The Promise and Peril of “Smart” Cities


Glowing media reports of  "smart city" initiatives are now being countered with a rising number of reports that strike a cautionary note, troubled by the prospect of government, in tandem with technology contractors, gathering vast data from intimate observation of city dwellers... Further, though cities have engaged in planning for thousands of years, most of the world’s great metropolises have largely grown organically, neighborhood by neighborhood. By contrast, the smart-city movement—marrying the ambitions of government planners with the know-how of a new generation of disruptive tech firms—seems intent on redesigning urban life from the top down. So far, the real-world results have been unimpressive, at best, with the handful of existing smart cities across the globe having difficulty luring residents, who seem repelled by their alienating coldness.


In a short time, the “smart city” has evolved from simple proposals to help municipal leaders operate more efficiently to an overarching vision of what kinds of communities people should live in, and even how those people should live. The typical urbanite might find himself asking: What can smart cities actually do for me—or to me?


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September 26, 2019

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