From “the street as platform” (Dan Hill) right up to ‘smart cities’ (Anthony Townsend and many others), the allure of urban space that effortlessly integrates sensors and software plays out at myriad scales. Over the last decade this thinking has bubbled up through various disciplines and now permeates both municipal policy and the private sector. These desires for high-tech cities that economize and regulate are hardly new though, they are (at least) as old as Modernism’s Utopian vision of cities as ‘models of efficiency’ that utilize new materials and technologies to improve life for all. Now those twentieth century dreams are subject to Silicon Valley hubris – is that is a recipe for disaster?
Maybe, concludes Shannon Mattern in her survey of currents of tech-urbanism for Places Journal. From Y Combinator’s New Cities project, to Alphabet’s NYC WiFi kiosks and deal with Columbus Ohio, to Cisco, Siemens, and IBM’s ventures in the Middle East and Asia – Mattern covers both the actors and tendencies that warrant scrutiny. She concludes with skepticism about data ownership and the informal strands of urban knowledge that don't lend themselves to quantification: