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Thread: NY Times Article: Not-So-Smart Cities

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Plus
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    NY Times Article: Not-So-Smart Cities

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/op...ef=todayspaper

    The bias lurking behind every large-scale smart city is a belief that bottom-up complexity can be bottled and put to use for top-down ends — that a central agency, with the right computer program, could one day manage and even dictate the complex needs of an actual city.

    Instead, the same lesson that New Yorkers learned so painfully in the 1960s and ’70s still applies: that the smartest cities are the ones that embrace openness, randomness and serendipity — everything that makes a city great.
    Would you want to be involved in such project ? trust in big brother ?
    or
    do you like your own slightly messy unpredictable community ?
    Oddball
    Why don't you knock it off with them negative waves?
    Why don't you dig how beautiful it is out here?
    Why don't you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?
    From Kelly's Heroes (1970)


    Are you sure you're not hurt ?
    No. Just some parts wake up faster than others.
    Broke parts take a little longer, though.
    From Electric Horseman (1979)

  2. #2
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by JNA View post
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/op...ef=todayspaper

    The bias lurking behind every large-scale smart city is a belief that bottom-up complexity can be bottled and put to use for top-down ends — that a central agency, with the right computer program, could one day manage and even dictate the complex needs of an actual city.
    Would you want to be involved in such project ? trust in big brother ?
    or
    do you like your own slightly messy unpredictable community ?
    This is how WA state operates. I think its pretty good. YMMV.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    Have y'all considered the possibility that the real purpose of this test is to replace us? I mean, using robots to help you design cities for people might not make a whole lot of sense, but using robots to help design cities for robots sounds about right. This is how it starts. First, robot-only towns in NM. Next, Skynet.

  4. #4
    No where does it say how this is being financed. I think its a big PR project. Nothing more.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    I think Gotta Speakup has it right.

    Moreover, what the heck is the purpose of this? Robots? Really?

  6. #6
    Cyburbian RPfresh's avatar
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    In my opinion American cities are already somewhat homogenous because of suffocating state and national policies. How can a computer running things be anything but worse?

  7. #7
    Cyburbian kalimotxo's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by RPfresh View post
    In my opinion American cities are already somewhat homogenous because of suffocating state and national policies.
    That's a pretty sweeping generalization. Care to elaborate?
    Process and dismissal. Shelter and location. Everybody wants somewhere.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian RPfresh's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by kalimotxo View post
    That's a pretty sweeping generalization. Care to elaborate?
    What I meant, basically, is that American cities are already distinct from other countries' cities in ways that I find unnerving. I don't know about specific HUD policies, and many of you are more familiar with exactly how national policies affect urban governing across the board, but to me it is obvious when you're in an American metropolis just by checking out the urban form (if you somehow forgot). I assume, and maybe this is wrong, that they are different because of stuff like zoning laws, or sprawl-encouraging succession policies (like Piedmont took itself and its tax dollars out of Oakland, to use a Bay Area example - and this was only 1907). Oil companies that back the construction of roads with national policy and create car-centric cities, private developers run rampant with politicians for friends.

    Granted many other countries have other, often bigger, problems and tighter policy, and are worse places to live. And I'm not even saying that the USA is a bad place to live, but I see the cities as following patterns that are repeated over and over. And I think that with artificial intelligence planning things, things would be even more predictable and much worse.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Tobinn's avatar
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    Urban Planner or Urban Guider?

    I have suggested for some time that Urban Planners should more consider themselves Urban Guiders or Suggesters. The more detailed the Urban Plan the more you can count on the thing to fail. I'm not anti-planning just anti-over planning.

    The first part of the article makes sense - testing various technologies: smart power grids, cyber security and intelligent traffic and surveillance systems, yada, yada, yada.

    I'm not sure how you argue that these sorts of systems have to be anything but logical, un-messy. I mean they're meant to keep us illogical, messy humans in some sort of order.

    Going farther into the article, though, suggesting that programs can effectively create perfect planning scenarios.... HA!

    Humans are messy and disorganized. Cities are a product of us. How can they be anything but, at least a little, messy and disorganized. You want perfect, try Disney World. A nice place to visit but who would really (I mean really) want to live there? No surprises, no serendipity (what a great word!) - you're left with fake and sterile (Celebration, FL IMHO, of course. I've been there. Like the stereotypical super model: very pretty but not much there otherwise. Give me Hoboken, NJ any day of the week and twice on Sunday.)

    Let's talk about human error. How many great inventions and innovations are the result of messy human error (hello, superglue - http://www.supergluecorp.com/history.html).

    When Robert H. Brumley (from the NY Times article) says that “You can build randomness in.” I think he's full of hooey. Give me randomness in a slot machine (or at least let me believe it's random) but to think that you can build in true randomness into a City is folly. Cities may be messy and illogical but truly random? I don't think so. There's always a "method to the madness" You can probably get a computer to fake it but I'm pretty sure that at the end that's all you'll get - a pretty good fake.

    This is why we as Urban Planners often find our "best" plans winding up on a shelf gathering dust or ending up in the actual or electronic recycle bin; you can't plan away human nature. The best you can do is modify it a bit, smooth out the rougher edges - nothing more.
    At times like this, you have to ask yourself, "WWJDD?"
    (What Would Jimmy Durante Do?)

  10. #10
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cismontane View post
    First, robot-only towns in NM. Next, Skynet.
    Who told you about that?

    <target identified. commence corrective action> The drones are coming...

    Elsewhere, I like our sloppy community-based processes here. Yes, its messy. Yes, not everyone gets what they want. But I think in the end, people feel engaged and like they had a hand in what develops, even if its a very small personal impact. I also think it potentially makes for a happier and more civic minded citizenry if people are directly or even indirectly engaged in the planning process.

    Tobinn is absolutely right that our role is really more of a guiding force than an absolutist endeavor. But once you realize that, the planning process is a lot easier to swallow. There is no "correct answer" but there may be several good ways to proceed on any given project, area, etc.

    All that being said, I'm not sure this all should be an either/or decision. I can see how the smart grids, intelligent traffic and security can be part of a larger, community driven planing process for cities. Why not? There was a day when people probably never thought a computer could help them design a better building, either...

    Because in the end, I think one of the things people really value about the urban experience is the sense of the unexpected. That there are things to discover, that its unpredictable, and even that mistakes are made (and maybe those mistakes are reconceived as something that works really well). But most importantly that the city is a living, breathing entity that is always in flux. Time is our greatest adversary and every city is changing all the time - a process that is both frustrating and exhilirating. I would hate to see that inspirng sense of potential dwindle with some kind of computerized central planning authority.

    But I have said to much - they're coming to get me, too. ctr/alt/del ctr/alt/del ctr/alt/del!
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  11. #11
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Tobinn View post
    I have suggested for some time that Urban Planners should more consider themselves Urban Guiders or Suggesters. The more detailed the Urban Plan the more you can count on the thing to fail. I'm not anti-planning just anti-over planning.
    Word. I must say that makes me somewhat unpopular.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Tobinn's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ColoGI View post
    Word. I must say that makes me somewhat unpopular.
    Nah, I like you just fine

    Anyway, it's just my opinion - probably not even worth the two cents I charge.
    At times like this, you have to ask yourself, "WWJDD?"
    (What Would Jimmy Durante Do?)

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