The Low Tech Solution to Building Smarter Cities

If you only listened to the IBMs of the world, you'd think the path to building better cities was through high tech solutions. But old fashioned dialogue and discussion, facilitated by some low tech platforms, works best, argues Alec Appelbaum.

"[A]cross the country, municipalities are buying ever more complicated technological 'solutions' for urban life," says Appelbaum. "But higher tech is not always essential tech. Cities could instead be making savvier investments in cheaper technology that may work better to stoke civic involvement than the more complicated, expensive products being peddled by information-technology developers."

As an example Appelbaum looks to the planning process for the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, where "[t]hrough e-mail conversations, neighbors articulated priorities — permanently affordable homes, a movie theater, protections for small merchants — that even a supercomputer wouldn’t necessarily have identified in the data."

"The point is not that software is useless," argues Appelbaum. "But like anything else in a city, it’s only as useful as its ability to facilitate the messy clash of real human beings and their myriad interests and opinions. And often, it’s the simpler software, the technology that merely puts people in contact and steps out of the way, that works best."

"Deep data can learn and display policy cues that used to flow from guesswork. What it can do less reliably is reflect democratic action."

Full Story: Techs and the City

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