Sketch of real-time utilisation indicator on fictional Federation Square bike garage, produced for our work on Melbourne smart city strategy in 2009

On the smart city

Or, a ‘manifesto’ for smart citizens instead

Dan Hill
44 min readFeb 1, 2013


Ed. Originally published at on 1st February 2013, based on a couple of essays written, and talks given, during the closing months of 2012.

The smart city. I have “previous” here, over about a decade of writing about the interplay between cities and technology. And particularly, having written about The Street As Platform, and the Personal Well-Tempered Environment, and The Adaptive City, and about New Songdo City, and “new smokestacks”, and how it’s easier to crowd-source a revolution than a light-rail system, and so on. And then worked on many projects, from Barangaroo to Brickstarter, Masdar to Melbourne.

During this time, what we might call a Urban Intelligence Industrial Complex (led by IBM, Cisco, General Electric, Siemens, Philips et al) has emerged and continues to try to insert itself into urban agendas; with little success, in comparison to the marketing spend, it must be said.

But it’s clearly not an idea that’s going to go away (for reasons both good and bad.) I was be asked by both the London School of Economics and Volume magazine, separately, to write about the smart city (both were related to different speaking engagements.)

The piece for the LSE was a contribution to their Electric City conference newspaper (thanks Philipp Rode and Ricky Burdett). I spoke there about the Brickstarter project we started in Helsinki alongside many great contributions from the likes of Richard Sennett, Anthony Giddens, Saskia Sassen, Adam Greenfield, Greg Lindsay, Michael Kimmelman, Alejandro Zaero-Polo, Erik Spiekermann, Richard Rogers and others, all of whom lined up to critique the smart city idea, essentially. My talk was a little too hurried, I’m afraid, and I felt I failed to connect — which partly spurred me to present the following piece here.

While the LSE piece was written before Electric City, the Volume article was partly reflecting on an event in Rotterdam organised by the fascinating International New Towns Institute (only in the Netherlands, eh?), where I moderated a panel on New Songdo City. Their latest issue presents four case studies of new towns which can be seen as “smart cities” to some extent (Living PlanIT’s PlanIT Valley, near Oporto in Portugal; Lavasa in…



Dan Hill
But what was the question?

Designer, urbanist, etc. Director of Melbourne School of Design. Previously, Swedish gov, Arup, UCL IIPP, Fabrica, Helsinki Design Lab, BBC etc