Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about science books
Don’t know much about the French I took
How do smart cities fit into history? What can we learn from previous ideas that aimed to improve urban dwelling? Just as important (and probably more fun), what can we learn from their great balls-ups?
A lot of people have heard about Garden Cities, or the new town movement. Some have been in one. Many would say there are more mistakes than successes to learn from, which makes it a good idea to stop and reflect before rushing into a 21st century frenzy that could possibly turn into a 22nd century disappointment.
Here’s a quick race through recent urban-planning history:
In 1817 a proposal by Robert Owen called for self-contained “model communities” – about 1200 people living mainly on agriculture an on light industry. Owen’s plans were considered revolutionary and came to nothing.
This movement in the late 1800s was a reaction to overcrowded, polluted and chaotic cities thrown up by the industrial revolution. The garden city would have 32,000 people living in an area of 40 – 50 sq km; be built in a concentric pattern with open spaces, public parks and radial boulevards extending from the centre; and be self-sufficient.
When it reached full population, another garden city would be developed nearby. The idea was to have a cluster of several garden cities as satellites of a central hub of 58,000 people, linked by road and rail.
In 1917 a ‘New Townsmen’ group began lobbying the British government to build 100 new cities. The prime minister commissioned a survey into the urban concentration of population and industry. This raised the problem of large towns as a public issue and called for ‘planned decentralisation’. The movement to decongest large industrialised cities and rehouse people in new, planned and self-sufficient towns finally got going after World War II.
Some of the garden and new city concepts had far-reaching influence. A random list includes:
USA – Newport News and Reston in VA; Greendale, WI; Greenbelt and Crofton, MD; Greenhills OH, Columbia, MD; Jonathan, MN; Peachtree City, GA; Coral Springs FL, Coto de Caza, Irvine and Foster City, CA; and Hawaii Kai, Hawaii.
Brazil – Goiânia, capital of Goiás state; Maringá; and Cidade Jardim (Garden City in Portuguese).
Israel – the movement influenced the planning of Tel Aviv in the 1920s.
Asia-Pacific – New Delhi, designed as the new capital of India; Canberra, Australia, established in 1913; Quezon City, capital of the Philippines 1948–76. The garden city model was applied to Da Lat in Vietnam (est. 1907) – a delightful place to visit – and to go to hospital (another story). The Hong Kong new towns. Singapore adapted garden city concepts to create its City in a Garden: 1970s planning ensured that provision was made for greenery and nature as part of community development.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia
So, what can we learn from all this? Well, smart cities are not exercises in urban planning. Still less are they exercises in trying to raise moral standards. They start with wiring up a few sensors to take measurements. We’re not talking model communities. We’re not talking radial boulevards or satellite town – which turn into soulless suburbs – around a 1930s sci-fi hub city.
Some of the drivers of the smart city movement are similar to historic drivers – one being reducing pollution. But to be honest, after a not inconsiderable time thinking and discussing possible implications, I find it raises more questions than answers. So maybe that’s another blog.
Don’t know much about history…