Smart Cities

Original text by Jaap Modder published in S+RO 2013/05 page 11, Theme Smart Cities
Translation by Iris Kramer

S+ROIf you want to know which cities are smart, you will first need to take a look at which cities are ‘stupid’. An interesting question while we were discussing the theme of this magazine. No strange idea. Are there stupid cities? But of course, even more than we would like to. Take for example a random stupid city: Hilversum in the Netherlands. During the last fifty years changes has been made to this city, but nothing has really been changed, it still contains an impossible traffic structure and a chaotic map. However, the city is full with smart people. For example the Media Park, not immediately designed smart, but filled with smart people that work there. On the other side of the world, Palo Alto, South of San Francisco. A not remarkable suburb with no smart spatial planning measures. However, it contains just about the highest concentration of ‘nerds’ of the whole world. We can conclude that there is no direct relation between smart cities and smart citizens. Songdo in Seoel is a smart city, but still fails to attract smart inhabitants. Masdar in Abu Dabi, same story.

So do we need to talk about smart cities, or is it better to talk about smart people? This discussion is a returning topic on the debate about Smart Cities, as well as in this publication. Are we talking about smart systems, which have been created by large technology companies and are applied top-down on a city, or about the possibility for citizens to be more influential about their living environment? Instead of picking sides, we consult with the ideology of Peter Hall in his magisterial work from 1998, Cities in Civilization. According to Peter Hall a successful city in the twenty-first century contains a ‘marriage’ between culture and creativity on the one side and technology on the other side. Eindhoven (the Netherlands) used to have a beta culture, but nowadays they have brought fashion and design into the city. They understood the lesson of Hall. Without creativity and citizen engagement cities are destined to fail. The crowd can generate data to improve the system, but at the same time the crowd can use the data to improve the city’s livableness, accessibility, sustainability and safety.

Is ‘Smart Cities’ going to change the cities in the physical sense? On the long term, yes. More space for pedestrians, cyclists and common space. Less parking spaces needed, because we need less tarmac because we have smart cars and we share cars instead of own them. This is starting to get visible already. More fresh air and less noise, because we need less time to search for a parking space. More smart distribution and less stores. Shopping streets are becoming live/work streets again with the implementation of 3D printers. Smarter navigation systems are making traditional signposts redundant. The information level of our city comes to a higher level due to augmented reality.

What does the Smart City do more for spatial planning and urbanism? In recent discussions amongst spatial planning experts the necessity to stay focused on the future and being directional came to order. We no longer need to only react to fast technological developments, trend-sensitive spatial claims or – maybe even worse – be a slave of the data created yesterday. Even in the spatial planning a marriage is needed between beta and gamma, and calculators and draughtsmen.

According to us, Smart City is here to stay. Technological innovations are continuing unabated. Big data and the Internet of Things are unstoppable. A smart city knows how to connect the collective system and individuals. This can be made possible with the help of feedback loops and the crowd, to create fast moments to comment on developments. How to make this tangible, and what role the government has to play in this development, is still uncertain. Smart cities and smart people are asking for smart governments and smart professionals!

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