More confusion about cities

The video, Thinking Cities, from Ericsson is well done.  You can see it at 

But initially this reminded me an old vaudeville line – “everyone wants to get into the act.”  Since IBM has stamped their effort “Smarter Cities” and Cisco initiated “Smart + Connected” cities, I guess Ericsson felt that the word “thinking” was all that was left 😉  The marketing folks at the ICT companies all seem to be working from the same script and featuring many of the same (usual) suspects.

What bothers me is that the start of the video is simplistic and misleading – two tales of cities, which got mixed up.  There is all this talk about people going to cities.  That’s true if you look at the global numbers.  But, as occurred in developed countries a hundred years ago, that’s more a reflection of the industrialization happening around the globe in today’s developing countries, rather than some desire of people to experience urban life in and of itself.  Indeed, there has been no recent mass migration of people in developed countries to central cities.

So it’s rather odd that almost all of the people in this and similar videos are from developed countries and are talking about the urban experience.  I’d like to see a video where the people interviewed were from the developing countries that are undergoing urbanization.  

Let them explain the reasons why they move.  (I suspect it’s first to get out of poverty and make a better living.  They’re also working too hard to worry about the wonderful cultural assets of their new location.)  Such a video would direct the attention of the ICT companies to issues that they have ignored when they talk glowingly of urbanization.

So that gets to cities in the developed world which this video really speaks to, although dramatic growth in urbanization is not the issue there. Of course, as the video notes, there is a separate set of issues in both the developed and developing world where ICT can help – namely the management of the physical infrastructure of cities.  

Unfortunately, this is the second step to first making a commitment to modernize that infrastructure and such a commitment has been missing in the USA.

You won’t be surprised that I like the part, near the end, where there is a brief discussion about citizen engagement.  For me, the most valuable role of ICT in urban areas of developed countries is to enhance quality of life and public governance is part of that quality of life.

© 2012 Norman Jacknis


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