, I thought Dr. Renee Sieber and her team could help me identify the gaps of my research and add new insights. Dr. Sieber is the Principal Investigator of Geothink and her research on public participation and the geoweb, which is related to my research on municipal government mobile applications for 311 service requests. My research aims to determine the characteristics of communication channel use and identify advantages and challenges of the mobile app channel. Since my research is a new area that does not have an abundance of prior studies for reference, insights and opinions from experts and peers are important. I hoped to hear their perspectives on the potentials and issues of 311 apps for municipalities, more specifically, the impacts of 311 apps on efficiency of governments as well as on citizen engagement. Luckily, I got to meet our Geothink Student Coordinator, Peck Sangiambut, who has also looked at citizen engagement via civic apps (including a 311 service request app), under Dr. Sieber.

On the first day, I did a presentation for Dr. Sieber and her team. I presented my research on 311 apps and results of analysis of 311 requests in the City of Edmonton. A paper about this is published in the Urban Planning journal. In addition, I presented results of interviews with six municipalities about their perspectives on 311 app usage. Instead of a regular presentation that starts with presentation and wraps up with questions, it was a lively discussion that everyone exchanged opinions and ideas in the process of presentation, and we ended up an hour over our originally scheduled time! Dr. Sieber and her team were very outspoken and many of their points worth pondering. One of the things that I ignored in my research is the geographic offsets of 311 data obtained in open data catalogue. To protect the privacy of reporters, the locations of reported incidents are likely to be shifted from their actual geographic locations, for example, a tree pruning request points to the centre of a building. Therefore, the results of my spatial analysis of 311 data contain bias caused by inaccurate locations. In addition, efficiency could conflict with engagement when we know newly-introduced channels such as mobile apps are more efficient than telephone calls. Some people, especially the elderly, would be left behind if municipalities simply seek to maximise operational efficiency and perhaps reduce staffing for traditional channels of communication (such as telephone hotlines).

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Presenting research results at the Department of Geography, McGill University

For the second day, Dr. Sieber’s team and I went to a panel discussion called GIS Without GIS: Spatial Technologies for Social Change. This was part of the World Social Forum and included discussion of the roles open data, mapping, and open source tools in producing social change. The invited speakers shared their opinions and experiences working with open data. This discussion inspired me to look at the open data aspect of my research as some municipalities publish the 311 data on the open data catalogue while others do not. It would be interesting to investigate if the openness of 311 reports impact citizens’ engagement.

This trip has provided me with the opportunity to communicate my research findings with people who work in the same field. I also got a deeper understanding of research – research is not only finding answers to questions but also seeking questions to be answered. In my research, I have found that there is a trend that mobile app use for citizens to contact governments is increasing and telephone calls are decreasing, and responses from municipalities show that mobile apps are more efficient and cost-saving. However, the question remains that if the governments should give up traditional communication channels and turn to newly-introduced ones. As the communication channels involve both citizens and governments, citizens’ perspectives on the multiple channels should also be considered when evaluating the channels. I am deeply interested in these questions, and I will investigate them in my future research.

My sincere thanks to Geothink for giving the opportunity to go on a summer exchange at the University of Waterloo. Thank you to Dr. Renee Sieber for hosting me and sharing your valuable comments and opinions. Thank you to Sonja and Peck for organizing everything well. To the Geothink community members: please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have further questions or if you are considering going on a summer exchange yourself.

Lucy (Qing) Lu is a Master’s student under the supervision of Dr. Peter Johnson in the Department of Geography and Environmental Management at University of Waterloo. Her research focuses on municipal government mobile applications, 311 services and e-government.
Lucy can be reached by email at q25lu@uwaterloo.ca.

Open Data and Urban Forests – What’s Next?


This is a guest post from Geothink Post Doctoral researcher James Steenberg, Ryerson University School of Urban and Regional Planning, working with Dr. Pamela Robinson.


By James Steenberg, PhD

I recently had the opportunity to go on a Geothink summer exchange at the University of Waterloo hosted by Dr. Peter Johnson, a Geothink co-applicant and Assistant Professor at Waterloo’s Department of Geography and Environmental Management. The main goal of the exchange was to learn about open data and open government from Dr. Johnson with the ultimate goal of writing a collaborative paper on the potential role of open data in municipal urban forestry.

I wrote about my experiences during the exchange in a previous post, and subsequently left Waterloo with an open question on open data – can the open data/open government movement also be embraced in urban forestry? I would like to justify this question with two contrasting tales of cities.

Toronto

The first tale is about Toronto, more specifically about a neighbourhood in Toronto called Harbord Village where I conducted some of my PhD field research. The neighbourhood and its residents association are quite active in the stewardship of their urban forest. They even undertook a citizen science initiative to inventory and assess all 4,000 of their trees. I re-measured some of their tree inventory in 2014 with the purpose of identifying social and ecological drivers of urban forest vulnerability (e.g., tree mortality). Soon after, my current Geothink supervisor Dr. Pamela Robinson and I began to speculate that a key agent of change was housing renovation. Where we noted incidences of tree mortality, there were often shiny new home additions or driveways where once a tree stood. Fortunately, the City of Toronto’s open data portal includes building permit data and we were able to test this theory. We did indeed find that building permits (i.e., housing renovation) significantly predicted higher rates of tree mortality.

Municipal urban forestry departments are responsible for planting, maintaining, and removing trees on public land, as well as protecting and sustaining the urban forest resource on public and private land through various policies and regulations. However, it’s important to note that urban forestry is plagued by management challenges due to the limited space and harsh growing conditions of cities. Simply put, trees frequently die when they’re not supposed to – often for unknown reasons – and practitioners are continuously seeking out ways to reduce unnecessary tree mortality. Our findings suggest that urban foresters aren’t talking to urban planners when they should be, or vice versa. Urban planners collect data describing where building renovation occurs. Urban foresters collect data describing where city trees are dying and being removed. Blending these datasets has revealed that better coordination and horizontal data sharing across branches of government might help keep public trees alive. More broadly, these findings indicate an inefficiency in municipal service provision – the provision of the beneficial ecosystem services that public trees provide to city residents. What other urban forest inefficiencies might open data reveal?

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The Harbord Village tree inventory and corresponding volunteered geographic information (VGI)

Edmonton

The second tale is about Edmonton and paints a different picture. I stumbled across one of Edmonton’s approaches to urban forestry during my summer exchange while learning about the various open data programs across Canada. Their urban forestry branch has used Open Tree Map – a web-based application for participatory tree mapping – in their yegTreeMap project so that “individuals, community groups, and government can collaboratively create an accurate and informative inventory of the trees in their communities”. In short, citizens in Edmonton that feel the urge to participate in municipal urban forestry can do so by downloading tree inventory data, using the data to their heart’s content (e.g., community-based stewardship programs), and entering new data into the City’s database.

This approach to what I’ve started calling ‘open urban forestry’ could conceivably improve citizen engagement with municipal government and its urban forestry programs. Much of the urban forest resource is situated on private residential property that the city doesn’t have direct access to, so citizen engagement in stewardship activities is a key piece of the puzzle. Moreover, urban tree inventories are notoriously fickle when it comes to data, being both expensive to generate and quick to become out-of-date and obsolete. Crowdsourcing a city’s tree inventory could conceivably provide better data to support decision-making in urban forestry, such as where to plant trees, what species to plant, and where trees are in decline or hazardous.

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Edmonton’s yegTreeMap user interface on Open Tree Map

I have been very fortunate to be able to incubate these ideas with guidance from Dr. Robinson and her knowledge of urban planning and citizen engagement. Moreover, it was because of my Geothink summer exchange with Dr. Johnson at the University of Waterloo and his knowledge of open data and open government that I arrived at my current line of thinking on the benefits of open data and crowdsourcing for urban forestry. My next steps forward will be to think critically about these ideas as well. What are the environmental justice implications around who gets to participate in open urban forestry? Crowdsourcing tree inventories through open data programs may provide better data, but do they simultaneously justify the under-funding of municipal urban forestry programs? I’m excited to develop these collaborative ideas over the coming weeks and to hopefully answer my open question on open data.

My sincere thanks to Geothink for giving me the opportunity to go on a summer exchange at the University of Waterloo. Thank you Dr. Peter Johnson for hosting me at the Department of Geography and Environmental Management and for introducing me to your students and colleagues.

To the Geothink community members: please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have further questions or if you are considering going on a summer exchange yourself.

James Steenberg is a postdoctoral researcher under the supervision of Dr. Pamela Robinson at Ryerson University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning. His research focuses on the ecology and management of the urban forest. James can be reached by email – james.steenberg@ryerson.ca – and on Twitter – @JamesSteenberg