Saskia Sassen: Talking back to your intelligent city

Much of what is put under the “smart city” umbrella has actually been around for a decade or more. Bit by bit (or byte by byte), we’ve been retrofitting various city systems and networks with devices that count, measure, record, and connect. (...) The current euphoria, however, centers around a more costly, difficult-to-implement vision. Rather than retrofitting old cities, the buzz today is about building entire smart cities from scratch in a matter of a few years (hence the alternative name “instant city”)
The first phase of intelligent cities is exciting. (...) The act of installing, experimenting, testing, or discovering—all of this can generate innovations, both practical and those that exist mainly in the minds of weekend scientists. (...) But the ensuing phase is what worries me; it is charged with negative potentials. From experimentation, discovery, and open-source urbanism, we could slide into a managed space where “sensored” becomes “censored.
The challenge for intelligent cities is to urbanize the technologies they deploy, to make them responsive and available to the people whose lives they affect. Today, the tendency is to make them invisible, hiding them beneath platforms or behind walls—hence putting them in command rather than in dialogue with users. One effect will be to reduce the possibility that intelligent cities can promote open-source urbanism, and that is a pity. It will cut their lives short. They will become obsolete sooner. Urbanizing these intelligent cities would help them live longer because they would be open systems, subject to ongoing changes and innovations. After all, that ability to adapt is how our good old cities have outlived the rise and fall of kingdoms, republics, and corporations.

Why do I blog this? Some interesting elements, to be considered after the series of workshop we had at Lift11 this week (about smart cities and the use of urban data).