The Smart Enough City: Putting Technology in Its Place to Reclaim Our Urban Future (Strong Ideas)

October 28, 2019 - Comment

Why technology is not an end in itself, and how cities can be “smart enough,” using technology to promote democracy and equity.Smart cities, where technology is used to solve every problem, are hailed as futuristic urban utopias. We are promised that apps, algorithms, and artificial intelligence will relieve congestion, restore democracy, prevent crime, and improve

Why technology is not an end in itself, and how cities can be “smart enough,” using technology to promote democracy and equity.

Smart cities, where technology is used to solve every problem, are hailed as futuristic urban utopias. We are promised that apps, algorithms, and artificial intelligence will relieve congestion, restore democracy, prevent crime, and improve public services. In The Smart Enough City, Ben Green warns against seeing the city only through the lens of technology; taking an exclusively technical view of urban life will lead to cities that appear smart but under the surface are rife with injustice and inequality. He proposes instead that cities strive to be “smart enough”: to embrace technology as a powerful tool when used in conjunction with other forms of social change―but not to value technology as an end in itself.

In a technology-centric smart city, self-driving cars have the run of downtown and force out pedestrians, civic engagement is limited to requesting services through an app, police use algorithms to justify and perpetuate racist practices, and governments and private companies surveil public space to control behavior. Green describes smart city efforts gone wrong but also smart enough alternatives, attainable with the help of technology but not reducible to technology: a livable city, a democratic city, a just city, a responsible city, and an innovative city. By recognizing the complexity of urban life rather than merely seeing the city as something to optimize, these Smart Enough Cities successfully incorporate technology into a holistic vision of justice and equity.

Comments

Anonymous says:

Excellent read, leads to great discussions! Extremely thoughtful take on the role of technology in cities, with an excellent balance of technical and political perspective. Easy to read and remarkably well written.As someone with no experience working with cities to implement tech-driven solutions, I appreciated that the book provides concrete examples and explanations, while maintaining the rigor and depth needed to spark fascinating conversations.The book has key lessons to be carried over into other fields…

Anonymous says:

excellent!! a very welcome, super clearly written antidote to the shallow thinking out there about how technology will fix cities. not only a good critique but also a constructive vision of what we should do instead!

Anonymous says:

A Smart Book about Smart Enough Cities At this juncture in human history, few issues should concern us more than our relationship to digital technologies. They are shaping our brains, influencing our values, and changing the nature of human discourse—not always in good ways. When we determine our relationship to any new technology, there is a middle ground between the doe-eyed technophile and the intransigent Luddite. Only fools dwell on the extremes of this continuum; wisdom lies somewhere in between. When developing and managing…

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