Smart cities, bad metaphors, and a better urban future

Maybe this is a The cliché — I think I have used it myself — says that the explanations of how the brain works by scientists and philosophers tend to metaphorically track the most advanced technology of their time. Greek writers believed that the brain works like a hydraulic water clock. European writers in the Middle Ages believed that thought operates through a mechanism similar to gears. In the 19th century, the brain was like a telegraph; a few decades later, it was more like a telephone network.Soon, not surprisingly, people think that the brain works like a digital computer, maybe they can build a computer that works like a brain, or Talk to it. Not easy, because, apart from metaphors, no one really knowledge How the brain works.Science can Exciting Like that.

No good analogy doesn’t stop anyone learn The brain, of course. But sometimes they confuse maps with terrain and mistake good metaphors for viable theories. This is easy to do when it comes to interactive complex systems, which are too large or too small for us to observe them as a whole. Researchers believe that the brain is woven into an electrochemical jelly network by approximately 86 billion individual cells, which produces a piece of thought flesh for individual thinking. The same is true for a city. In this dense network, millions of individual thoughts come together to form a community. The person who wrote the city–I did it myselfreturn Tend to explore organizational metaphors in current science. The city is a machine, the city is an animal, and the city is an ecosystem. Or maybe a city is like a computer. For urbanist and media research writer Shannon Mattern, this is dangerous.

Matt’s new book was published on August 10th; this is a collection of some of her very clever works (with revisions and updates) Local diary Call Cities are not computers: other cities are smartIn it, Matten struggles with this particular metaphor that messed up the way the city was designed, planned, and lived in the 20th century. It happens at all levels, from monitoring individuals like monitoring bits to monitoring the widescreen data necessary to keep cities running for the benefit of residents. Mattern said that of all the ways in which information can be disseminated through urban networks, making public libraries a node may be better than the centralized dashboards that many cities are trying to build like panoramic prisons. The problem is that the indicators people choose to track become the goals to be achieved. They become their own metaphors, and they are usually wrong.

Provided by Princeton University Press

The first two articles were most fascinating when they were first published-and they still are. The “City Console” is a wild history of information dashboards and control rooms, designed to be a panorama of city data. These information centers collect information about the operation of the municipal system, the supervision of crimes, and the education of children. Mission control, but used for highways and sewage treatment. My favorite example in Matern’s book is the work of Chile’s leader Salvador Allende in the 1970s, who built something called Project Cyber​​​​ “, it is full of button chairs that Captain Kirk is proud of, plus the wall-a large and small screen with flashing red lights. Of course, since no city has real-time data to fill these screens, they show hand-drawn slides.This is stupid, but there is a straight line from Cybersyn to how many cities in the United States now collect and display law enforcement and other city data Comparative statistics Program.They should Hold the government accountable, But they often prove worthless arrests or highlight misleading figures-transit trips on time instead of carrying the number of people, let’s say.

In the next article, Matten warns of the big Silicon Valley companies’ ambitions to build “smart cities”. When this article first appeared, Amazon was still preparing to build a city-scale headquarters in New York, and Google was pushing to do the same in Toronto. (Google project, from a sister company called Sidewalk Labs, Will be distinctive Wooden skyscrapers, sidewalks that use lights to dynamically reconfigure their uses, self-driving cars, and underground garbage pipes. ) Of course, most large-scale smart cities and technology-supported projects have failed or scaled down. Hudson Yards in New York has not deployed sensors and surveillance technology close to the level of its developers promised (or could be threatened).Cities still gather and share Various data, But they are not completely “smart”.

In a conversation last month, I asked Mattern why technology companies didn’t seem to make any city smarter, at least so far. She thinks this is because they missed the most important part of urban construction. “More computing and data-driven urban thinking gives people an illusion of omniscience,” Mattern said. The person in charge of the city believes that what they get is the original truth, but in fact the filter they choose determines what they see. “When everything is computational, or when we can manipulate the more poetic and ever-changing aspects of a city in one data point,” Mattern said, “it makes us wonder if this is a metaphor.”

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