Smart About Cities
This is a manual with graphic representations of ten data sets relevant to ‘smart urbanism’: demography, air, water, food, biota, mobility, cargo, building materials, waste and energy. Published in the Netherlands, also in English the book rests on Dutch data but put into a global context. An essay by Maarten Hajer discussing seven considerations for a new urban planning and design to be smart about cities completes the book.
Hajer refutes the customary dichotomy between a priori values, such as ‘big problems require integrated solutions’ and bottom up criticisms along the line of ‘small is beautiful’. He proposes to look at ‘smart cities as a form of discourse’ instead. Five hurdles of ‘smart city discourse’ have to be overcome to avoid building cities in the ‘default mode’: a managerial view of the city focusing on applying ICT tools based on big data, efficiency, systems approach, etc.; the use of discourse in the cross-over between business, government and knowledge institutes dominated by ICT business but resisted in academic debate; organisational structure based on public-private partnerships with business in charge of public service delivery; a primarily technological approach to innovation moving quickly from problem to solution while omitting local conditions; and lack of historical awareness including effects of protests and deliberation between citizens and decision makers. He discusses key historic eras relevant to urban change: industrialisation and the sanitary reform movements; mass produced cars and centralised fossil fuel based energy systems extending the functionalist city into ever growing suburbs; and the current era having to cope with the unintended environmental consequences of man-made disruption between nature and society.
Hajer proposes an agenda to cope with climate change. He illustrates seven pre-conditions with concrete examples to consider when contributing to globally networked urbanism: decoupling as strategic orientation; coming up with a persuasive story line about the urban future; the use of urban metabolisms as framework for strategic decision making; focusing on the default in infrastructure; designing the smart city outside the box; and engaging in new open collaborative politics. Only by decoupling wealth from resource use would it be possible to stay in a ‘safe operating space’ within planetary boundaries which would have to be socially just. He distinguishes between ‘need to have’ and ‘nice to have’ as the story line to achieve a liveable urban future embedded in ecological sustainability and regional bio-economics. He attributes weight to understanding the urban metabolism as a means for urban designers to become normative in envisioning futures that reflect the need for a sustainable, productive and inclusive urban world.