The use of smartphones in public spaces in the Smart Cities Era


  • Bianca Chaves-Custodio
  • M. Pilar Garcia-Almirall



Nowadays the possibility of being ubiquitous connected generates new patterns in the relation between people and the built environment. In a time when cities around the globe claim to be smart, it is crucial to be conscious and highlight the value of its inhabitant’s collective wisdom. Technology can improve efficiency in many aspects but cities cannot be understood without its people. We are reorganizing our lives around mass mobile communications. Given that the research scope needs to be updated. Some studies on the use of mobiles in urban spaces have been done, however they have rarely been used to describe this phenomena at a street level, understanding how users interact with public spaces (or not), while online. The research sought to investigate how the widespread use of smartphones frames people’s behavior and interaction with public spaces and create new forms of urban dynamics in the Smart Cities era. In this context, we compared the different social groups (tourists, temporary and permanent residents) that inhabit the city. Taking El Born area in the city of Barcelona as case study we have analyzed the use of public spaces and how mobile technology affects the way people relate to the city while online. Adopting traditional methods of field observation and combining them with surveys we have extended and improved existing methodologies, generating a singular comprehensive dataset, consisting of more than 5000 observations. The analysis of all collected data provided insightful outcomes both at street level and from the users’ point of view. The results evince that behavioral patterns on the use of technology in public spaces are tightly linked to the social group each person belongs to and to the relation each one has to a place. Although online information about places is getting progressively more accurate, there is still a valuable intangible layer of knowledge held by locals that can not be replaced by any map, recommendation system or app. Despite the infinite possibilities of being online, mediated perception do not replace the intangible value of face-to-face relations.