Thrilled by the promises of the big data corporations in Silicon America and the success of Alibaba, China’s e-shopping giant, Chinese cities are eager to become smart. Listening to advice from clever international and local business consultants they accept, or rather welcome, the Trojan horse of intelligent technologies waiting outside city walls to make their cities smart, digital or intelligent.
The smart urban paradigm issold with much creative marketing jargon. It is a perfect plug-in concept to sell products and services, which promise to make life in the mega-cities easier. Citizens are under extreme daily time pressure; they are struggling to survive in China's huge, congested, polluted cities. The global IT companies promise that the smart technologies will make their driving easier, the air cleaner energy bills cheaper and urban entertainment more enjoyable.
Already, when using the metro in the morning China's commuters, like those in London or New York, start organizing and killing their time by the ubiquitous use of I-phones. The self-centred use of the information and communication gadget enables them to forget about the hassle of life and work in mostly inhuman life spaces created for them by mayors and developers, helped by of architects, urban designers and road engineers, who claim to plan the sustainable and smart eco-city.
China is helped by the European Commission to promote the Smart City concept. A “Comparative Study of Smart Cities in Europe and China” provides an overview of smart city developments and challenges in the EU and China, with the aim of identifying current trends and providing participating smart cities with suggestions for next steps. The “Comparative Study” forms the basis for a White Paper. This paper aims to support smart city decision makers in the EU and China on future actions to advance their smart city efforts.
From my students exploring the brighter and darker sides of smart technologies in the School of Architecture at one of the 80 institutes of higher education in Nanjing I have learnt that they unconsciously or willingly sacrifice their privacy to the vested business interest of global corporations and intelligence bodies, and do not really bother being used to live under strong government control. The convenience of being able to access information on whatsoever, at any time and at any place, seems to be more valuable than privacy.
I am afraid that the future planners will have to accept that the global community of smart software developers, systems engineers and communication wizards, will soon take over their jobs - a change eagerly promoted by the institutions of the European Union.
I just happened to read in a book written by Anthony M.Townsend “Smart Cities” that “IBM boasted a track record of two thousand smart city engagements in 2011, but hired just a single urban planner in that year…..”.