I’ve been seeing a lot of rumblings around Smart Cities, or “15-Minute Cities”. I read the below Wikipedia definition of a “Smart City” and immediately hearkened to any number of dystopian movies like “1984” or “Brazil” for the more seasoned among us, or “The Giver”, “Eagle Eye”, or “Minority Report” for the more contemporary folks. Nothing that conjures feelings of comfort, safety, or peace, that’s for sure.
A smart city is a technologically modern urban area that uses different types of electronic methods and sensors to collect specific data. Information gained from that data is used to manage assets, resources and services efficiently; in return, that data is used to improve operations across the city. This includes data collected from citizens, devices, buildings and assets that is processed and analyzed to monitor and manage traffic and transportation systems, power plants, utilities, water supply networks, waste, criminal investigations, information systems, schools, libraries, hospitals, and other community services. Smart cities are defined as smart both in the ways in which their governments harness technology as well as in how they monitor, analyze, plan, and govern the city. In smart cities the sharing of data in not limited to the city itself but also includes businesses, citizens and other third parties that can benefit from various uses of that data. Sharing data from different systems and sectors creates opportunities for increased understanding and economic benefits.
EESH! It’s funny because when you just drop “Smart City” in your search, you can find that very thing. It’s become acceptable to use the word “smart”, rather than what it actually started as which is an acronym: S.M.A.R.T. (I’m not talking about the corporate goal structure.)
The word “smart” speaks to a sort of general intelligence and maybe even multi-functional capability. When you say someone is “smart” you’re saying they are savvy, resourceful, and knowledgeable. Seems like a damn good quality to have, right?
When inanimate objects take on “smart” features, that goes form convenient to authoritarian super quick. Here’s what S.M.A.R.T. stands for: Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology.
That’s what your electronic devices are doing, which is a strong case for a VPN and block chain technology. The nature of S.M.A.R.T. is what brought about all the privacy laws like GDPR, as it can get very invasive. S.M.A.R.T. is what enabled the NSA in Edward Snowden’s revelations.
It should come as no shock that the European Commission has a page and initiative behind this. Not a whole lot there, other than a list of virtuous ambitions. Privacy and autonomy is a small price to pay for massive control and the promise of “safety”, right?
The thing about “Smart Cities” is it’s the antithesis of off-grid. It is an integration of the grid, moving away from the analogue and decentralized to a very centrally controlled life.
Of course the way in which this is presented is incredibly egalitarian and utilitarian. I mean, everything has the potential to be that if the people behind it aren’t total megalomaniacs.
This is likely the same ambition as 15-Minute Cities:
Everyone living in a city should have access to essential urban services within a 15 minute walk or bike. The 15-Minute City Project is designed to help access-focused urban transformations be what we need them to be: ambitious, inclusive, measurable and effectively implemented.
If you look at this through the lens of CBDC (central bank digital currencies), you can easily grant them the convenience of it. But the convenience doesn’t negate the clear path to ruination either.
One of the arguments in defense of “Smart” or “15-minute” cities is the prioritization of Access over Mobility. That is to say, proximity is paramount.
Access and proximity, along with safety, must be the concepts we build our cities around. If our planning focuses on REDUCING the need to travel, we may be able to avoid constantly ADDING costly transport infrastructure in a losing battle against traffic congestion and overcrowded buses.
Designing this sort of infrastructure is a curious endeavor for a couple reasons.
First, if there was sufficient demand, wouldn’t there already be services proximate in these areas? If not, is there sufficient demand but obstructive regulations at play? Why can’t demand be met by supply organically?
That is suspicious to say the least. I don’t have an answer to that, which is what makes it unnerving. Think of all the examples where government forces a business to provide a service when it otherwise would never do so. Insurance companies compelled to cover those with preexisting conditions. Banks compelled to extend lines of credit to those who would never qualify for a loan. In both examples, nothing good came from it.
Skyrocketing insurance premiums and debilitating student loan debt in the trillions, hardly sounds like “helping” the disadvantaged. Yet we aren’t reversing these broken policies.
The second issue is the general discouragement of off-grid life. Everyone has their preferences. I’m not “anti-city”. Riga is a great city and nearly everything is in walking distance from where I live. Clearly there’s nothing wrong with that. And there are plenty of cities like this. But like any other metropolitan area, it’s more expensive than living in the countryside.
Plenty of people love the rural areas. They want to live on large plots of land. They might want to be off-grid. But why try and draw people into these central planning utopias? Reduce travel? To what end? If people wanted to reduce travel cities are already available.
Ease is fine. Convenience is fine. But I do see problems with future generations not understanding the analogue iterations of these things. There are kids who will never know what a landline is or how to use a mailbox. There are generations who already have been excused from learning the logic and math behind programs that were once done manually.
Images of the movie Wall-E come to mind. Here’s this nice self-sustaining city with a bunch of fat idiots floating around doing nothing because machines do it all. They are safe, they have an easy life, but they are utterly useless and lacking in any self-sufficiency.
Contrived central planning is something worth being skeptical about. It’s part of the larger Green Agenda or “sustainability” aspect of Agenda 21. Agenda 21 has been around since the 90’s. Thirty years later and people are selling through Smart Cities and 15-Minute Cities. If we aren’t at least asking who stands to gain from such a model, you might as well get chipped and wait for them to come for you.
The part I have trouble letting go of is the work, struggle, and travel. People need to work through their struggles because it has us collaborating and cooperating with one another. That collaboration and cooperation keeps us connected to our humanity.
If you look at how the welfare state has broken up the sense of community and destroyed, or at least distorted, our understanding of charity, it’s fair to ascribe some of the deterioration of society to this. When we stop being interdependent on one another, and codependent on the state, we can be easily manipulated. Your livelihood depends now on this network.
If there is something like a “social credit score” anywhere in the horizon, CBDC and Smart Cities will destroy more than it will help. There will be a cleansing of the wrong thinkers, dissenters, misinformationists, and the appeal process will indeed suck if in fact it exists at all.