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When smart cities aren't so smart

When smart cities aren't so smart

Released on November 6th 2013, Adam Greenfield's new pamphlet, "Against the Smart City" is the New York-based writer and urbanist's latest contribution to the smart city debate. In light of recent news from Montreal and other thriving cities worldwide, we felt the essay was worth revisiting, in order to gain further insights into the dos and dont's of smart and creative cities. 


Indeed, Greenfield's 100-page essay is both a narrative and a framework; it provides several examples that guide a macro-level analysis stemming from a systematic investigation into what large-scale providers and world-class "model" cities are displaying as examples to be followed. Based on a semantic review of the various materials published around the idea of so-called "smart cities", Greenfield deconstructs the concept for what it is is most of these cases: a futuristic account of cities governed by overspecified installations connected into channels of communications that aim at centralizing information in order to yield pre-determined "efficiencies" whose foundations are never to be discussed.


The essay is striking for its ability to consider the problem from a variety of angles, each of which is presented as inherently problematic in light of the vibrant, human-centric potential of technology-driven urban development. It draws on a variety of sources including historical studies of modernism that complete the demonstration of how the rhetoric of the "smart city" has been governed by a few key players, "solution-providers" with little or no actual background in urbanism to justify their claims. 


As such, the current depiction of smart cities is indeed an integrated approach to the provision of service by public bodies. By its entrapment into pre-determined areas of intervention makes it nothing but smart. The smart city must consider the ephemeral, the ever changing nature of human experience, tourism, seasonality, and all the new data that we will start producing in the course of the exploration of the ever-growing promiscuity of urban life. 


In its positive acception, the smart city must go beyond the big data vs. big brother conundrum to focus on technology and participation simultaneously. It musn't focus solely on efficiency, but on the quality and the experience of citizenry. The smart city, if it is to become anything more than a new layer of automatons, must derive value from natural and social sciences equally. For the sake of the collective decisions we face politically, an informed debate about the nature of the concept is in good order. 


If you have eight dollars to spare, buy this book


For the sake of your city.


You won't regret it.


Additionnal references:

- GeoThink, The Canadian Geospatial and Open Data Think Tank.

- LeDevoir Fabien Deglise's take on the issue [FR] published minutes apart from this article.

- Josée Plamondon's perspective [FR] including several quotes and references.

- On the smart city, or a manifesto for smart citizens instead.


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