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In the New Mexican desert, a 20 square mile city is being built from the ground up. With all the amenities and infrastructure of a modern city, the only thing making this city unique is that there are no residents. The city, known as the Center for Innovation, Testing, and Evaluation, is being built by Pegasus Global Holdings to be a testbed for the 21st century smart city. The city will provide a proving ground for alternative energy, smart transportation, and wireless networks.

New Mexico is not alone in developing smart cities. Gale International and Cisco, with several other firms, are building a city in Korea the size of Downtown Boston. New Songdo City, will be completely wired and is already LEED Certified.

New Songdo City Being Built

Building New Songdo City. Source: Wikipedia.

Similiar in size to New Songdo City, and to be completed in 2015, Living PlanIT is building its new smart city, PlanIT Valley, just outside Portugal. Living PlanIT will provide an UrbanOS to control the city. A major difference of PlanIT Valley is that the construction of the city will also be modernized. When building are no longer needed, they will be demolished. Practical, but rather unsentimental.

All of these cities are being built from the top-down. History has taught us the dangers of such city building. Pruitt–Igoe was a single housing project and is considered a failure. The cities being built are much larger, more of the magnitude of Brasilia which, while beautiful, is not considered a success story.

Brasilia

Panorama of Brasilia. Source: Wikipedia.

Cities are complex. Human behavior is not easily modeled on a computer. And yet,

the bias lurking behind every large-scale smart city is a belief that bottom-up complexity can be bottled and put to use for top-down ends – that a central agency, with the right computer program, could one day manage and even dictate the complex needs of an actual city1.

If millions of dollars, large corporations, and brilliant leaders are incapable of building smart cities, how do you build a smart a city? According to Carlo Ratti and Anthony Townsend, you “…jack people into the network and get out of the way.” This should not come as a surprise. The entire economic system of the capitalist world is based on the notion that an individual,

by pursuing his own interest… frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it2.

A person using building sensor data to monitor their home energy consumption to save money makes us all better off because they have reduced their carbon footprint. Now imagine if the population of an entire city was doing this. We are in luck because they are.

Cities, and countries, all over the world are realizing that by providing the infrastructure and opening the data, individuals will build applications that a central planner could never have imagined. Cities such as San Francisco, Baltimore, the District of Columbia, New York, Edmonton, Toronto, The United States and the United Kingdom are all providing open data portals which can be accessed by anyone in the world.

Building new cities from the ground up is not a solution.  We must find a way to turn our existing cities in to smart cities. If the government provides the data, we the people will provide the apps.