These days every city claims to be a “smart” city, or is becoming one, with heavy investments in modern information and computing technology to attract businesses and make the city competitive.
But when mayors and developers focus on technology rather than people, smart quickly becomes stupid, threatening to exacerbate inequality and undermine the social cooperation essential to successful cities. After researching leading cities around the world, we’ve concluded that truly smart cities will be those that deploy modern technology in building a new urban commons to support communal sharing.
In India, Dholera is one of 24 new smart cities planned in order to accommodate the country’s rapidly expanding population. The planned city has cleared most approvals, but is stalled with the coastal zone regulatory commission, probably because of the predicted engineering challenges and expenses of a site on salt flats with a high risk of flooding. Moreover, villagers and small-scale subsistence farmers, who inhabit the proposed site and fear eviction from their land and livelihoods, have been staging peaceful protests with support from a grassroots land rights movement.
In London too, smart-city thinking is socially dumb. Here the problem is epitomized by Tech City in the Shoreditch district. Intended as a hub for tech innovation, it has turned into an annex of the London financial complex, dominated by Google, Cisco, McKinsey, and Intel. The artists, designers, and startups that began the process of regeneration in Shoreditch have been displaced by “commercial gentrification.” Just up the road in Tottenham, the rebranding of warehouses as ‘artistic quarters’ has displaced low-rent communities in favor of bankers and financial speculation.