As we move forward into a new age of technology and society, the idea of smart cities are becoming more and more popular, but at what cost?
Be it Songdo or Masdar, countries around the world are scrambling to develop cities that fully integrate modern technology, infrastructure, and methods of transportation, but the issue with this is the overhauling of the existing cities. It is neither smart, nor a net good to abandon the cities that we have now, nor to tear down everything that we have already built to employ new master planned cities. Rather, the cities that we live in are in need of a face lift.
The greatest changes that are being made, or will be made, are in the small movements taken on by the individuals in a region. A prime example would be the initiative in Atlanta to create a human scale walking path, the BeltLine (1). This project goes further than creating a walking path, but will shape the city’s cultural fabric, connecting economically segregated neighborhoods through accessible public transit systems; it will build a new commercial hub.
Projects like this are incremental, not master planned. The power of a city comes not in its ability to plan itself, but to bend to the rising needs culturally.
In Spain, rampant pollution has destroyed their city. They are now integrating Super Blocks, developing a 3 by 3 grid of city blocks through which they are unable to allow through traffic by reducing the 10 Kilometers per hour. They are building a new subculture in the regions where people rule the city, not cars (2).
It may be agreed that by developing smart cities, they could have more efficient, better integrated logistics behind resource deployment, whether it is in the improvement of the efficiency of the electrical grid, public transit development, or in plumbing. But these systems are changing all around the country anyways.
A simple suggestion, as a method of decreasing dependence upon a centralized water system could exist in individual dehumidifiers, allowing people to live off the water found in the surrounding atmosphere. While such a design would not be effective in dry climates, it would work in the tropics, or any other humid environment, as this would decrease grid dependence.
But there is an even greater upside. Water is the worst of all greenhouse gasses, due to its high heat capacity. Furthermore, water acts as a positive feedback loop, because as the global climate warms, more water evaporates, further worsening climate change.
Despite the appeal of living in modern high rises, starting from scratch may not be the best option for humanity. We have existing cities, that with a little (or a lot) of care, can become more efficient, more natural, more human. It would be a waste to ignore the potential of what we already have.
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