Opinion: High Tech Won't Save Cities

After some notable disappointments in the development of 'smart city' projects, experts are increasingly critical of the movement to use tech to solve urban problems.

2 minute read

February 3, 2022, 7:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Boston, Massachusetts

ovimustea / Shutterstock

In a piece on Treehugger, Lloyd Alter outlines some of the criticisms of the 'smart city' concept, reminding readers that, despite the promises made by "smart garbage bins" or "smart parking systems," "almost every smart solution listed here is fixing a problem that could be solved in a simpler, low-tech way instead of adding a layer of complexity and 'smart.'" Planetizen previously covered Shannon Mattern's book A City Is Not a Computer, which describes the ways that the mentality prevalent among 'smart city' proponents clashes with the realities and unpredictabilities of real cities. 

For Alter, the key is getting "back to basics" when it comes to urban planning and sustainability, quoting Shoshana Saxe: "Rather than chasing the newest shiny smart-city technology, we should redirect some of that energy toward building excellent dumb cities—cities planned and built with best-in-class, durable approaches to infrastructure and the public realm."

Alter quotes multiple experts who similarly question the value of introducing too much technology in lieu of simpler, low-tech solutions that already exist—if we have the political will to implement them. According to architect Michael Eliason, "we have had decades of politicians ignoring the data on climate change—prioritizing gizmos instead of sustainable mobility, socially and economically diverse ecodistricts, and car-free spaces. If we are to seriously tackle adapting to climate change, it is these types of things we will need to prioritize."

Friday, January 14, 2022 in Treehugger

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