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Cities Must Move Beyond ‘Smart’ Rhetoric

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Edward.H
Edward.H  
2/19/2013 10:47:28 AM
User Rank Village Voice
And 'Community' needs to be part of the mix
I agree with Jon's holistic take on sustainability. Going by my experience in urban regeneration in Scotland U.K. I'd apply that to city authorities (councils) and their notions of what constitutes 'community'. Such authorities often have an incomplete or even biased view of what is the community - or what are the communities - in their urban domain. That too often sets the scene for confrontation or alienation between communities and the city authority when it comes to the need to address true sustainability in regeneration, refurbishment or development - rather than the modes of partnership and co-production that are now essential elemetns to any truly sustainable city success. 

Resurgent phoenix
Resurgent phoenix  
10/23/2012 7:24:46 PM
User Rank City Slicker
Smart Cities One size does not fit all
Reading about a neighbor in Boston where the community organized with the government and non-profits to rebuild there neighborhood for themselves was encouraging and enlightening. They created the common area with a large park, stores, services-medical, etc...  Why displace people and build large box buildings to sell at a  premium price or move a large segment of low income renters in.  One should analyze the relationships of a community and build on its strengths.    Some inner cities have large areas of vacant land and I see people planting gardens large enough to sell food at farmers markets throughout the city.  It makes one happy to get fresh organically grow food from the neighborhood.  In the beginning of the 19th century when people moved from rural areas to work in factories and the populations of cities exploded with the great migration they did somethings that was great.  People became home owners with maybe a back yard, a porch.  Lets go back to knowing our neighbors and making use of the solidly built residences.  Why tear down and start a fresh suburb.  Why not reclaim and refurbish the structure in the "inner City"?

Jon Lovell
Jon Lovell  
10/22/2012 11:51:10 AM
User Rank Blogger
Re: Incentives?
No argument there, CitySolver. I completely agree, both with the philosophy of the approach and with the assertion that the sterilisation of cities is a growing and incredibly depressing problem. 

"Intelligence but not control; negotiation and variety, not regulation and monotony" is a nice way of putting it.

For what it's worth, I make a daily habit of getting a fix of the urban extraordinary by checking in with @StreetArtNews ! Take a look...

CitySolver
CitySolver  
10/16/2012 2:41:18 PM
User Rank Blogger
Re: Incentives?
I see your point. But dont you think that collaboration and positive engagement will solve the problems in the mid to long term and that we cannot afford to price out small scale developers with large tax burdens. If we want sustainable growth that is community oriented we need to 'invest' 'tax break' good development so that all stakeholders can take part in that process? Surely rewarding success is wiser than punishing failure, that just causes a cycle of underhand, back room deals and a negative environment for smart growth? 

CitySolver
CitySolver  
10/16/2012 2:35:27 PM
User Rank Blogger
Re: Incentives?
Yeah, I agree that we need original thought to solve the new issues we are facing. What I mean is that we can be as original as the 20th Century concepts were back then. I certainly dont want to see zoning as it was done 50 years ago but I also don't think that full scale planning is the answer either. There is a danger that as cities get smarter they become more boring, precisely because they work so well. What I was advocating in my comment was allowing individuals (ie developers, architects, landscape architects, transport planners etc) freedom within a set of felxible guiding principles. Many people say quite rightly that all large cities look the same now, and that is alot to do with overarching regulation and unimaginative planning and generic urban design. So what I would push for is intelligence but not control, negotiation and variety, not regulationa and monotony. I think there is a real danger that smart cities all become the same. We need to harness that location specific originality that is present and allow it to evolve whilst guiding it sustainably and intelligently. New ideas yes, but overarching regulation, uniformity, and city scale 'big ideas' no, they always fall down because cities are organic and unpredicatable and cannot be controlled but I do agree that we need new ideas of course.

Myciti
Myciti  
10/15/2012 11:45:42 PM
User Rank City Slicker
Smart Citi
Jon, smart citi - nice to hear but what can make a citi smarter. As of now there is no proper definition or explanation for the tag 'smart' and normally integrated townships are used to be called as smart citis. But now things are changing and peoples are giving more emphasis on self sustainability and green-ecco friendly living standards. So I think in future these things may get added with smart cities.

Jon Lovell
Jon Lovell  
10/15/2012 5:01:07 PM
User Rank Blogger
An attempt at a combined response!
Thanks for all fascinating views and the insightful questions. This may sound glib, but there's clearly no single or easy solution to the rich array of challenges facing cities around the world; even on an individual/local basis. So yes, CitySolver and Saul, incentives of one form or another (or, more realistically, of a variety of forms) certainly have a role to play, but they're only one small element of the total strategy needed. We also need to be careful that incentives don't drive short-term, quick opportunity responses which simply postpone or amplify the issues. Politically, a quick fix is often very tempting, but this serves to illustrate the need for bold and envisioned leadership. Many of the historic approaches to incentivised economic development zones have lead to superficial development activity which does little to add to long-term resilience or sustained vibrancy.

From a technology point of view, I don't subscribe to the view, Peter, that the Internet reduces the need (or demand) for Cities. It poses a different set of dynamic challenges, certainly, but also a massive array of opportunities to drive greater social and economic vibrancy. But Rich is right, I think. The important point is to make sure that the underlying urban fabric supports productivity, vibrancy, and liveability whilst allowing for technological systems to be embedded, adapted and replaced over time. We're already in a world though, where the need for physical systems connectivity is reducing because of the range of wireless technologies available. I guess on one level, that's what I meant about technology being a means to an end; it does nothing to temper the need for great places and strong, positive institutions.

Michael, perhaps looking at more specific examples should be the subject of a future blog. In fact, I was part of a Europe-US-Asia call today shaping plans for a major sustainable cities initiative which is very much case-study led. Keep a look-out for news on that. In the meantime, there are a number of 'indices' of smart and sustainable cities although these will, admittedly, always be limited in their reflection of reality. But tell me - where inspires you? Or on the contrary, is there somewhere that makes you bury your head in your hands?

The broader question on assembling multi-disciplinary teams is a great one. The starting point, without question, has to be joined-up governmental agencies working in partnership with a collaborative business community, excellent academic insititutions and engaged social networks (the 'quadruple-helix' of public-provate-academic-community). Only then do you have the chance of shaping a collective and unified vision which can underpin the procurement of the delivery-focused services and solutions. And to pick up on Simon's point, a meaningful vision should be largely unswerving, but the plans which support it constantly flexible and anticipatory.

wbalthrop
wbalthrop  
10/15/2012 3:13:46 PM
User Rank Urban Legend
Re: Incentives?
@Peter,

I agree wiith you that the Internet will bring far reaching changes to the nature of our socio-economic institutions. When combined with local manufacturing using 3D printers, and automation to produce everything else, we are seeing not only a shift elimination of the retail store, but a shift in manufacturing, distribution and jobs dissapearing in all sectors.

Changes are starting to come so fast, that they will have a compounding effect on many institutions. Many if not most will fall by the way side as we need to discover new systems and institutions that are compatible with the coming paradgm shift. We hane a chance to rethink everything here, from the ground up. Just tweaking one system will not reach its full potential and will not fit wiithin the systems other institutions that require change. Rebuilding from the ground up provides an opportunity to invent whole new systems that couldn't gain momentum in an evolutionary environment.

The changes coming are similar to those we experienced when the Industrial Revolution began around 1750. The current socio-economic system of Fuedalism/Merchantilism was ill equiped to deal with the concept of wage labor, mass production, and complex markets. The theory of Capitalism was born out of necessity.

We are now undergoing shifts on the same scale, and the current model of Capitalism can not account for rapid resource depletion, and environmental degradation. In addition Capitalism is not compatible with a true material abundance, because scarcity is required to maitain price support.

We don't need a return to any of the failed experiments tried in the 20th century, we need some real thinkers to come up with an alernative plan, that we can then build a city around.

Michael Steinhart
Michael Steinhart  
10/15/2012 3:12:46 PM
User Rank City Slicker
More examples
This is a great piece, Jon, but I wonder whether you can drill down into more specific examples of cities that are "doing it right" and cities that are "doing it wrong." Also, how does one assemble the multidisciplinary team needed to bring all these multifarious purposes and development segments together?

Michael Steinhart
Michael Steinhart  
10/15/2012 3:10:02 PM
User Rank City Slicker
Re: Incentives?
Peter, do you think that's a relatively myopic, North American/European view of the urbanization trend? Aren't many of the 'urban explosion' areas located in Asia?

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