‘Smart Cities’ & Architectural Character

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Smart city discourse is increasingly prevalent and increasingly influential, thus, a interrogation into the design philosophy undergirding the concept (and its spin-offs) can prove instructive.

IOT For All defines smart cities (also referred to as intelligent cities or digital cities) as “hubs that route IoT-produced data through public-private partnerships to solve real problems.” Put another way, a smart/intelligent/digital city is a urban human settlement that integrates IoT¹ into its pre-existing infrastructure (of roads, streetlights, etc) so as to increase asset stability (security, maintenance) and general efficiency (of energy, traffic movement, etc).

Thus, what principally distinguishes a smart city from a legacy city, is the amount of information acquisition and processing apparatuses it contains.

To say that these new arrangements are ‘smart’ then, is rather like declaring that sticking more eyes onto a fish makes it smarter — its true, insofar as intelligence is reduced to route data acquisition (which is a rather one-dimensional reconfiguration which neglects a number of obvious aspects of intelligence).

What smart cities have in common with every other type of city is their basic design, which means that they have all the same strengths and weaknesses (in relation to the welfare of their inhabitants) of a conventional city with the added trade-off of mismanagement of the new sensor apparatus (spying, data theft, inability to process data, etc) / swifter data processing via the new apparatus (swifter navigation, better energy utilization, de-incentivization of crime, etc).

What smart city discourse neglects is architectural character — the artistic dimensions of dense urban living; the symbols and structures through which collective desire is channeled and expressed from whose extollation communal ties are bound and reinforced. Architectural character is the continuity between the collective desire of the people and their realization and willful externalization of it, such that it forms the loci by which the people may understand themselves as such.

The reformulation of architectural discourse is a rather pressing issue, as the UN estimates that by 2050, 68% of the world’s total population will live in urban areas (their population projections have come under scrutiny by global demographers for being too inflationary, but even if this is the case, the number of future urban dwellers will certainly swell considerably within the century). As of this writing, urban regions possess the majority of the world’s wealth and account for roughly two-thirds of total global power consumption. Reducing energy consumption, bolstering energy production, utilization and distribution and easing congestion are all important goals, but in the pursuit of these goals, designers should not neglect the artistic and communal qualities which elevate and magnify the dreaming populace and, through explication, crystallize their rattling fervor in the melded folds of concrete and steel.


Notes

  • ¹The internet of things (IoT) is shorthand for the expansion of internet connectivity into mundane objects, allowing for the semi-automation of homes and businesses.

Sources

  1. Ann Bosche et al. (2018) To Grow The Internet Of Things, Improve Security. Forbes.
  2. Elizabeth Woyke. (2018) A Smarter Smart City. MIT Technology Review.
  3. Gene Wes Keat. (1910) From Call Building To Oakland City Hall In 5 Minutes. San Francisco Call, Vol. 107, Number 138, April 17.
  4. Guest Writer. (2019) What Makes a Smart City in 2019. IoT For All.
  5. James Brasuell. (2015) The Early History Of The ‘Smart Cities’ Movement — In 1974 Los Angeles. Planetizen.
  6. Mark Vallianatos. (2015) Uncovering the Early History of “Big Data” and the “Smart City” in Los Angeles. Boom California.
  7. Matt Novak. (2011) Zipping From San Francisco To Oakland In 5 Minutes. Smithsonian.

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