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Alexandros Washburn

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Are Smart Cities Doomed to Promote Inequality?

09:30 - 27 September, 2017
Are Smart Cities Doomed to Promote Inequality?, As the former Chief Urban Designer of New York City, Alexandros Washburn had to carefully consider whether technological developments were right for the city's residents. Image © <a href='https://www.pexels.com/photo/bridge-brooklyn-bridge-buildings-city-534757/'>Pexels user Kai Pilger</a> licensed under CC0
As the former Chief Urban Designer of New York City, Alexandros Washburn had to carefully consider whether technological developments were right for the city's residents. Image © Pexels user Kai Pilger licensed under CC0

This article was originally published by Common Edge as "Can the Wired City Also Be the Equitable One?"

A city is smart when it makes better decisions, and there are only two types of decision: strategic and tactical. Strategic decisions determine the right thing to do. Tactical decisions choose the right way to do it. SMART technology is not smart technology if it causes us as citizens to confuse strategy with tactics. In other words, there are many decisions about the operation of a city that we may delegate happily to technology. But there are questions of governance, of determining our fate, of deciding what is the right thing to do as populace, that if we delegate—we abdicate. “To govern is to choose,” John F. Kennedy once said.

If I were to have believed the many consultants and emissaries of large technology companies that came to see me when I was the Chief Urban Designer of New York City, the SMART city they promised me was a place where the traffic lights always turned green and the elevator doors always awaited our arrival. They promised a city that would anticipate our needs at every turn, given tantalizing form in the recent present of our connected personal devices and the apps that seem to know us better than we know ourselves. Now, with the advent of the internet of things on the near horizon, we are set to make SMART cities a reality. Imagine the awesome power of an entire city synchronized to our taste and movement!