Sensing the city for urban happiness is a group of global researchers and practitioners working on making city dwellers happy. Their research has focused on understanding how people psychologically experience cities using large quantities of online data in novel ways. 4th September Luca Maria Aiello will share their experiences at the final iResponse workshop.

Luca Maria Aiello, senior researcher at Nokia Bell Labs, one of the core team members of

During the course of iResponse, we had the pleasure to connect with different groups working on urban environment in different ways. The group is one of them. 

On 4th September, Luca Maria Aiello, senior researcher at Nocia Bell Labs, will share experiences from the their work at our final iResponse workshop. We asked him for some pre-tastes. describes themselves as a global group of researchers and practitioners who think about fundamental urban problems that have received little attention and put forward ideas not to make cities smarter, but dwellers happier.

A starting point for the group is that, the corporate smart-city rhetoric is about efficiency, predictability, and security. All these things make a city acceptable, but they don't make a city great.

The core team consist of Daniele Quercia, Nokia Bell Labs, Cambridge, UK, Luca Maria Aiello, Nokia Bell Labs, Cambridge, UK, Rossano Schifanella, University of Turin, Italy.

The corporate smart-city rhetoric is about efficiency, predictability, and security. All these things make a city acceptable, but they don't make a city great.

What is the purpose of

Researchers have used large quantities of online data to study dynamics in novel ways. Consider the specific case of online networked individuals, e.g., users of Twitter, Instagram, Flickr. So we asked, can their social dynamics be used to make great the life of people who will live in future cities? To answer this question, our research has focused on understanding how people psychologically experience cities. This is what is about. 

All our projects mix data mining, urban informatics, and computational social science to show how a creative use of social media and network-generated data can capture the intangible properties of cities. In this way, we want to complement the idea of an efficient and predictable smart city, with the ultimate goal of reaching urban happiness. 

Chatty maps, one of their projects (source:
Our research has focused on understanding how people psychologically experience cities. This is what is about.

Could you give us some examples?


Happy maps

Happy Maps uses crowdsourcing and geo-tagged pictures and the associated metadata to build an alternative cartography of a city weighted for human emotions. People are more likely to take pictures of historical buildings, distinctive spots and pleasant streets instead of car-infested main roads.

Happy Maps also adopts a routing algorithm that suggests a path between two locations that is the shortest route that maximizes the emotional gain. This nice, pleasant detour that would take a couple of minutes longer than the shortest route could result in a completely different walking experience. Being more efficient does not necessarily make us happier.

We think that Happy Maps might well contribute in changing the way engineering products are designed, as often they are designed with the concept of efficiency in mind.

TED Talk


Smelly maps

The goal of Smelly Maps is to open up a new stream of research that celebrates the complex smell fragments of our cities, by contributing to the development of a critical voice for the positive and negative roles that smell has to play in the design of a city.

Humans are able to potentially discriminate millions of different odors. Still, city officials and urban planners deal only with the management of a few bad odors. This oversimplified perspective comes from the difficulty of measuring smell at scale. 

To create the smellscape of a city, first we created a lexicon of smell-related words, and then obtained social media photos geo-referenced in the urban area that matched our lexicon. Depending on where photos were taken, we mapped the presence of smell categories in each street segment. Smelly Maps illustrates the smellscape of 12 cities around the world, each street is colored with the most characteristic smell in the area, while a click on a street segment shows the entire distribution of smells categories and the corresponding emotional response.

Interactive maps

Press coverage in Wired

Chatty maps

Urban sound has a huge influence over how we perceive places. Yet, city planning is concerned mainly with noise, simply because annoying sounds come to the attention of city officials in the form of complaints, while general urban sounds cannot be easily captured at city scale. 

Developing Chatty maps, we proposed the first urban sound dictionary and compared it to the one produced by collating insights from the literature. We found that ours is experimentally more valid - if correlated with official noise pollution levels- and offers wider geographic coverage. 

From picture tags, we then studied the relationship between soundscapes and emotions. We learned that streets with music sounds are associated with strong emotions of joy or sadness, while those with human sounds are associated with joy or surprise. Finally, we studied the relationship between soundscapes and people’s perceptions and, in doing so, we are able to map which areas are chaotic, monotonous, calm, and exciting.These insights we believe promise to inform the creation of restorative experiences in our increasingly urbanized world.

Interactive maps

Press coverage in Wired  

Culture maps

Urban economists have put forward the idea that cities that are culturally interesting tend to attract "the creative class" and, as a result, end up being economically successful. It is still unclear, however, how economic and cultural dynamics mutually influence each other.

For the first time, we operationalized a neighborhood's cultural capital in terms of the cultural interests that pictures geo-referenced in the neighborhood tend to express. This is made possible by the mining of what users of the photo-sharing site of Flickr have posted in the cities of London and New York over 5 years. We found that the combination of cultural capital and economic capital is indeed indicative of neighborhood growth in terms of house prices and improvements of socio-economic conditions. Culture pays, but only up to a point as it comes with one of the most vexing urban challenges: that of gentrification.

Interactive maps

Press coverage in Technology review

Health maps

The daily cycles of city dwellers are also influenced by global events. For example, the last US presidential election has recently been among the top sources of stress for Americans. Yet that evidence is anecdotal. 

From 11,600 Nokia Health wearable, we collected readings of steps, sleep, and heart rate in the entire cities of London and San Francisco over the course of 1 year. For each type of reading, we measured the variation of volume over time (e.g., number of hours slept daily), its periodicity (e.g., weekly sleeping cycles), and its synchronicity (e.g., how many people in a city go to bed at the same time).

Christmas and New Year’s eve were associated only with short-lived and minor disruptions, while both Brexit and Trump’s election greatly impacted people's sleep and even heart rates. More specifically, in the weeks before Trump’s election, the average heart rate of people increased by more than 7 beats per minutes, to then go back to normal levels only after 4 months. For a whole week after that election, 30% more people went to bed at very unusual times. For a whole month after, the aggregate sleep was disrupted, partly compromising its weekly periodicity.

All this suggests that aggregate readings from consumer wearable devices reflect people's well-being at scale, and that the recent elections had a huge impact on people's productivity and health.

Press coverage in New Scientist


Join the final iResponse workshop 4th September in Oslo to learn more about, as well as other examples and experiences with crowdsourcing connected to the urban environment.