Smart Cities by Anthony M. Townsend

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In my role as a researcher at CESC  in a research project on Smart Sustainable Cities, I have read the book Smart Cities by Anthony Townsend. I have read it with a sustainability lens, but I would argue that the book is relevant to anyone interested in any of the following issues; urbanism, cities, smart things, the future, (urban) planning, big data, civics, and the internet of things. More specifically, the book discusses the real value of ICT in trying to solve problems in our cities in the future. And that it might not be what we think it is.

The book presents first some accounts of smart cities initiatives around the world, for example Rio de Janeiros operating centre and Songdo in South Korea. Both these examples are driven by big corporations and the means for becoming a smart city is what is sometimes called the fourth utility; ICT. But ICT can be designed and implemented in both a top-down and a bottom-up perspective. The previous grand scale efforts are in the book contrasted with many examples of hackathons, tinkerings and guerrilla movements. Although the author is not discouraging the top-down approach throughout, he is definitly vying for the bottom-up, civic approach to a smarter city.

There are many areas this book covers and I will not give a full summary of it here. The author describe many historical and contemporary perspectives on urban planning and ICT, sometimes in unison. The book moves back and forth between centralized formal efforts to informal ad-hoc ventures, just as un-disciplined as a city is. I like the book, and I will give you a future gazing citation to ponder upon:

”The challenge for designers of smart cities will be navigating another transect, the one that connects the physical and the virtual world. To do so effectively they’ll need to cross-train. […] First, they will need to heed Geddes’s admonition to see cities as both scientists and artists. […] Smart-city designers will also need to be transdisciplinary — able to think across disciplines inside their own minds. […] To be effective in getting their designs built, they will need to deeply understand smart systems and their risks and benefits, and be able to explain it all to non expert stakeholders.” (p. 303)

We’re in for a challenge!

Smart Cities by Anthony Townsend
Smart Cities by Anthony Townsend

//Elina

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