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Optimising for equity: Sensor coverage, networks and the responsive city

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Rachel FranklinORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


Decisions about sensor placement in cities are inherently complex, balancing social-technical, digital and structural inequalities with the differential needs of populations, local stakeholder priorities and the technical specificities of the sensors themselves. Rapid developments in urban data collection and Geographic Data Science have the potential to support these decision-making processes. Focusing on a case study of air-quality sensors in Newcastle-upon-Tyne (UK), we employ spatial optimisation algorithms as a descriptive tool to illustrate the complex trade-offs that produce sensor networks that miss important groups—even when the explicit coverage goal is one of equity. We show that the problem is not technical; rather it is demographic, structural and financial. Despite the considerable constraints that emerge from our analysis, we argue the data collected via sensor networks is of continued importance when evidencing core urban injustices (e.g., air pollution or climate-related heat). We therefore make the case for a clearer distinction to be made between sensors for monitoring and sensors for surveillance, arguing that a wider presumption of bad intent for all sensors potentially limits the visibility of positive types of sensing. For the purpose of monitoring, we also propose that basic spatial optimisation tools can help to elucidate and remediate spatial injustices in sensor networks.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Robinson C, Franklin RS, Roberts J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Annals of the American Association of Geographers

Year: 2022

Volume: 112

Issue: 8

Pages: 2152-2173

Online publication date: 18/07/2022

Acceptance date: 25/03/2022

Date deposited: 27/04/2022

ISSN (print): 2469-4452

ISSN (electronic): 1467-8306

Publisher: Routledge


DOI: 10.1080/24694452.2022.2077169


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Project #R-NEW-001