Is the concept of “smart city” losing its appeal?

It’s not hard to see the appeal of a kind of tech-driven utopianism factored into urban design. The idea that connecting more urban infrastructure to the internet – and making parts of the landscape more responsive to people interacting with it – could make the experience more livable is understandable. And with more and more everyday objects interconnected – the way you can use your phone to pay for a ride on public transport, for example – shows that this concept is moving from theory to practice.

But there are also privacy and security concerns related to the expansion of the Internet of Things. And just as different people will have different levels of comfort with certain aspects of technology, there could also be growing debate about applying some of these principles city-wide.

A recent article in MIT Technology Review explored how Toronto moved away from a smart city plan in collaboration with Google sidewalk labs. As Karrie Jacobs writes, the original plan, known as Quayside, “could have demonstrated that the sensor-laden smart city model adopted in China and the Persian Gulf has a place in more democratic societies.” Instead, the city opted for a very different and more organic approach.

Last year, another Sidewalk Labs project — this one in Portland, Oregon — also fell by the wayside. This is not the only stumbling block for the smart city. A massive item of Bloomberg Businessweek details the challenges of setting up and running Neom in Saudi Arabia.

Author Vivian Nereim describes the project as a particular favorite of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The goal, writes Nereim, involves “a centerpiece that will transform the Saudi economy and serve as a testbed for technologies that could revolutionize daily life” – including everything from smart devices to swimming lanes for commuters. .

It’s an intriguing prospect, but – as Nereim describes it – the process of making it a reality is proving difficult. “[T]Neom’s chaotic trajectory so far suggests that MBS’s urban dream may never come true,” writes Nereim.

While the idea of ​​building an entirely new city – or an entirely new neighborhood within an existing city – is challenging enough, there is also a lot of work to be done to make existing cities more accessible, rewarding and human-centered. . This weekend, the New York Times published an article on the current state of Sara D. Roosevelt Parklocated in the Lower East Side and Chinatown.

It could be a great urban space for nearby residents, and the problem described as a stumbling block for that purpose in the article – finding new storage space for Parks Department equipment – seems much easier. to accomplish than to completely transform the region around it. . Sometimes it’s the small changes that can have the biggest impact.

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