A leading guru on technology and urban life describes how electronic devices are creating a “historic shift” in the way we build and run cities.
Townsend—research director at the Institute for the Future, in Palo Alto, and a senior research fellow at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy—presents a cohesive view of developments that most urbanities have noticed only in bits and pieces: sensors that monitor traffic speeds, self-flushing toilets, and technologies that optimize heating and cooling systems in buildings, balance the flow of electricity through power grids and keep transportation networks moving. Since 2008, numerous metropolitan areas have experienced a “smart-cities gold rush,” fueled by advances in information technology, mayors seeking answers to urban problems, and corporations like IBM and Cisco eager to provide the infrastructure for “efficient, safe, convenient living.” In the next decade, more than $100 billion will be spent globally on smart infrastructure. His examples of smart-city building range from Zaragoza, Spain, which has used smart technology to completely reinvent its landscape, economy and government, to San Francisco and other large American cities, which have adapted technologies to meet local needs. Townsend especially focuses on the clash between industry’s cookie-cutter approach to smart-city building and the quirky local approach of civic hackers pushing decentralized and democratic alternatives. The author, who has been personally involved in creating free public Wi-Fi, sympathizes with young people, who have been weaned on the mobile Web and social media and are experimenting with human-centered designs based on grass-roots smart-city technologies—e.g., mobile apps, community wireless networks and open-source microcontrollers. Townsend covers topics from mass urban surveillance to how the poor can benefit from smart technologies, and he offers his own principles for creating human-centered smart cities.
Authoritative, information-packed must-read for urban policymakers.