Are Asia's Planned Cities a New Colonialism?

While they look clean and green on the drawing board, Asia's planned developments might be nothing more than cloned commercialism set in concrete. By undermining local culture, this 'smart city' approach may also prove unsustainable.

1 minute read

April 12, 2015, 5:00 AM PDT

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc


Planned City

Clay Gilliland / Flickr

Kris Hartley attacks a recent glut of massive Asian 'smart city' projects: pre-planned and well-branded development ostensibly suited to the global economy.

Like colonial architecture of the past, modern incarnations "frequently overlook the peculiarities of indigenous culture in favour of a commodified landscape designed to serve commercial interests. When thoughtfully considered, the term 'smart city' often proves to be a veil for standardised planning visions that are neither smart nor culturally attuned."

Though they are advertised as connected, sustainable, and clean, Hartley writes that many of these cities "appear to be little more than postmodern takes on Corbusian monumentalism, with broad highways bisecting districts of tower blocks. Furthermore, a critical element is missing: culture."

Design alone, and lip service paid to an aesthetic environmentalism, merely replicates harmful globalizations of the past. For planned cities to truly prosper, "In commercial terms, authenticity is a competitive advantage, providing experiences for citizens and visitors that are absent in universal, commodity-stock developments. Planners on both sides of urban collaborations should therefore be mindful of cultural dimensions, lest the smart city lose its local wisdom."

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