THOUGHTS | Aspley meets Smart City

Posted on 04/09/2011

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In the space of a day I seem to have traced a path of dis/connected thoughts from my locality of Aspley (first to have broadband in Brisbane) to the development of Chermside Activity Centre to issues of hierarchies, networks and diffusion in urban planning … I think I’m starting to ‘get it’, if not all of ‘it’ then at least part of ‘it’. As the discussion about the ‘internet of things’ and informatics grows (with it’s relationship to augmented reality, intelligent cities, opendata, databanking and many more ideas and concepts), my understanding of the implications for cities grows. It’s not that I didn’t understand these concepts because I had, afterall, been working in and around various contemporary and interdisciplinary media contexts for quite a while. Even so, I still have to work on understanding and naturalising the language, because I am not so enamoured with expressions like ‘ubicomp’ and ‘internet of things’; informatics also leaves me cold. Expressions like that seem overly technologised and technocratic. There is a raft of articles online with titles like ‘Internet of Things meets Smart City’, which consider the implications of the internet of things at the city scale including all those systems that make a city run. The internet used to be called a network of networks and, similarly, the city sometimes referred to as a system of systems. When they meet, as the clever folk in research centres all over the world tell us, a new kind of city experience is possible.

From a city-making perspective, the implications of the idea/ideal of the ‘smart city’ for the everyday nuts and bolts of planning have never been apparent to me. Perhaps that’s a governance question that requires some attention put to the decision making processes (both private and public) that shape cities. It seems to have taken government rather a long time to deal with some fundamentals of urban design, so adding these ‘sentient city’ type considerations, where the city talks back, seems like a challenge. Remember, ‘planner says no’. How open does government really want to be? How accountable do professionals really want to be? Part of the privilege of government and, particularly, professional identity is to seize a certain amount of authority from an unsuspecting public. Corporations also have to face their own challenges of transparency and responsibility. And communities? Perhaps new potentials for engagement, politics and citizenship. These new technologies mean a change to the very fabric of cities. If we learn anything from the oil and car domination of the last century, then perhaps we also need to accept that tempering is also in order. Perhaps all those parties responsible for urban development – as it should happen – will embrace the powerful connectivity, public good and new economies of places, things and people, starting with the soon to be NBN connected locality of Aspley (and its nearby centre Chermside) in suburban Brisbane.

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