Dear urbanists, urban planners, traffic planners, architects and others,
Our work is done.
Recently Google Maps does not show the same things to everyone. The uncrowned world leader in digital mapping breaks the tradition to display the city on a universal manner. Since everybody is unique, Google now shows your individual city: places, according to Google which are interesting to you.
Perhaps this doesn’t surprise you. Neither does us. Not yet. After all, it’s just on a screen isn’t it? But wait! Within a few years you will wear a Ray Ban designer sunglasses from Google during your holidays. And so will thousands of others.
The city will get fragmented when 4G, wifi, smart gear and augmented reality will coincide with each other. Your city is no longer my city, your city is no longer our city. The city no longer exists… long live the city!
There is a quiet revolution going on. Since 2008, there are more machines interconnected than people. The Internet of Things will replace the Internet or humans and has escaped from our pcs’ into our squares, streets, trains and cafes. The Internet is everywhere and always present. A new virtual layer added to our lives. Another dimension in our world. Offline and online have merged. The ubiquitous city internet will be everywhere and always available. The Matrix is here to stay.
But wait, there is more. The exponentially growing availability of data that will become available as a result of this technology will be applied in order to optimize our cities. The term Smart City is now just as broad as sustainablility or accessibility. It offers great opportunities to solve urban issues around energy, mobility and environmental issues. The technology will save us again: this time in the form of the city as an efficiency-machine with high processing power! Smart Cities such as Songdo in Korea and Masdar in Abu Dhabi are characterized by these technology driven devices, with sensors everywhere aiming at making peoples’ life easier. At least, that ‘s the idea.
The “Smart City” concept is currently being approached mainly top-down, from a systematic driven technological perspective. In human language: engineering, engineering, engineering. Smart City is the Functional City 2.0, Le Corbusier would have been proud! However, let us be aware: functionality cannot be created from a drawing board, as there’s always the human factor involved. And with that, we insert unpredictability in the equation.
Where planners and institutions provide efficiency improvements with big data, also the individual city user makes bounces and leaps. More information and technical possibilities means more development. That is the Big Data paradox: the mass becomes more massive and the individual becomes more individual (!!!!!!!!). The collective that seemed to be so predictable is more likely to be something of the ad-hoc controlled cloud of random individuals. At the macro level (the cloud) still remains a certain predictability, but in the micro level (the individual) is more unpredictable than ever before.
We can observe it in our daily actions. Analogue to the Internet – our virtual city – the physical city becomes more ‘social’ in the social media sense of the word. The possibilities seem endless and you will be in a position to determine more and more your own path: getting lost in that strange city, no longer exists. Design your own life finally has a deeper meaning than just be able to furnish your living room by yourself!
But it’s still a long way to go. In our opinion, the provisional existing parties, operating within existing structures that exploit technological opportunities will continue to dominate the smart city. This refers to ourselves, planners, governments, consulting firms, large organizations. They/We will be looking for faster, better, more. It leads to the smart city as a machine efficiency with higher processing power.
But wait: one more thing. The Functional City 2.0 is showing cracks: bicycle use explodes, highway offices are ignored, soulless suburbs are abandoned and shops left empty. The city wants to breathe, be flexible, it wants to simply…be alive!
To actually become a smart and sustainable city it requires more than polishing what is now present. It calls for freedom and (literally) space to develop. It means leaving room for personal interpretation, for flexible use of space and time, for inspiration and authenticity. It requires fewer regulation planning and more framework planning. Self-regulation from bottom-up, supplemented by cloud-steering from top-down. In this way, the city will become truly ‘resilient: it is more interactive, more flexible, more fun, more exciting, more attractive, more sustainable.
The smart city will be as the Internet is today: social mediated. The city is therefore becoming more and more devoted to its users. There will be a shift of stakeholders within the city planning. The users of the city taking matters into their own hands. The docile bourgeoisie transforms into a society that organizes itself. A community is easily made: generating energy, decorating the public space, organizing transport. It can and is happening already.
This post is written in collaboration with Ron Bos, urban planner and an internal researcher of urban trends. Twitter @ron_bos