Want a Smart City? Take the people out!

Not a smart city

Recent news: An international technology company plans to develop and operate a massive technology testing and evaluation centre in New Mexico.

The state Economic Development Department announced Tuesday that Pegasus Global Holdings is conducting a study on the best New Mexico location for its facility, to be called The Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation. It will require as much as 20 square miles of open, unimproved land and will resemble a mid-sized American city, including urban canyons, suburban neighbourhoods, rural communities and distant localities […] The projected opening date is 2014.

The centre will be designed to represent a mix of old and new infrastructure found in most modern U.S. cities, according to a news release, and will replicate the challenges of upgrading existing infrastructure to that of the 21st-century “smart city,” operating within a green economy.

The project will derive its revenue from access charges, user fees and the sale of excess utility output, such as power generation, water treatment and wireless infrastructure, according to the company’s website. No permanent population will reside within the center’s boundaries, according to company officials.

A story on this subject can be found at Information Age and even the Telegraph has got on board (entertaining readers’ comments as ever)

I guess this sort of experiment is important in finding the technology that has potential.

From my point of view though, this approach removes exactly what is interesting: people, society and organisations. Wouldn’t you think this approach would make it too easy to generate utopian solutions which will only get messed up by real people and real behaviours?

This article reminded me of this mock town[*] (or something similar to it) built by the Israeli army which the USA military used before the Iraq invasion… They learned all the wrong lessons about how to do military occupation. To put it mildly.

[*] Here’s the same thing treated as an art object.

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About Peter Cruickshank

Lecturer in the School of Computing and a member of the Centre for Social Informatics at Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland. Interested in information systems, learning, politics, society, security and where they intersect. My attempts at rounding out my character include food, cinema, running, history and, together with my lovely wife, bringing up a cat and a couple of kids.
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3 Responses to Want a Smart City? Take the people out!

  1. I completely agree, Peter. Seems to be so out of the core discussion. An urban lab without people is, in fact, not a lab, not urban. I wrote some lines adding that this idea makes me remind another story on militarism:http://humanscalecities.tumblr.com/post/9958098885/urban-labs-without-people-from-the-german-village-in

  2. The New York Times has had a go too:

    Pegasus’ project is hobbled by the equally false assumption that such smart cities are relevant outside the sterile conditions of a computer lab. There’s no reason to believe the technologies tested there will succeed in cities occupied by people instead of Sims.

    They used the example of an attempt to model the city for the Fire Department.

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