Cities Journal
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Who Will Rule Smart Cities?


Cities are growing. They have been growing for decades, centuries even; but these days, the influx of people into urban areas is simply staggering and, one might say, paradigm-shifting. Cities are changing more rapidly than ever before and the changes are increasingly starting to seem more like revolution than evolution.

One of the concepts being thrown around a lot (some might say too much) these days is the mythic “Smart City.” Various sources define the smart city differently, but, at its core, a smart city is one where the energy system, the communications grid and logistical network work together. This would ideally enable city governments to better use their assets and their services in order to improve the quality of life in such cities.

Unfortunately, there is a major problem with this concept of smart cities. Namely, who is in control? Who rules such a city?

Even today, when smart cities are still only in their zygote phase, many of us are worried about our private data and all of the information that various service providers have on us. This issue will grow exponentially as cities become more integrated and “smarter”. Democracy in cities will need an overhaul.

At the moment, there are two main directions in which smart cities might go in the future. The first one entails heavily centralized cities, closed and integrated systems that will need to be run by a single entity. This would give enormous power to the providers of these systems; power that would make them rich beyond the wildest dreams and that would also stifle any innovation which might take a single dime out of their pockets.

The other direction, one that is currently being mostly discussed in Spain (Madrid, to be more exact) imagines a more organic, almost “natural” solution. Namely, smart cities would be “ecosystems” of multiple networks that would not be controlled from above and that would be in healthy competition with each other. This would have smart cities trying to solve issues with technology instead of creating an environment you have to conform to.

One thing is for sure, city governments will need to seriously consider their options and decide only after the most comprehensive research they will ever do. We hope people in charge of U.S. cities understand this when the time comes.

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