Viewpoint: is the notion of the wise city genuinely just an additional way for massive companies to make even more cash, asks Reinier de Graaf, who revisits the subject against his very own better judgement.


I will not know what prompted me to speak at but yet another sensible city conference, but I did. Perhaps simply because it was organised at my outdated university, a location I still held in substantial regard for its seriousness and relative immunity to pervasive academic trends.

Anyway, here I was, on stage in front of a huge crowd of digital technologies professionals, corporate CEOs, academic luminaries and government officials, with a head set and a laser pointer as my only aides.

The introduction video, which had been recorded the week ahead of, set me up for problems. With bravado as calculated as it was almost certainly misplaced, I had confessed on camera that I had no genuine clue what the sensible city was in my view the principal impact of digital engineering on the developed setting was that there was none.

The smart city is this kind of a best topic exactly due to the fact it permits everyone to talk in the absence of knowledge

What specifically is the intelligent city? Despite attending numerous comparable conferences, I have never ever acquired a clear answer. For a extended time, I considered it was me, that I was the only ignorant man or woman in the room. But the a lot more conferences I visited, the more the possibility dawned on me that maybe I was not alone, that there had been other people like me that this is a subject of which no person has a clear notion. Maybe that is the complete point.

Probably the smart city is such a perfect subject exactly since it makes it possible for everybody to speak in the absence of knowledge – or rather, to show their very own certain knowledge without getting to go by means of the difficulties of checking the relevance. Possibly the wise city is the ultimate free of charge-for-all, a “jam session” of otherwise incompatible minds.

The intelligent city’s momentum has built tremendously in excess of the final decade, to the point that by now the value of candidness seems to have become unaffordable. Admitting ignorance of the smart city’s intricacies is not an option. There are merely as well a lot of folks who have also considerably to get rid of from exposing it as a prospective hoax – not least their face. This is a bubble that can not burst. We are not able to afford to deny the wise city’s numerous blessings, even in the absence of any real evidence.

Is the intelligent city a way of bending the guidelines, of beating and cheating the system?

The title of this distinct conference was Engineering Wise Cities of the Future. I made a decision to conduct a small experiment. The conference title contained one adjective and two nouns, city, sensible and future. I entered each phrase in a Google picture search, and this is what the results returned:

City. A collection of much more or less normal photographs of cityscapes and skylines emerges on the display. As an architect, it is effortless for me to relate to these images. I know most of the cities from knowledge in some our workplace has built buildings. For most part, the photographs appear equivalent. The result of modern engineering (skyscrapers clad in curtain walls) would seem universal. It is challenging to identify one particular city as more innovative or intelligent than the subsequent. These cities are either all sensible, or not at all.

Wise. The images that appear on screen are of automobiles. In truth, only one brand of wise auto – the Sensible. Corporate infiltration of the English language is apparently this kind of that it can declare a monopoly more than particular words inside of Google.


Connected story: “The intelligent city blinds us to the probability of political action”


Potential. Street signs emblazoned with the word “Potential” fill the screen, like a new screensaver created by somebody making an attempt to be humorous. Baudrillard once described highways as places of conformism: “a route that leads nowhere, but keeps one in touch with everyone. Any speculation about the future is pointless… The whole level is to hold considering about the long term, if only as an existential ritual… It is essential to suspend any definitive conclusions… we’re all going someplace, even if it does not matter exactly where.” Google appears to have understood.

Cars and street indicators. I felt disoriented and wondered, is the wise city about autos? Obviously the phenomenon was closely relevant to the computer, but the emphatic presence of the car was new to me. I continued my Google deep dive. On a whim, I typed in automobiles and personal computers. The internet site that popped up was www.vwdieselinfo.com: Volkswagen Diesel Info.

The rhetoric unwittingly invokes a two thousand year previous formula: that of the bible

What conclusion should be drawn from this somewhat unfortunate Google journey? Does the Volkswagen scandal, in the long run the final result of a blend of vehicles and personal computers, reveal the accurate nature of the smart city? Is it a way of bending the rules, of beating and cheating the method? How significantly ought to we consider the wise city as a credible way of dealing with, and intervening in, the ancient and complicated phenomenon of the city?

After considered the unique skills of architects and urban planners, the city is now a crowded area of innovators, digital entrepreneurs, software vendors, social engineers, actual estate moguls, urban consultants and tech giants. In giving companies like healthcare, power, public security and education, wise city initiatives declare the responsibilities formerly attributed to the public sector.


Connected story: “Cities that score well barely qualify as cities”


The combined promoting brochures of IBM, Siemens and Cisco (the biggest three of the smart city protagonists) go well past the competences of the standard urbanists. They offer you resolutions to climate change, dwindling sources, ageing populations, rising energy costs, economic turmoil, population growth and fast urbanisation.

In predicting the apocalypse only to offer you redemption, the rhetoric of the intelligent city unwittingly invokes a two,000-yr-old formula: that of the bible. And, as so frequently when the bible is invoked, the wise city reeks of hypocrisy, a desperate search for a very good lead to to ease a bad conscience.

It is the pursuit of enterprise that lies at the core of the sensible city. Nothing much more, absolutely nothing significantly less. Whilst eager to declare a big, rewarding portfolio of public tasks, the smart city refuses any public accountability. It is the perfect veil for an aggressive form of privatisation, one particular that reduces the real city to the cadavre exquis of corporate interests.

It is the perfect veil for an aggressive type of privatisation

Corporate representatives in the audience nod approvingly. The conference is about to end. Individuals make their way to the buffet and exchange enterprise cards. Soon after a day charged with important messages, conference participants look generally articles. A middle-aged man wearing a vibrant green tie introduces himself as an environmental and social urban engineer. He congratulates me on my performance: “We need far more of people!” The robustness of the sensible city has after once again been confirmed, ready to soak up a rich and various array of viewpoints – even ridicule.


Reinier de Graaf is a partner in the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) where he directs the operate of AMO, the investigation and design and style studio established as a counterpart to OMA’s architectural practice.


Connected story: “The wise city blinds us to the possibility of political action”

Reinier de Graaf opinion on smart cities and political action

Opinion: the limitless prosperity as soon as promised by urbanisation has failed to materialise, leaving quickly growing inequality in its wake. It will get far more than some clever technology to fix the difficulties with the world’s greatest cities, says Reinier de Graaf. Much more »

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