The responsive city project: Wilkinsburg, PA



Starting with a one year partnership with the borough of Wilkinsburg and the Office of Mayor Marita Garrett, KRNLS will endeavor to make Wilkinsburg a model for other US cities in the equitable adoption of smart city technology. KRNLS is a boutique firm that is focused on research, implementation, and the design of advanced technologies for placemaking. KRNLS is working with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other funding agencies to make the main thoroughfare of Wilkinsburg, along the east end of Penn Avenue, a testbed for an entirely new kind of smart city: the Responsive City.


The Responsive City is a city that integrates community owned data, street level
display, and automated and immediate feedback with residents as a single citywide service. It does this in order to create enhanced awareness, efficacy, and collaboration. The development of Responsive Smart City technology will make Wilkinsburg more livable though greater community engagement and better, data aligned planning. At the same time, the Responsive Smart City will help alleviate stresses on Wilkinsburg community leaders while building a more positive relationship between leaders and their community. The goal of developing this technology is to better equip Wilkinsburg stakeholders with a low friction way to build their own community—in their own image, with their own hands, and by their own design.



The Responsive City project will be a multistage project. This letter of intent covers only the first year and first phase of the project but with the hope of advancing the project into the next two phases and beyond. Each of the three major stages will explore new kinds of data collection in partnership with the Borough, new ways to communicate with residents, and new measures of engagement and vibrancy. Each stage can be seen as an enhanced method for intensifying efficacy awareness and pulling resident attention to where it matters most: The physical borough of Wilkinsburg. And, at each stage, we will refine our approach to creating an ever tighter, more sophisticated feedback loop between community data, resident knowledge of that data, and positive outcomes for all members of the Wilkinsburg community.


This project will have two core areas of focus: measuring the right data and the
right street level display. Each stage will explore ever more effective methods for

both measuring and displaying data as well as creating a larger social benefit with it. ​Effectiveness will be measured in terms of positive community outcomes;
the community’s use of available resources; and the diversity and number of
residents who—not only have access to the data—but who know, understand
and use it.​ We will seek to collect data that is useful for essential services, civic
engagement, and collective action. In terms of display, we will seek better methods to communicate useful data that ranges from the simple to the complex: methods that are effortless to find, effortless to see, and effortless to understand.

This project has three stages of discovery.  All stages will require some physical modification or addition to the city infrastructure and public areas. This action can include, but is not limited to, incorporating or modifying public structures and walkways with lighting, intelligence, sensors, and physical affordances and signifiers. These modifications will act as a resource for further research and measurement in future phases. Modifications can be temporary, semipermanent, or permanent, and all such modifications will first be approved by the proper authorities and the office of the mayor of Wilkinsburg. Because the Responsive Smart City is an entirely new kind of technology that KRNLS, the ​borough of Wilkinsburg, and the office of Mayor Marita Garrett are developing in collaboration, all features of this project are subject to change based on new information developed via that partnership. The effectiveness of the specific technologies used and the methods surrounding the technology, within the unique community characteristics of Wilkinsburg, will be consistently re-evaluated.

It is important to note that all data is solely community owned. The residents of
Wilkinsburg will own and have open access to the raw data, and KRNLS will only
have full access to the raw data for non-commercial, research and publication
purposes. While neither party can use the raw data for commercial purposes, the

derived insights can be used for whatever purpose either party sees fit and for thebetterment of themselves or their community.