One of the many ways the technological innovation is being manifested is by making every aspect of our life smarter and by that meaning better, faster, easier, more efficient. Our phones are getting smarter, our buildings are getting smarter even our cities are getting smarter.
Today we generate, gather and try to analyze enormous amounts of data. Through that process we are supposedly on our way of fully understand and optimising our living environment. How can we assess the impact of using data in urban planning? Using data for planning is not a new idea as it is not a new idea the utopian master plan that promise to solve all contemporary problems . Analyzing trends in urban development, we realised that “smart cities”, more than a theoretical model, are already being implemented in numerous cities around the globe. It seems that this new model is the inevitable fate of cities worldwide.
As the cities all over the world started accumulating more and more people every year, the existing big urban problems, traffic, education, energy management, public safety, are seeking for new solutions. With the existing model of the city being no longer good enough, the proposed solutions to these problems increasingly come from technology providers and not urban planners. Using technologies as a solution to urban problems goes back to the beginning of the 20th century and the modernist city that functioned as a “fast paced machine”. We consider the big smart city idea being the outcome of a wider historical context of “solutionism”(1) and therefore, can identify a correlation to the recent past.
“You cannot expect from private parties to have the same ideas as the public. Their goal in life is profit; not public interest”. (Michelle Proovost, Director, International New Town Institute, in conversation at Strelka, 23/04/2013)
The smart city is a wideranging idea that includes management of city life through new and emerging information technologies. It mainly manifests in 6 different spheres: mobility, governance, economy, environment, living and people. Empirically, cities that use software and infrastructural solutions from commercial providers such as IBM, Siemens, Cisco or any other company providing “smart” solutions are called “smart”. After the implementation of smart technologies, the built structure of the city does not change dramatically, but new, “invisible” layers of the city are added. Despite the fact that the physical city stays the same, there is the danger of a shift in human topography as the smart changes are approachable and affordable for a particular group of citizens, while excluding the rest.
If this is a Utopia, is certainly not for everyone. The affordability could lead to a new forms of social zoning with parts of the city being highly digitized with the rest falling into a decay or disappearing from the map.(2) Sellers of the smart city concept address city managers and big businesses, leaving civil activists and citizens out of the conversation. Initially, the talk is about money, not comfortable living, which only evolves as a byproductof the work of corporations.
What do smart cities look like? Like normal cities with a bunch of shiny gadgets such as,<ul><li>One card for all transportational system;</li><li>LED/smart traffic lights;</li><li>Smart intersections;</li><li>CCTV for live monitoring of traffic and emergencies;</li><li>Energy networks, such as smart grids, smart meters, smart buildings;</li><li>Electric vehicles;</li><li>ICT sector support and ict training;</li><li>Integrated security command center.</li></ul>
There is of course nothing wrong with using technologies and integrating new systems to the everyday life of the city. What is although problematic, is the lack of proper assessment of efficiency of these systems. The same readymade solutions seem to be standby to be implemented everywhere and their success, therefore the city’s smartness as well, is being evaluated by those who are directly involved in its process. So the very much needed criticism cannot happen based on objective factors while the smart market is increasing itself.
The infrastructure investment for these cities is forecasted to be $30 trillion to $40 trillion, cumulatively, over the next 20 years (Nikkei Business Publications, 2010). As the system becoming more dependant on the intelligent software, it gets harder to fix manually if something goes wrong. As more complicated infrastructure is put in, the cost the failure increases exponentially.
Why is it relevant to Moscow?
The implementation of smart city technologies is a huge investment and is strongly related to the financial state of the city. The budget of Moscow, at $USD 52.4 billion is the third highest in the world. 6 per cent is allocated to “Innovative Development”, which includes spendings on the state program “Informational City”. This program intends to raise the quality of life in the city with help of informationcommunication technologies.
Opening information to make it accessible to everyone is an important part of the smart city implementation. It influences the engagement of population into managing the urban environment. “Smart citizens”, along with “smart governance” are supposed to be key elements of smart city according to IBM’s program. Openness is already hugely valuable in developing transparency between government and citizens, something that is greatly lacking today in most cities in general, and in particular, Moscow. Technologies have changed the process of civic engagement from a one way transmitting channel to a double way process of participation. But Mikhail Abyzov, Minister of Open Government affairs on 21.05.2013 stated that “It’s important for Russian government that assessment of openness will influence credit ratings of investment climate of our country, for example, Doing Business of World Bank.” The lack of money in city budget is one reason to attract investors and a smart city is an element that can attract them.
Despite the system, people are used to work and function in certain ways that is hard to change by implementing smart informational coordination. This is why the digitalisation of the city and its shift from the postindustrial to informational era should evolve incrementally. Perhaps the problem is not at the smartness itself but the pace of implementation. In that sense, it seems that for Moscow, instant smartness is not the preferable option. This it’s not because there is no value in the technological aids in our urban environment, but because the current needs of the city perhaps lies in different spheres.
One final and slightly romantic note: other than instant overall smartness perhaps should be avoided as well. The idea of everything being optimised, programmed, planned and controlled easily, safely and from anywhere is not far from a clean cut dystopian nightmare where there are no errors, no more choices to be made.
"Imagine what would have happened if Adam and Eve had not lived in a garden but in a smart building. The divine designer would probably have arranged it so that they never saw apples."—Ursula Franklin
This article is based on research project developed at Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design.
(1) we use the term solutionism, introduced in Morozov’s “To Save Everything Click Here”, in the context of techno solutions in urban plannig (2) The exclusion of certain population appears mostly in New Towns as Songdo. http://volumeproject.org/2013/03/whybuildanewtown/