Are we good enough at thinking smart city implications?
The emergence of new technological applications is changing most areas of daily life in the cities, in ways a few years ago we could hardly guess. Consider waste collection, transportation and mobility, generation, distribution and consumption of energy, urban design and street furniture, public information, etc. In all these cases mediating digital tools are completely reframing not only the way traditional urban services work, but also the urban morphology itself, the experience of using these services and our expectations of what we can encounter. Similarly, consumption patterns, access to culture, how we move, how we seek directions or find our destination in the city or the way we remember, socialize or look for convenient information are mediated by the digital sphere in its different ways.
Life in cities is gradually determined by smart digital technologies, in the same way throughout urban history evolution of urban environments has been associated with its successive instrumentations, from the appearance of the first sewer systems to the electric lighting of public roads. Today this instrumentation is acquiring new features associated with connectivity and digital features that make corporeal reality the visions of hybridization of physical and digital spaces ventured in the past decades. Everyday life is progressively defined by our interaction with objects, platforms and connected devices, sometimes in an adverted way (the digital trace we leave in the public system of bicycle rental, our image captured by a video camera surveillance system, for example) and sometimes more consciously (looking for a place through our GPS navigation system, connecting to a wireless network in a square, paying parking, tickets etc.).
“Those who can not perceive the network can not act effectively within it and are powerless,” said the artist James Briddle, indicating one of the most significant features of this digital reality and the enormous challenge that implies in terms citizens rights and freedom. From thermostats on our walls to sensors in the asphalt beneath our feet, daily life is colonized by devices that organize or mediate our decisions or surreptitiously take decisions in our behalf and, in many cases, regardless of our will or consciousness. From facial recognition cameras in the corners of our streets to lampposts detecting human presence on sidewalks, different devices, actuators and interfaces automatically control a growing number of functions of urban landscapes. Despite this basic finding, we lack a critical addressing of the meaning of this digital urban skin and a calm and complex understanding of the meaning of this technological change in city life and public policies, a profound and quiet change dissolved in our private lives, in our relationships, in our expectations and our built environments.