20 May 2013

The too-smart city

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We’re already building the metropolis of the future—green, wired, even helpful. Now critics are starting to ask whether we’ll really want to live there. Courtney Humphries reports for the Boston Globe.

“As political leaders, engineers, and environmentalists join the smart-city bandwagon, a growing chorus of thinkers from social sciences, architecture, urban planning, and design are starting to sound a note of caution. […]

Behind the alluring vision, they argue, lurk a number of troubling questions. A city tracking its citizens, even for helpful reasons, encroaches on the personal liberty we count on in public spaces. The crucial software systems and networks that underlie city services will likely lie in private hands. And the more successful smart-city programs become, the more they risk diverting resources into the problems that can be solved with technology, rather than grappling with difficult issues that can’t be easily fixed with an app. […]

The orderly, manageable city is a vision with enduring appeal, from Plato’s Republic to Songdo, an entirely new smart city constructed near Seoul. But there’s an equally compelling vision of the city as a chaotic and dynamic whirl of activity, an emergent system, an urban jungle at once hostile and full of possibility—a place to lose oneself. [Dan] Hill points out that efficiency isn’t the reason we like to live in cities, and it’s not the reason we visit them. Tourists come to Boston for the bustling charm of the North End, not the sterile landscape of Government Center. In a city where everything can be sensed, measured, analyzed, and controlled, we risk losing the overlooked benefits of inconvenience. It’s as if cities are one of the last wild places, and one that we’re still trying to tame.”

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