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Smart cities should be open-source, says Saskia Sassen

The urbanization of intelligent technologies


PlanIT Valley, Portugal

McKinsey & Company recently published an article by Saskia Sassen, in which she writes about the current hype around smart cities. She reminds planners and scientists what it is all about: “It is the need to design a system that puts all that technology truly at the service of the inhabitants—and not the other way around.”

Rather than constructing completely new hyperintelligent cities like Masdar and Songdo, Sassen urges cities to take up initiatives like the Amsterdam Innovation Monitor (Amsterdam Smart City). She also praises the innovativity of the Delft University of Technology regarding urban issues. The work of AIM and TU Delft can be implemented by cities around the world in sync with their particular context, without requiring tens of billions of dollars. Also, Sassen warns that an over-managed urban space can go from “sensored” to “censored”.


Masdar City, Abu Dhabi

Not only are these supersmart urban systems unaffordable for many cities, they can impossibly be one size fits all. Sassen says
 that these technologies have not yet been sufficiently “urbanized”. They have not been made to work in a particular urban context. Technology that works in one city might not be feasible for another because of differences in density, infrastructure, culture, climate, etcetera.


Songdo International Business District, South Korea

Sassen calls for the urbanization of these new technologies. Rather than simply deploying all the new technologies in any city, they have to be made responsive and available to the people whose lives they affect. The computerized systems should become transparent, not invisible. They should be open-source networks, subject to changes and innovations. She concludes: “After all, that ability to adapt is how our good old cities have outlived the rise and fall of kingdoms, republics, and corporations.  

Filed under Smartercities Smart Cities Internet of Things Saskia Sassen urbanism

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