6 INSIGHTFUL Books on Smart Cities

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As the coronavirus has prompted many people to shun city centers, it may seem that the era of rapid urbanisation is at an end. Close-proximity living no longer carries the promise of diverse nightlife, access to myriad cultural activities and convenient mass transportation without the increased risk of infection. So it may at first appear that ‘Smart Cities’ are over before they had even really gotten started.

Our 6 insightful works on the future of urban planning and management will change this perspective. The promise of Big Data-driven sensory networks to radically alter the urban environment, and how urban citizens interact with and obtain public services, still persists. The cities of tomorrow will incorporate such networked solutions, ensuring more equitable distribution of opportunity to urban populations, while ensuring greater safety for citizens, both from infection and crime. Our 6 top books on the subject enable readers to deep-dive into the benefits ‘Smart Cities’ will bring, as well as critically consider the potential problems posed by our ever-increasing reliance on technology in all aspects of our daily lives.


Smart Cities

by Germaine Halegoua

A part of MIT’s Essential Knowledge series, Smart Cities provides a comprehensive introduction to the topic for readers of all backgrounds. Beginning with a thorough review of the prevailing terminology used in academia and the broader media to discuss key concepts and associated ideas, Prof. Halegoua moves on to provide an overview of three important templates for smart city development; smart-from-the-start, retrofitted, and social cities, respectively. Smart Cities enables the reader to quickly grasp important issues of debate within the urban development field, as well as understand the historical context of smart cities within urban studies as a whole. While reviewing important technologies and how urban developers look to incorporate them into urban environments of the future, Prof. Halegoua’s work never forgets the focus of smart city design; making cities more livable, more communal places for their citizens. Smart Cities is both a foundational text for understanding the future of networked cities, as well as a call for a return to humanistic development goals in the construction of the worlds of tomorrow.


Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia

by Anthony M. Townsend

With a PhD in Urban and Regional Planning from MIT and a founder of a strategy consultancy for smart city development and automated vehicle integration, Dr. Townsend is well placed to describe the future of urban development. Smart Cities explores the history of urban development up to the current phase of introducing large-scale networking and big data into the toolbox of urban management. Using numerous real-world case studies to illustrate both the benefits and drawbacks of this unprecedented technological steroid binge, Dr. Townsend provides a balanced account of the rationales behind the broad adoption of technology solutions in urban management. Smart Cities provides insights from industry, government and academia to produce a detailed introduction to the most pressing issues in the development of smart cities; what has worked previously, and what needs further refinement to improve urban environments for the population of the future.


The City of Tomorrow: Sensors, Networks, Hackers, and the Future of Urban Life

by Carlo Ratti & Matthew Claudel

Researchers at MIT’s Senseable Cities Laboratory, both Ratti and Claudel are at the forefront of thinking on the future development of urban spaces. The City of Tomorrow guides readers through the history of key concepts in urban development, while introducing the trends and ideas that will guide the future fate of our cities. The authors begin by acknowledging an inescapable fact of our current urban lives; we are already irreversibly enmeshed within sensory system networks that cover large portions of our city centers, and increasingly areas beyond the urban core. Leaning on their work at MIT, the authors explore how urban planners can leverage these technologies to improve the lives of cities’ citizens, introducing ideas like self-tracking garbage, and bicycles that monitor their own physical condition. At the heart of The City of Tomorrow lies the authors’ promotion of futurecraft, joint participation in the creation of urban development policy and goals by both city planners and residents, in our thinking about how our cities should continue to grow and evolve. This focus on community participation isn’t unique in the literature on smart cities, however Drs. Ratti and Claudel reveal how it is being implemented in current development concepts, and provide a glimpse of a symbiotic future for our cities, where human communities utilize sensory networks to selectively improve their daily existence, without surrendering agency to the tech blob.


Smart Cities, Digital Nations: Building Smart Cities in Emerging Countries and Beyond

by Caspar Herzberg

When thinking about our cities’ futures, it’s easy to assume that we are talking about urban environments in developed countries alone. Not so. As Herzberg, a former Cisco consultant who worked on several digital urban projects in developing countries during his career, reveals in Smart Cities, Digital Nations, past projects seeking to incorporate digital technologies into urban spaces in the developing world form important case studies and guides for how more developed economies can introduce similar systems while avoiding known pitfalls. From the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, to King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia, Herzberg criss-crosses the developing world to reveal for his readers the ways in which big data and networked systems are being leveraged to radically change urban lifestyles of the future across the globe. While emphasizing the importance of dialogue and co-operation between diverse stakeholders, ranging from citizens’ groups to city planners, tech companies and the bureaucracies of both local and national government, Herzberg acknowledges the potential dominance of tech titans in the growing urban development space. Smart Cities, Digital Nations provides thoughtful insight on how the evolution of urban spaces can be mediated between competing interest groups to produce beneficial outcomes for citizens, governments, and investors alike.


Uneven Innovation: The Work of Smart Cities

by Jennifer Clark

Prof. Clark is an expert in regional and city planning development at Ohio State University. Her previous works have focused on inequalities in regional economic development, a perspective which she now brings to bear in raising poignant objections to the assumed benefits of technology-driven smart cities. Uneven Innovation is a warning to smart city boosters that human relationships, and human networks, as opposed to automated networks can be expected to trump the anticipated levelling effects of smart cities’ networked infrastructure and services. Prof. Clark directs particular focus towards the tech sector, which stands to reap handsome rewards from the broad role out of smart city policies. Without regulations to restrain labor market volatility and limit the predatory nature of many gig economy platforms (zero hours contracts anyone?), smart cities risk simply inauguring a future of even wider inequality, both economic and social. Only through a thorough understanding of the complex web of interactions involved in a city’s management and regulation, and in addition the forces governing citizens’ participation in and access to urban services and spaces, will city planners be able to rein in the worst corporate impulses toward market monopoly and inequitable opportunity distribution. This is a message worth listening to.


The Smart Enough City: Putting Technology in Its Place to Reclaim Our Urban Future

by Ben Green

As a former Data Scientist for the City of Boston’s Department of Innovation and Technology, Green is well placed to review the benefits of networked cities. And yet The Smart Enough City runs contrary to the author’s background by standing with Prof. Jennifer Clark (above) in its warning against the potential downside of an over-reliance on technology. Green advocates keeping technology in its place, promoting a program of developing “smart citizens” as opposed to relying on smart cities. Green’s thesis is one of cautious adoption of technology, while always ensuring the emphasis is on building human communities which are served by their urban spaces, not the other way round. By advocating a middle way, the author describes a future in which our urban spaces become symbiotic environments in which individual and community agency remains paramount, and technology is used to improve our urban lives through more just, equitable processes.


And those are our 6 recommended works on Smart Cities! Which one piques your interest the most? Terrified of the future mass-networked urban landscape, or excited about its potential benefits and opportunities for greater equality among urban citizens? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Alternatively, you can check out our Current Events page for further curated book recommendations on the topics making headlines in the global news media. See you next time!

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