Lois’ Notes: Do we really need surveillance and tech-heavy cities? We know that there are risks inherent in all those discordant electromagnetic frequencies. Why keep going in that direction? Why not look to the past to learn what actually worked well?
THE CASE FOR MAKING LOW-TECH “DUMB” CITIES – INSTEAD OF “SMART” ONES
Ever since smartphones hooked us with their limitless possibilities and dopamine hits, mayors and city bureaucrats can’t get enough of the notion of smart-washing their cities. It makes them sound dynamic and attractive to business. What’s not to love about whizzkids streamlining your responsibilities for running services, optimising efficiency and keeping citizens safe into a bunch of fun apps?
There’s no concrete definition of a smart city, but high-tech versions promise to use cameras and sensors to monitor everyone and everything, from bins to bridges, and use the resulting data to help the city run smoothly. One high-profile proposal by Google’s sister company, Sidewalk Labs, to give 12 acres of Toronto a smart makeover is facing a massive backlash. In September 2019, an independent report called the plans “frustratingly abstract”; in turn US tech investor Roger McNamee warned Google can’t be trusted with such data, calling the project “surveillance capitalism”.
There are practical considerations, too, as Shoshanna Saxe of the University of Toronto has highlighted. Smart cities, she wrote in the New York Times in 2019, “will be exceedingly complex to manage, with all sorts of unpredictable vulnerabilities”. Tech products age fast: what happens when the sensors fail? And can cities afford expensive new teams of tech staff, as well as keeping the ground workers they’ll still need? “If smart data identifies a road that needs paving,” she writes, “it still needs people to show up with asphalt and a steamroller.”
Saxe pithily calls for redirecting some of our energy toward building “excellent dumb cities.” She’s not anti-technology, it’s just that she thinks READ MORE