A Smart City is a place where the networks and traditional services are made more efficient with the use of digital and telecommunication technologies, which its residents and activities benefit from.
But all this how will it change the face of our cities?
Cover by Stanza , Body 01000010011011110110010001111001, 2018.
That of smart cities is a path that we have already undertaken: it is not a question of our future, but of the present that we are already living.
Self-driving electric vehicles, smart and traffic-sensitive sidewalks, functional and sustainable public transport, high speed (5G) connection, transparent system of governance that promotes interaction and inclusion of its inhabitants and so on, these are all realities.
Gradually, and in a less perceptible way than the one provided by the collective immagination, our cities are becoming “smart”. It is a change that involves all types of cities, both large and small, that are shifted towars an urban model, in which the physical and digital world are hardly distint and indistinguishable.
The concept of “Intelligent City” is potentially one of the most important wide-ranging thematic changes in recent decades, and is an important and not obvious transition. For the first time, thanks to the Internet and its evolution towards the internet of things, we dont design only the physical environment of our cities, starting from a possible idea of the preventive use of its parts, but we design a digital and physical space and its use become part of a single design flow that emcompasses them all.
With the Smart City we will not only design the places we will live, but also the way we will live them. Our cities will become enormous data containers, that not only transfers information about the environment around us, but they will shape in response to the external inputs that this environment will receive.
It is from this last point that the main questions I have about the Smart City arise. Going beyond the most discussed issue, namely that of the management of the huge number of data that would travel through intelligent cities, I believe that the major questions mainly concern three aspects and the related consequences of this “cognitive development” of the cities:
ACCESSIBILITY AND EXLUSION
How will smart cities affect the social, political and economic sphere of our society?
Will we be able, as this is one of the objectives of this digital revolution, to smooth out the social differences of our time? Or will the advent of the IoT and the AI, in their elimination and creation of new professional figures, create countries and social strata of first and second class? How will smart cities affect the social, political and economic sphere of our society? Proposing as a system to create a citizenship based on participation and a system that makes more inclusive the communities of which we belong, but which are already more balanced and egalitarian than others, What effect will this digital revolution have on communities other than Western ones?
IOT AND BUILT ENVIRONMENT
The second question, of a more architectural nature, is the relationship which the IoT will have with the pre-constituted and how these two factors will dialogue and interact with each other. All the technological innovations introduced to date in the world of architecture and urban environment had a physicality of their own, a mass and a volume to consider in a project, but with smart Cities technology the physicality of things will diminish exponentially, decreasing ideally and physically even the “canonical” space of the environment that we live daily. Which appearance will the airports of the future have, when the baggage claim area, check-in counters, administrative offices (of course these may not disappear completely) and the airport controls will be replaced by faster processes thanks to the interconnection of the devices around us and the help of a couple of fingerprints?
If the function will start to need less and less space, how will this influence the shape?
It will be interesting, from this point of view, to understand how domotics will contribute to the secular debate about the relationship between form and function; Moreover, the technological revolutions until now have always produced manufactures that in some way could also be exploited as an architectural element and to which a formal value could also be attributed: from the pillars, passing through the stained glass windows, to the plant system, all new structures in various historical periods have always had a value beyond the purely technical one.
But if the new becomes imperceptible and hidden to the point of becoming just an electromagnetic pulse or computer code, what kind of construction will our time produce? Will it be the absence and the architectural void, the archetype of our time?
Or will we give new form and reinterpret in a completely new way what has already been used and metabolized for a long time? I believe that the most important aspect of this digital revolution is that for the first time architecture, like so many other areas of knowledge, has begun to express itself and to exist not only through physical space, but to move beyond the spatial limitations of wood, glass and reinforced concrete: an architecture suspended between the material and the immaterial is emerging.
THE SMART CITY
The last topic I want to propose arises from a reflection in the report entitled “My thoughts on the Smart City”, which Rem Koolhaas produced for the European Commission. In the “Digital minds for a new Europe” research, the European Commission asked various experts to contribute with thoughts, predictions and concerns about what Europe would become following this digital evolutionary path.
Among the criticisms addressed to the smart cities, Koolhaas identifies some of them not only architectural, but also socioeconomic. Among the various points on which he focuses, Koolhaas reflects on how the concept of Smart City are the outcome of some contemporary fears and problems, such as climate change, energy, aging population and infrastructure, and how, prompted by clever slogans, it has been swallowed up by economic interests:
«The citizens that the smart cities claim to serve are treated like infants» and continues «We are fed cute icons of urban life, integrated with harmless devices, cohering into pleasant diagrams in which citizens and business are surrounded by more and more circles of service that create bubbles of control.»
Is it possible that intelligent cities will not only lead to an improvement in the condition of urban efficiency?
In the event that everything becomes pre-designed, and if cities will actually become a system dictated by statistics of various kinds, even if it will be the behavior of the inhabitants to “model” the smart cities, they will change however following a single path: the principle of maximum efficiency.
Koolhaas concludes: «Rather than discarding urban intelligence accumulated over centuries, we must explore how to what is today considered “smart”, taking into account previous eras of knowledge.»
In all this, where is the possibility of transgression?
That of the Smart Cities is a path that we have already undertaken and from which it is no longer possible to go back. But it is still a path that we are still on, and it is only by reaching the end of that path that we can actually see, or not “see”, with our own eyes the society and the architectural space that will be shaped.
Translated into English by Berk Ozturk.
– Rem Koolhaas, My thoughts on the Smart City, Digital minds for a new europe, European Commission, last modified 3/11/2014, date of consultation 5/9/2019.
– Rem Koolhaas Asks: Are Smart Cities Condemned to Be Stupid?, www.archdaily.com, last modified 10/12/2014, date of consultation 12/9/2019.
– EU regional and urban development, What are smart cities?, ec.europa.eu, date of consultation 12/9/2019.
– Sarah Wray, Smart cities: Mind the gap, www.smartcitiesworld.net, last modified 6/6/2018, date of consultation 8/9/2019.
– European smart cities ranking, www.smart-cities.eu, date of consultation 14/9/2019.