Who Will Design Our Smart Cities?
Like its brethren S-words “smart growth” and “sustainability,” “smart city” can mean just about anything. I deﬁne it as the marrying of the city, in both its urban and suburban forms, to the telecommunications revolution signiﬁed by the silicon chip, the Internet, the ﬁber-optic line, and the wireless network. Because this revolution is so broad, deep and ongoing, it’s impossible to list all the present and future ways these technologies can—and will—reshape how and what cities, and their inhabitants, do. It’s my Fitbit. It’s cameras in plazas; sensors in sewers and water mains; an ofﬁcial in City Hall controlling individual streetlights through a smart grid; cities laying their own ﬁber-optic lines and creating their own broadband networks, and big companies seeking to stop them through lawsuits and lobbyists. It’s New York City using GPS data from taxicabs to do trafﬁc planning; driverless cars; entirely new cities, such as Songdo in South Korea; a smartphone app that alerts you that a train is two minutes away. And it’s the related data—the big data—collected from these systems.
But as wondrous as these new technologies are, we should remember an old truth: the ﬁber-optic line and everything else are just tools. Like ﬁre or an axe, they deliver power and possibilities to whomever wields them. A policeman can use street cameras with facial-recognition software to look for a thief; a dictator can use them to hunt for dissidents (and the National Security Agency can use them for God knows what). What’s important about these technologies is what’s always been important: who controls them?
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