BY: CAROLINE ROLF
The promise of futuristic “smart” cities can seem almost too good to be true—they are highly efficient, run by sensors and data and promise to solve many of the present and future issues facing urbanization. Smart cities will give us live traffic pattern updates; automobiles and public transportation will anticipate our movements and react accordingly, wireless networks, renewable energy and mobile applications will run our homes. The problem with this promise is that this vision of an unflawed utopia is entirely driven by technology. Technology will continue to advance and drive us forward: so how do we decide what adds value and how it changes our interactions with the world around us? Urban spaces need to evolve beyond technological progress.
The concept of a smart city suggests society can be digitized and puts the emphasis on high tech industries, hyper connectivity, and universal electronic connections. But think about what lies at the root of a city. Cities are made up of people and run by structure. Cities provide access to services, entertainment and culture. To achieve a smart city would be to create a continuous cycle of learning and innovation while understanding the source and the way in which their needs affect the way cities grow and connect.
The conversation needs to revolve around more than superior technology. The planning needs to factor in necessary services that will add value to citizens’ lives and encourage the city to grow according to the needs of those it hosts. This is a great challenge facing the implementation of smart, interconnected cities. It would require a highly collaborative environment to rethink the needs of a city, not as stakeholders in the ecosystem but as co-creators of a better future. Another problem lies in the control of the project and the ownership of data. We already live in a time that supermarkets can predict our future purchases and advertising is personalized to our search history. Smart cities raise the issues of privacy, control, and even democracy.
Smart cities should be treated as a means, not an end—a livable city should be the goal. A city should allow its residents to easily do what they need to do without choking on pollution. A smart city should enhance livability—from jobs and entertainment to culture and transportation. It should give everyone access to the information and design of their city instead of alienating the poor. The potential of smart cities could bring economic life back into the stale structures and patterns of cities. Governments and corporations need to think realistically about what technology would look like if it served the people. The vision needs to keep livability and equality in mind rather than a prescribed set of improvements, because it’s difficult for us to visualize where technology advancements may take us—let alone embrace it as our future.