Cities Gain a Brain; But Will They Lose Their Souls?

In the quest to improve efficiency and effectiveness, "smart" technologies are helping cities become more intelligent machines. But a growing chorus fears the side effects of increased privatization, surveillance, and technological sophistication.

"The smart city has become a buzzword in urban planning and university engineering departments, and a topic of breathless coverage in science and business magazines," says Courtney Humphries. "Although today the vision exists more in the realm of promise than reality, cities such as Boston have begun to invest time and chunks of their budget to laying the groundwork."

"But 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. Building a new, intelligent urban infrastructure could be every bit as momentous as building a water supply, or roads, or a subway system—setting development patterns for decades. Though they share enthusiasm for what a smart city could do, they also point out that smart-city programs could—with little public oversight—put us on track to a kind of urban future that not everyone thinks is ideal."

What's at stake may be the soul of the city itself: the Platonic ideal of the "the orderly, manageable city" versus the "chaotic and dynamic whirl of activity." 

Full Story: The too-smart city

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