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Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia Paperback – October 6, 2014
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An unflinching look at the aspiring city-builders of our smart, mobile, connected future.
From Beijing to Boston, cities are deploying smart technology―sensors embedded in streets and subways, Wi-Fi broadcast airports and green spaces―to address the basic challenges faced by massive, interconnected metropolitan centers. In Smart Cities, Anthony M. Townsend documents this emerging futuristic landscape while considering the motivations, aspirations, and shortcomings of the key actors―entrepreneurs, mayors, philanthropists, and software developers―at work in shaping the new urban frontier.
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― Sarah Rothbard, Slate
"[A] timely and necessary guide to this age of the Franken-city."
― Daniel Brook, New York Times Book Review
"An ambitiously wide-ranging, admirably clear-eyed, and ultimately humanistic guidebook to the connected city."
― Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic and You May Also Like
"Today, it's not the height of the skyscrapers, but the depth of the code that drives the modern city. Anthony Townsend brilliantly frames the new forces shaping tomorrow's metropolises. Read Smart Cities and you’ll never look at a skyline or walk down a city block the same way again."
― Andrew Zolli, author of Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back
"Our cities are in the first act of an unprecedented technodrama. At stake is nothing less than the survival of our urban species. Combining technological sophistication, deep humanity, and an urban planner's sensitivity to the nuances of places, Smart Cities is an essential guide to understanding the technologies changing urban life."
― Andrew Blum, author of Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet
"[Smart Cities] will engage both advanced geeks and cyber-dolts."
― Catherine Tumber, Nation
"An entertaining history of urban planning’s visionaries and villains, the technological breakthroughs and the spectacular failures that brought us to this crossroads."
― Tim Smedley, New Scientist
"Compelling…Townsend begins a conversation."
― Melanie Moses, Nature
"Anthony Townsend’s terrific book looks at the historic relationship of urban and industrial development to new technologies."
― Architecture Today
About the Author
- Publisher : W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (October 6, 2014)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 416 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0393349780
- ISBN-13 : 978-0393349788
- Item Weight : 11 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,372,064 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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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.
At the dawn of this new century, three things have come together accelerating us into our urbanized future - for the first time in 2008, more people now live in cities; mobile computers (AKA smartphones) are now pervasive; and the Internet of Things is on its way to being ubiquitous. And instead of us living in remote islands telecommuting in this flat world, it has actually made Cities even more attractive as it provides the connective fiber to support a vibrant, social, digital nervous system.
And everyone who has anything to do with running cities has taken notice - from City Hall, to civic hackers, to urban planners, to academia, entrepreneurs, and of course - giant system integrators.
Going from the Crystal Palace in Victorian London, to the shiny skyscrapers of South Korea's "smart city from scratch" Songdo , and even touching on Gelernter's "Mirror Worlds" , Asimov's psychohistory and Heisenberg's Uncertainty principle , Townsend explores how technology will impact our future cities, extracting lessons from history - past, recent and future (I particularly enjoyed how he explored the failed attempts at building SimCity-like simulations in the 70s and how he compared it to Asimov's Hari Seldon).
And he just doesn't explore the contours of this important topic. Derived from these lessons - he finishes the book with his take on how to achieve our urbanized, utopian future.
My takeaway from these guidelines can be described by the epigraph at the beginning of the book - a quote from Shakespeare's "Tragedy of Coriolanus" - "What is the City but the people?" (As it happens, the exact same quote we used when we coined "peopleware" for our reinvent payphones submission - NYCdatawell)
Smart Cities are not made smart by various soon to be obsolete technologies built into its infrastructure, its how its citizens uses these ever-changing technologies to be "human-centered, inclusive and resilient." Or as we put it in BetaNYC, the hub of NYC's civic hacking community - to "Connect, Learn, Innovate and Collaborate" - to CLICk together. To me, these digital connections are the axons connecting the City as super organism.
As evidenced by my interpretation, perhaps I read the book through rose-colored glasses as a self-confessed civic hacker and the co-founder of an urban informatics startup, but I can't recommend this book highly enough.
After reading this book, I'm now reading "Mirror Worlds" (till I read this book, I didn't know that the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski targeted Gelernter precisely for his predictions) and a biography of Patrick Geddes - a polymath biologist turned social planner.
I'm now also re-reading Barabasi's "Linked" , Gleick's "Chaos" and "The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood" for how these books describe network theory, complexity, chaos and emergence, and how Data, Information lies at the heart of systems. Not that Townsend mentioned these books, but I couldn't help but make the connection when he prescribed that when designing Smart Cities, we should "Build a Web, not an Operating System."
Top reviews from other countries
At times the book can go into little tangents, and its clear which way the author's preferences lie in the projects that would most benefit smart cities, but on the whole it's really well written, and the case studies are well explored for both their positive and negative aspects.
I'd recommend this book for anyone who wants to ask the question "What's been tried with respect to Smart Cities, and where have we got to?".
Going through many cases and assessing recent trends Townsend presents us with good insights on technological and sociological aspects of modern cities.
There are many open issues to be addressed. It is not just about technologies, but how to use them more effectively, how to balance different purposes, how to combine trends and interests in benefit of all.