The ¥€$ city does not quite reflect a YES city. In fact, it implies quite the opposite, well, at least according to Rem Koolhaas who fears that cities are seeking their own apocalypse while competing to win the ‘smart city’ pageant. I second most of his thoughts and fears towards the future of urbanism which might soon turn our cities into giant urban prisons run by jailers called technology. Based on excerpts from his speech at the High Level Group meeting on Smart Cities, Brussels, 24 September 2014, I am going to opine my thoughts on the future of our smart cities.
The ¥€$ factor:
Two of the main themes around which private enterprises have revolved their marketing gimmicks around are safety and security. The real estate sector always talked about the security of an investment to save for a rainy day. Like a season’s sale, slogans like ‘ First hundred bookings free’ or ‘Only ten apartments left’ and so on are galore to feed public that are never really sure if they are hungry or what they want to eat. The real estate feeds off this insecurity while slyly eating and regurgitating farmlands from suburbs while urging you to avail their kitchen garden installation package. The promise of paradise while they evidently destroy it under their feet is an incessant cycle that Koolhaas fears will end in an apocalypse.
Here is an example of an ad campaign for a real estate property in India. The company banks on the incessant issue of the country’s traffic as bait for prospective investors.
Save everything! The world is falling apart:
The next tactic that their marketing rule is founded on is to induce social guilt towards conservation of water, electricity and energy in general. Private companies entitle themselves to have developed the most sustainable solutions to what people normally do, like washing clothes and maybe even brushing their teeth which they will make you believe is a loss of millions to their country’s economy. You may hear manifestos such as ‘If you cycle to school, you may be helping one child’s education’. It is a fact that cycling has its benefits as it did when I myself used to cycle to school like many of my peers did. I felt no need to stop cycling until it came to point where cars and motorbikes intruded clean air and noise free environments and became a threat to the safety of cyclists with their growing density.
My Smart City:
I remember my childhood when evenings were times spent in huge playgrounds right outside my door. I remember small power surges after dusk were a time to chase fire-flies. Today, when what we could expect is a solution, we instead have scheduled power cuts during the day that are announced one day in advance in dailies. The result? Corporatations hire giant generators that pollute cities. I remember our backyards being thriving ecosystems of naturally occurring permaculture and small orchards. Today, backyards are corrected as parking areas. I remember trips to my cousin’s house in five minutes what take fifty five or more today although we have traffic lights with timers today, which we didn’t have back then. I could drink tap water when all I get today is salt water from it.
I believe we have lost our smart cities to the pseudo smart cities of today. The pseudo smart city is one that promises all of the above and then fills every nook with lots of driver-less cars and perhaps a mobile vegetable garden!
From elegance to ignorance:
When the dictum read ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’, cities were in better time. Planners, urbanists and people together engaged in shaping cities to live their dreams. The Central park is a great example of what the city had produced. Today when it rereads as ‘ Comfort, Security and Sustainability’, most of us are left clueless other than to blindly follow requirements that lead to a LEED rating.
Rem coined ‘Faraday Cage’. He prophesies that soon we will need a space within our own homes that is inert from the voyeuristic digital eyes of the city’s central surveillance that watches every house for central security and optimized heating.
Rem urges technologies and politics to become more convergent and integrated rather than becoming isolated technology bubbles like Silicon Valley for example. I want to end this chapter with a hope that governments and private institutions redefine what a smart city is. I would start by defining a smart city as one that has citizens who live it, love it and respect it for the freedom it offers. A smart city is one that feeds its citizens than driving policies down their throat. It keeps in mind everybody from the street hawker to the billionaire and cyclist, truck driver and everybody in between. As citizens, I think it is good time that we snap out of the illusion of heading towards smarter cities and think aloud so we begin to live in the city and not merely exist in it.
By: Carola Winnie