L[i/o]ving cities

Posts tagged ‘criteria’

SMART CITIES VS SMARTER CITIES (or Tron paradox)

Somehow, when somebody talks to me about smart cities I start thinking about all the movies of the 80´s that I used to watch in my childhood, and I remember some futuristic cities and situations. Of all these movies, the strongest memory I have is from Tron, (the classical one, of course) with the red and blue motorbikes racing for their lives. Wow, it was amazing thinking about what the technology would provide!!

 

Tron was about a “supermachine” that controlled people´s memories and lives, and there was a character (the good one) that was trying to recover people´s lives. Actually, smart cities could have some similarities with that script, and I will explain.

I really agree with ICTs and other new technologies as a tool to improve our life quality and to achieve a better efficiency in the use of natural resources. I also think that it is absolutely necessary to invest in ICTs in our forthcoming smart cities, because nowadays´ civil engineering know-how is based on 19th and 20th century technologies.

But on the other hand, all these improvements cannot be presented as a new enlightened despotism ruled by Tron´s “supermachines”. Smart cities should not be ruled by new technocrat elites who know the performance of the new technologies and who tells us what machines “think” that are better for cities. Those could be smart cities, but definitely they are not smarter cities.

I think that technologists have to be the facilitators to get ICTs closer to citizens. Citizens have to be the new center of decision of smart cities and citizens have to be educated to consider social, environmental and economic criteria in their decisions. I also think that we have enough new ways of data visualization, communication media and social networks to be effective enough in this thrilling process of educating people and bringing smart cities (sorry, smarter cities) closer to citizens.

The next episode in your city!

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THE HISTORY OF THE DUTCH BICYCLE SUCCESS

Here there is a video in which we can see the construction process of the Dutch bicycle infrastructure. The video is fine to see what different happenings are in the core of the urbanization processes that happen in our cities, you can see them in the video.

Besides of the historical resume of the process, it is really important to see that there are critical situations in which we have to change our ways of doing. The key for the Dutch bicycles were the amount of car deaths, the first oil crisis and a past history of bicycle use.

Nowadays we are having some of these critical situations as the second oil crisis, the congestion of our cities, the lack of public resources, etc. I think that all these facts are not a threat; I think that they are warnings that are telling us that our way of doing things is becoming obsolete. So we have to be conscious about the challenges that mobility has to face and, fortunately, we also have the key to go in a success direction as the Dutch did, or not.

SOCIAL OR ENVIRONMENTAL PRODUCTION

Hello Cityliners, it´s been a long time since the last City Lines post, but holidays is not the best time for writing, although it is a great time for thinking. Formerly, we have written about the planned obsolescence and we have made some criticising about the usual means of production and sale. Now we want to go beyond that post with some more reflections about the implications of the planned obsolescence.

One of the things that could be surprising about planned obsolescence is the first time that it was mentioned. It is a concept that was formulated in 1932, when Bernard London wrote, “Ending the Depression through Planned Obsolescence”, in which he blamed the Great Depression on consumers who use “their old cars, their old radios and their old clothing much longer than statisticians had expected”.

So, we can assume that planned obsolescence was some kind of countercyclical measure expressed during the great depression to promote more employment. The lack of it was the real consequence of the 1929 crash, and some of these economic measures and a world war made possible to get a lot of people employed during the next years.

Nowadays, we are suffering some kind of similar situation as the one in the early 30s. But, in contrast, we have the problem that we are using a lot more amounts of natural resources than before, so it seems to be difficult to go beyond in this “planned obsolescence” tactic. Therefore, it also seems that we have to reduce our natural resources spending for a more cohesive world.

All this argumentation suggests that, on the one hand, the “planned obsolescence” tactic can promote more employment but, environmentally, the consequences are terrible. On the other hand, although resigning the “planned obsolescence” tactic will improve our environment, it will have really bad consequences upon employment and social cohesion.

Summarizing, we can see how we have not reached the equation that links environment and employment in a sustainable way. I expect that we will be able to find more technical solutions that approximate both variables, because otherwise we will have to choose between a social and an environmental production. I really expect that technical solutions…

EQUITY AND EFFICIENCY IN PLANNING CRITERIA

In a broad sense, city planning is composed by a lot of professional disciplines. This is not a secret, but something that is ignored too many times. What we know well is the speech about the need to coordinate all these disciplines and all the professionals that work around city planning.

Moreover, below the technical speeches lies an economical logic that must be considered too. This economical logic is supported by two main foundations: equity and efficiency. As one professor explained to me one day, efficiency is related to the size of the cake and equity is related to the pieces that you cut from the cake. So, if we focus on every discipline that takes part on city planning, in each of their economic criteria they should talk about equity and efficiency. But, what is really happening?

I have taken two examples to illustrate what I think that is really happening. Firstly, on the one hand, we have some disciplines like Spatial Planning, that is focused on some criteria as to provide life quality and sustainability to the citizens and to the territories. These are equity criteria and usually are not well measured because of their complexity.

On the other hand, we have some disciplines like transport planning that is pointing out to some criteria as the minimization of the trip time or the search for a greater use of public transport. And these are mainly efficiency criteria that can be calculated because transport planners have developed more technical tools to manage some of the main transport parameters.

Obviously, this is a simplification of reality, but sometimes it is not as far from what happens in some planners’ studios. We cannot be satisfied handing out the same little crumbs to everyone or delivering the cake to just a few people, so we have to improve the coordination of efficiency and equity in the social, economic and environmental criteria.

THE UN-SUSTAINABILITY SPIRAL

In former posts of City Lines, I have focused my point of view on the different criteria that have to be considered for a correct planning of cities and territories. In these posts, I concluded that the main criteria to consider were social, environmental, and economic. Well, I still agree with this arguing and I would like to explain the Un-Sustainability Spiral that, nowadays, is happening under these three criteria.

I think I can start to explain this spiral with this Bible passage, Genesis 1-27, “God created man… and, then, the Spiral began. So, the first element to point out is “man” or humanity as the central element of social criteria. These social criteria basically lead us to try to have a higher life quality. Fortunately, we have been very successful in this issue during the last 10,000 years because we have been able to improve technologies that let us live three or four times more than 2,000 years ago.

Here comes the second of the criteria, the economic criterion related with technology. We can match technology and economy, because the knowledge of more technologies is the main reason that provides some nations with differential welfare to others and allow them to have better life conditions. So a modus operandi of our societies is gathering technologies as an equivalent to improving life quality.

Finally, the third criterion comes up, the environmental one, because going on gathering technologies needs natural resources. So commodities are essential to support these technologies that allow us to improve our life quality.

If we reread the thread of the argumentation we can find the Un-Sustainability Spiral. We want higher levels of life quality, so we improve our technologies and, for that, we consume more commodities. This spiral could be virtuous if commodities were infinite, which is not real, or if our new technologies were able to produce more with fewer natural resources, which nowadays is not happening, or if we wanted to have lower levels of life quality, which is definitely far from our thoughts.

In all this arguing there is only one thing that is a fact and that we cannot change, natural resources are limited on Earth. So, we have to work hard to improve technologies, otherwise we will have to fight to keep life quality, and in this war we can only aim to lose as little as possible.

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