The case for … making low-tech ‘dumb’ cities instead of ‘smart’ ones

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High-tech smart cities promise efficiency by monitoring everything from bins to bridges. But what if we ditched the data and embraced ancient technology instead?

Guardian Cities is concluding with ‘The case for …”, a series of opinion pieces exploring options for radical urban change. Read our editor’s farewell here

Ever since smartphones hooked us with their limitless possibilities and dopamine hits, mayors and city bureaucrats can’t get enough of the notion of smart-washing their cities. It makes them sound dynamic and attractive to business. What’s not to love about whizzkids streamlining your responsibilities for running services, optimising efficiency and keeping citizens safe into a bunch of fun apps?

There’s no concrete definition of a smart city, but high-tech versions promise to use cameras and sensors to monitor everyone and everything, from bins to bridges, and use the resulting data to help the city run smoothly. One high-profile proposal by Google’s sister company, Sidewalk Labs, to give 12 acres of Toronto a smart makeover is facing a massive backlash. In September, an independent report called the plans “frustratingly abstract”; in turn US tech investor Roger McNamee warned Google can’t be trusted with such data, calling the project “surveillance capitalism”.

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