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The truth about smart cities: ‘In the end, they will destroy democracy' | Cities | The Guardian
"The smart city is, to many urban thinkers, just a buzzphrase that has outlived its usefulness: ‘the wrong idea pitched in the wrong way to the wrong people’. So why did that happen – and what’s coming in its place?"



"In truth, competing visions of the smart city are proxies for competing visions of society, and in particular about who holds power in society. “In the end, the smart city will destroy democracy,” Hollis warns. “Like Google, they’ll have enough data not to have to ask you what you want.”

You sometimes see in the smart city’s prophets a kind of casual assumption that politics as we know it is over. One enthusiastic presenter at the Future Cities Summit went so far as to say, with a shrug: “Internet eats everything, and internet will eat government.” In another presentation, about a new kind of “autocatalytic paint” for street furniture that “eats” noxious pollutants such as nitrous oxide, an engineer in a video clip complained: “No one really owns pollution as a problem.” Except that national and local governments do already own pollution as a problem, and have the power to tax and regulate it. Replacing them with smart paint ain’t necessarily the smartest thing to do.

And while some tech-boosters celebrate the power of companies such as Über – the smartphone-based unlicensed-taxi service now banned in Spain and New Delhi, and being sued in several US states – to “disrupt” existing transport infrastructure, Hill asks reasonably: “That Californian ideology that underlies that user experience, should it really be copy-pasted all over the world? Let’s not throw away the idea of universal service that Transport for London adheres to.”

Perhaps the smartest of smart city projects needn’t depend exclusively – or even at all – on sensors and computers. At Future Cities, Julia Alexander of Siemens nominated as one of the “smartest” cities in the world the once-notorious Medellin in Colombia, site of innumerable gang murders a few decades ago. Its problem favelas were reintegrated into the city not with smartphones but with publicly funded sports facilities and a cable car connecting them to the city. “All of a sudden,” Alexander said, “you’ve got communities interacting” in a way they never had before. Last year, Medellin – now the oft-cited poster child for “social urbanism” – was named the most innovative city in the world by the Urban Land Institute.

One sceptical observer of many presentations at the Future Cities Summit, Jonathan Rez of the University of New South Wales, suggests that “a smarter way” to build cities “might be for architects and urban planners to have psychologists and ethnographers on the team.” That would certainly be one way to acquire a better understanding of what technologists call the “end user” – in this case, the citizen. After all, as one of the tribunes asks the crowd in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus: “What is the city but the people?”"
smartcities  cities  surveillance  technology  stevenpoole  democracy  2014  usmanhaque  danhill  adamgreenfield  songdo  medellín  leohollis  urbanurbanism  data  internetofthings  networkedobjects  californianideology  juliaalexander  communities  medellin  colombia  iot 
january 2015 by robertogreco

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