December 2017, article published originally in El Periódico de Catalunya
I do not want a smart city
Trendy word number one-thousand something, under the digital umbrella. If the city you live in is not smart and your mayor does not defend the city as smart, you are nothing. According to Wikipedia, a smart city refers to a type of urban development based on sustainability, which is able to respond adequately to the basic needs of its institutions, companies, and its own inhabitants.
This definition refers to urban environments where boundless technology, ubiquitous, interconnected and in real time, allows data collection that helps authorities to better manage the city. So far so good. The issue is in the tag at the end of the digital encyclopedia’s explanation.
Maybe it’s me, with my abject mind, or maybe I focus too much on the nuances, but in this case I think it is important: the city is first and foremost for its citizens, and later for institutions and companies. Therein lies the problem. I may come off as a Luddite, but I do not want a smart city if this is the plan. It seems the goal is to “build” cities for everyone but us, its inhabitants. Smart cities are being developed all over the world, especially in countries where the population is growing rapidly, such as India (they plan to have 100 smart cities by 2020), China or some countries in Africa.
Inundating city offices with trillions of data is not exactly the key to happiness for the people that live there.
The problem with these cities is that underneath the image they project of an ideal metropolis, with semi-empty highways, galvanized skyscrapers drawing a metallic skyline, and eco-friendly lights, one forgets that they exist to provide shelter for human beings. According to an article published recently by the Financial Times, we are already starting to find virtually deserted smart cities in China, unable to attract rural inhabitants. They have all the technology in the world but no people. That is, they have forgotten the human part.
This is why I do not want a mega-intelligent city without, for example, a neighborhood convenience store (an element that in our country shapes our understanding of city life), social housing and security for women, senior citizens, children, and families.
In the end, when we weigh everything, what will become of anonymity, individuality, intimacy? Will people who are not digital, or who lack the means to be so in a sophisticated way, be left out? Inundating city offices with trillions of data is not exactly the key to happiness for the people that live there. Information is not the only thing we need to build an environment where we can live well. If those who make decisions on urban development do not take into account concepts like justice or privacy, for example, the city, no matter how smart, makes no sense. They will become places where we do not want to live.