I can always rely on San Francisco for blog fodder. Today they proudly announced that they were going to install sensors throughout the city to begin to move to a “smart city” program. So far so good. You can read the article here.
But further in the article, they note that they don’t know what the sensors are going to monitor. Doesn’t it make sense that if you are going to spend millions installing sensors, you would want to know what they were going to do? Remember the issues Baghdad by the Bay had with the sensors it installed in parking spaces — and got such a poor response it had to switch vendors in mid stream and even then couldn’t reach their goals. That was SFPark, now defunct, since the Federal money supporting it ran out. Is it time to dust off the Baghdad by the Bay Award?
In addition to other things, parking was supposed to generate revenue. However the city was unable to generate enough revenue to support the program so it was allowed to expire. But I digress.
Now the wizards in the city by the bay are going to follow another buzz word — Smart City. Seems like a good idea — have your city computerized so everything from streets lights to water to sewage to parking will be monitored and then made more streamlined and effective. However, wouldn’t it be a good idea to have some clue as to what you want to monitor and then what results you want before you spend the money? Oh, sorry, I forgot I was talking about San Francisco.
Experts are even arguing over the definition of “smart city.” Check out this article. From the article, two university analysts comment:
While Sadowski and Pasquale have joined a number of social commentators questioning where the smart city phenomenon is headed, they also condemned the broad way the term “smart city” has been defined.
“Major corporate players work hard to push smartness as an ideal and to pull city leaders and investors into the smartness orbit,” they state in their paper. “[They] have worked hard to create this market and to shape it in certain ways. Yet, with this massive growth and capital investment, the label ‘smart city’ is nebulous…. This ambiguity does a lot of work for smart city proponents and purveyors. The label…. [gives] them discursive cover in case they need to distance themselves if something goes wrong or doesn’t deliver on a promise.”
I think the last sentence is telling. Is ‘smart city’ a technology boon, or a political boondoggle.
A couple of years ago we had an environmentalist speak at PIE. He was a tree hugger, but a realist. He did studies about what cities and universities do relative to environmental projects. They begin with a tremendous political bombast he noted, but then the project drifts off the front page, and no one ever follows up to see if anything positive came of it. (His studies say that more often than not, nothing did; in fact the opposite occurred.)
Don’t get me wrong. I love the idea of firing up technology to make cities run better, more efficiently, and become “Fun.” (Read the article). However shouldn’t the project be thought through before the investment. Shouldn’t some metrics be set up. Shouldn’t it be tracked as it proceeded to ensure it was doing what it was supposed to do. Oh, I forgot. You can’t do that if you don’t know what it was supposed to do from the beginning.
Sigh — I dust off the Baghdad by the Bay Award and nominate the namesake city.