martes, 11 de diciembre de 2012

Sisyphus in the smart city. The problem of thinking cities from above


If you have been a regular reader of this blog in recent years, surely you've read some of the posts in which I tried to decipher critically the concepts behind the idea of smart cities. Most of these writings are now compiled in Sisifo en la smart city. Tecnologías urbanas en la impredecibilidad y complejidad de las ciudades.

Compiling this document meant going over what has been happening around the topic. With a growing feeling of fatigue (there is nothing new under the sun but spinning circles), the major substantive conclusion is the too often reductionist vision of a city that is being used. In every claim of the corporate statements that dominate the landscape of congresses you will always find a futile effort, a constant attempt to pursue predictability, just like Sisyphus pushing a rock up a mountain over and over again. But cities are unpredictable and complex, no matter how many sensors, urban operating systems or surveillance cameras you deploy. The intelligence of cities is on the streets:

The real intelligence of cities lies in the almost miraculous, unstable and spontaneous order of city life. The social relationships between people generate the functional intelligence of cities. Imperfect, conflictive and disastrous at times, they are always open to improvement. Technology only facilitates certain processes, and the logic of collective life will defeat any attempt to implement systems that exceed the required level of sophistication. The technology which gives intelligence to the city and makes things work is invisible and has to do with diversity, reciprocal trust, finding another or the ability to appropriate and build the city together. Technological determinism inevitably collides with the unpredictability and complexity of urban life if technologically sophisticated top-down strategies are employed at a time, furthermore, of budget constraints for local authorities.



Much of the discourse focusing on smart cities has to do with goals such as knowing through the massive information management in real time any basic aspect of the functioning of the city. This aspiration is sensible, useful and largely possible, but only for certain urban areas and will always be only to some extent, especially for those that have to do with infrastructure and utilities management. Security, traffic and emergency management could be three fields that are clearly aiming to have complete control of the variables in order to manage and organize information to adapt management of these services (yes, I exclude surveillance, as no matter how much cameras you install, it will never work). That idea of a ghost town without people as a test bed for smart urban solution epitomises this extreme. But the constantly present promise of command and control has its own limits when you confront fabulous renders and integral visions of smart cities with real life how things happen in a city.

The main way to uncover these kinds of visions is to consider how cities are described in presentations and commercial brochures. A wide variety of the same bird´s eye views that dominate the debate share the same perspective from above. When an urban system is viewed from above -as usually occurs in the mimetic presentations you can always find rendering fabulous aseptic-ideal cities- the underlying concept makes that only infrastructures and urban form are visible. And when you can only see infrastructure, the aim to automate the control and management is the first reasonable temptation, but the city is much more than that. Those renders cannot even depict people (not to say the complexity of social interactions) and smart cities become a matter of managing infrastructures, designing cities from scratch and build an illusory feeling that everything can be under control.

Image by Corey Templeton on Flickr under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Thus, scale and perspective determines what you see and how you see it. It's going down the ladder to street level where we can find other things, no visible from above and not portrayable in a render. From this level, the intersection of urban life and technology raises issues, fields of knowledge, possibilites and consequences irrelevant for the kind of smart city visions dominating the landscape. This is the reason for the dialogue of the deaf that is occurring on this topic. Two different points of view and two different concepts of what a city is. It is not easy to find bridges considering they are two divergent concepts not purely aesthetic or semantic, but involving different conceptions of the cities, the needs to be answered and the tools to develop.

In a vision from above, a city is just a layout of streets, but what happens there is hidden. A street turns to be just the place to deploy sensors, a street is just a road where traffic flow occurs, a street is a physical feature and complexity can be comprised into algorithms that kill every piece of randomness. But taking the “city” dimension as a macro reference runs the risk of losing the idea of citizenship, politics, conflict, public space, etc, permanent elements of collective life that will remain beyond current technological sophistication. These ideas are hidden behind the futuristic skyscrapers, asphalt, urban form, road networks or electricity grid, the elements that are easy to find from a macro perspective and top-down analysis of the role of urban technologies. Pursuing a future of cities based on the aspiration to predict a whole city will have to confront the unexpected. And the unexpected is exactly what makes life amazing and is part of the real cities we are living in.

Image by Corey Templeton on Flickr under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Comparte esta entrada

14 comentarios:

  1. Great points. Thank you! Recently I wrote a piece after looking at 69 cities in Western Europe to see what was working for smart city projects. One of the findings was that this whole-of-city, top-down smart city concept is hype and not reality. It's visionary in some ways, but not realistic or probable to implement. What is real is bottom-up, citizen-led ideas or projects from government workers at the line of business level...people who very much don't want to kill randomness but are interested in improving their city's livability (and this necessarily includes creativity, culture, a mix of all sorts of people etc...all the things at the street level that you mention). When I think of a smart city, I think of one that has worked with its citizens to determine its goals, and then uses technology to pursue those goals. If the city wants to reduce CO2 emissions, how can it make policies that help people drive less, use public transportation more? Then suddenly smart parking may be a factor...using smart meters to have variable pricing to reduce driving and sensors to fill spots more quickly. In this way, the technology supports the policy which supports the people and the city but nothing is command and control sterile or stifling. Best, Ruthbea Yesner Clarke, IDC Smart Cities Strategies analyst

    ResponderEliminar
  2. Thanks for your contribution, Ruthbea. Do you have any link to access your outlook on those 69 cities? It would be great to have a look at it. There is a need to go beyond visionary approaches because they generate frustration and fatigue and are meaningless for people.

    ResponderEliminar
  3. whoa MY portland.. maine in that picture, nice!

    ResponderEliminar
  4. Hi Manu - I'm just getting back to seeing your response to my comments. sorry it took me so long...I wrote a blog on this research which you can find here. https://idc-insights-community.com/government/smart_government/realityversushypeinsmartcitiesdevelopmentinwestern

    There is a longer report for purchase.
    Best,
    Ruthbea

    ResponderEliminar
    Respuestas
    1. Thanks for getting back, Ruthbea. I came across that post some weeks ago and it was the one you mentioned on your comment. Thanks for sharing!

      Eliminar
  5. Hi, i read your blog occasionally and i own a similar one
    and i was just curious if you get a lot of spam feedback?
    If so how do you stop it, any plugin or anything you can recommend?
    I get so much lately it's driving me insane
    so any help is very much appreciated.

    Feel free to visit my web blog: Affordable Auto glass

    ResponderEliminar
  6. The good news is that for those individuals trying to live a healthy life style by including a daily regimen of vitamins and minerals seem to
    be healthier for their given age. It is difficult for women to lose weight and it is a real challenge
    for them to achieve health & fitness Women can lose weight through yoga and
    Hindu squat. It is time for you find out about healthy weight loss.


    Stop by my web page good life

    ResponderEliminar
  7. It's a shame you don't have a donate button! I'd without a doubt
    donate to this outstanding blog! I guess for now i'll settle for book-marking and adding your RSS
    feed to my Google account. I look forward to fresh updates and will talk about this blog with my
    Facebook group. Chat soon!

    Also visit my page :: หนังโป๊ญี่ปุ่น

    ResponderEliminar
  8. great city selling.Mobile commercialism Pointers The
    internet is a no-no. You can expression on separate insects and spiders.

    If they can be in focalise. The less you testament incur tips on the face are the regular places corresponding eBay
    or adult female Marketplace, straighten out certain that your topic sufficient the North face outlet Stores Cheap Oakley Sunglasses North Face Outlet Stores Michael Kors Outlet Stores Coach handbags Canada Goose Kensington Parka Sale
    (sdlsombrasdeluz.com) Canada Goose Mystique Parka Oakley Sunglasses Wholesale The North Face Store Coach Outlet (cut.by) Canada
    Goose Kensington Parka (surl.am) Louis Vuitton Outlet Stores
    Canada Goose Trillium Parka (pogoscrabble.info) The North Face Coats
    Canada Goose Outlet Canada Goose Jackets Sale Canada Goose Jackets Oakley Sunglasses Wholesale (http://www.2playergames.co.nz/profile/maynl) Coach handbags, ig33k.co, Canada Goose Trillium Parka A orbicular way
    to allot your quality and makes them extremely affordable and
    simpler. equitable brook a stop all unit of days it changes the male horse care for instrument greatly back
    up you real estate a large marketing joyride for the utilisation of the past and
    it could easy equitable be better

    my webpage - Canada Goose Outlet

    ResponderEliminar
  9. Before marriage, search carefully for compatibility. Keeping your home
    plumbing running smoothly is not a difficult job.
    When you pull the toilet handle, the flapper rises and allows the water in the tank to empty into the toilet.


    My weblog: leaking pipes pompano beach fl

    ResponderEliminar
  10. Low-calorie diets may be a fast way to lose weight in the beginning,
    but they are unsustainable and unhealthy.
    Human subject research is the most difficult kind
    of study because of so many variables that are out of the control of the experimental design. HCG drops is being highly recommended by
    health experts and medical doctors-- a satisfying confirmation that the product is something you can count
    on.

    Feel free to surf to my web page :: Weight loss Hcg phase 3

    ResponderEliminar
  11. First off I want too say terrific blog! I had a quick
    question that I'd like to ask if you do not mind.
    I was curious to find outt how you center yourself and clear your head prior tto writing.
    I've had difficulty clearing my thoughts in getting mmy ideas out there.

    I do enjoy writing however itt just seems like the
    first 10 to 15 minutes are usually waqsted simply just rying to figure out hoow to begin. Any recommendations or hints?
    Thank you!

    Here is my blog: clash of clans hack no survey no password

    ResponderEliminar
  12. It's hard to come by experienced people about this subject, but you seem
    like you know what you're talking about! Thanks

    Here is my web page ... acne scars

    ResponderEliminar

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...