Monday, September 28, 2015

Books: Smart Cities

The term "smart" has invaded our lives in many ways. Some years ago, we were advised to work hard. But now we are asked to work smart. The preferred way of working is the easiest instance that highlights how this term has found its way into our lives. The word smart also appears during our journeys. M1 connecting London to the north of UK is undergoing works for the past few months. The idea is to convert it into a smart highway. The utility company is rolling out smart meters to many homes. All over the world, local bodies are marketing smart cities driving up the cost of the property. Under these circumstances, I was curious to find out what smart means in the modern context. The book "Smart Cities" written by Anthony Townsend provides a good view on this subject.

Anthony Townsend takes his own time in revealing the message of the book. While we struggle to find the central theme, Anthony Townsend details the history and present state of technology meticulously. He succeeds in holding our attention even though we are wondering the end game constantly. Smart cities are not possible without the advances in the technology. Modern technology has aided in better city planning. The reducing price of electronics and the popularity of untethered network have helped in this process. As an example, Anthony Townsend provides the example of dontflush.me, a simple solution built using Arduino. Ideally, a city should be a rich web of overlapping connections which resembles a semilattice. But without information about what is available in the city, this interplay will not happen. Modern apps like Foursquare is helpful here. Using these apps, you uncover the new things in a city. All the above modern miracles are possible because of the ease at which we can connect to the internet. The popularity of untethered networks has driven this change dramatically. 

Most of the instances quoted by Anthony Townsend have come to fruition because of determination of responsible hackers. This fact leads to another important question. Who will facilitate the shift to smart cities? Will local civic leaders initiate the change? Will responsible and driven citizens lead the pack? In the modern times, the local civil bodies have to rethink their old system of procurement. This old system has proved to be very costly for cash-strapped local civic bodies. Although some civic bodies have introduced competitions for writing best apps for the city, the results were not favorable. One of the main reason was the disconnect between the software developer (or the app writer) and their user base. Based on the undesirable outcomes, the app competitions have undergone a change. Now, the cities analyze the major problems they want to solve, and then they drive the competition based on these problems.

Finally, patriotism plays a major role. Many civic bodies are building solutions that are already available to their counterparts in another part of the country or another part of the world. The available solution is already in use and well tested. But the sentiment for building a local solution by a local provider has been detrimental to the progress. Because of the above sentiment, the various local bodies are reinventing the wheel. There is an open unanswered question about how to overcome this?

Anthony Townsend has provided a detailed account of where we stand on the subject of smart cities. He has provided a detailed history, countless examples and the present challenges. The book is an interesting read. After reading the book, you might take a couple of more days to digest the whole information and find the underlying message. Unfortunately, the message is not right on your face. As this phenomenon is touching our lives already and will transform our lives in the future, I recommend this book. As the narrative is replete with captivating stories from the past and present, the book keeps you entertained.


Tags: Books,Anthony Townsend,Smart Cities




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