The “smart city”, where do these ideas come from? is the question raised by Adam Greenfield, in his talk with reSITE, a forum for city development. As smart cities are frequently mentioned in the context of discussing the future of cities I want to highlight some of the negatives associated with it.

One definition of smart cities is that they are, “imbedded networked informatics in every surface, object and relation of the city.” (Meaning everything should be smart). Sounds a bit dystopic doesn’t it?

By this definition smart cities lean towards providing a lifestyle of convenience, consumption and security (for a few). By saying the few, I’m talking about the ones that access the “smartness” of the city they live in. From a lot of cases, e.g. IBM’s smart city, it’s apparent that only top-positioned decision makers can access the data that the population of the city generates. Until now smart cities are largely controlled by large scale actors with their own capitalistic agenda.

Synchronized and analyzed efforts among sectors and agencies as they happen, giving decision makers consolidated information that helps them anticipate problems and manage growth and development

IBM – defining their smart city efforts

The goal of such a city is to optimally regulate and control resources by means of autonomous IT systems

Siemens – about smart cities

A complete picture of building state, usage and operations continually maintained, allowing constant optimization of energy, resources, enviroment, and occupant support and convenience systems.

Living PlanIT

These visions painted by some of the biggest actors behind our smart cities include words like “manage growth”, “optimally regulate and control resources”, “continually maintained, allowing constant optimization”. As Greenfield argues in his reSite talk, these words are purely focused towards the convenience of managing actors completely separated by the people generating the data. Said in an dramatic pictorially manner, “Reflecting lights of our faces to see what engagement we have with what’s around us. But preserving it from the ones that are generating it.”

Referring back to the utopian cities such as Brasilia these smart cities definitions have similarities. As the utopian cities had tendencies of shredding old cities into clean slates to rebuild perfect societies, these smart cities builds a rigid system of managing people of the cities. In the end using politics and strict goals for the cities as means for changing people’s behavior to reach those goals.

“Order is built over time by an infinity of small acts.”

Jane Jacobs

This quote by the famous urbanist and activist Jane Jacobs goes to say that we ought to be careful how we implement change as it’s slowly defining order over time.

A side-effect of such acts are “gentrification”, which means investing in a middle-class district in order to improve it’s quality, often leading to chasing away current inhabitants and replacing them with wealthier people, often in central areas.

The smart city industry is a Trojan horse for technology companies. They come in under the guise of environmentalism and improving the quality of life, but they’re here for money.

Bianca Wylie, The Washington Post




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