This is an extract from Dr Cole Hendrigan’s recently published book A Future of Polycentric Cities.
As of 2018, or so, Smart Cities is the current planning theory of the day. There have been many such ambitions before, attempting to create an encompassing unified practice to deliver better results with new technologies. Despite the very fixed character of a city, its slow-to-change ‘personality’, and the revealed preferences of people which are resistant to change, there are trends in city planning (see Global City Shaping chapter). Though a concept for at least two decades , in less than a decade, it will likely be incorporated under a new model much as Smart Growth, New Urbanism, Sustainability or Resilience has been subsumed in earlier decades. Indeed, going back further in time, concepts such as Garden, City Beautiful, New Town or Radiant cities have all been tried, tested and informed larger movements.
Though each of the trends reached out to meet a real or perceived need in society, to promote a safer, more secure or light-filled-with-greenery way of living, each has been found to be not repeatable on large scales. The reasons for this lack of broad uptake has little to do with the intuitive intelligence of each proposal and much more to do with economics. Buildings, land, tools, and processes that are low cost to develop and low cost to purchase, along with providing high private amenity, is significantly appreciated in a free market.
It must be underlined that most of the world cities, where most of the urban residents live, suffer none and have never suffered these concepts: many live in tenuous housing with uncertain ownership and with barely a public service—such as a park—to be found. To call the conceptualisation of city planning ideals and the debates between ideologues as a First World problem is an understatement. Yet, even most First World citizens do not live in a city with a techno-philosophical underpinning. What, then, will Smart Cities deliver to us as tangible improvements and for whom? For the elites in elite cities to live better, or for many people anywhere to live better too? What fear is Smart Cites, as a unified concept, trying to assuage?