This post is a work in progress. This warning will be removed once I'm done editing it.
Adam Greenfield wrote a series of interesting texts criticizing the usual take on smart cities. I'll be pasting below some excerpts of his work as I (re)read it.
(...) the claim that anything at all is perfectly knowable is perverse. However thoroughly sensors might be deployed in a city, they will only ever capture what is amenable to being captured. In other words, they will not be able to pick up every single piece of information necessary to the formulation of sound civic policy. Other, all-too-human distortions inevitably colour the data collected. For instance, people may consciously adapt to produce metrics favourable to them. A police officer under pressure to “make quota” may focus on infractions that she would ordinarily overlook, while conversely, her precinct commander, under pressure to present the city as ever-safer, may downwardly classify a felony assault as a simple misdemeanour. This is the phenomenon known to viewers of The Wire as “juking the stats,” and it is particularly likely to occur when financial or other incentives depend on achieving a performance threshold.
Quite simply, we need to understand that creating an algorithm intended to guide the distribution of civic resources is itself a political act. And, at least for now, nowhere in the current smart-city literature is there any suggestion that either algorithms or their designers would be subject to the ordinary processes of democratic accountability.
As matters now stand, the claim of perfect competence that is implicit in most smart-city rhetoric is incommensurate with everything we know about the way technical systems work. It also flies in the face of everything we know about how cities work. The architects of the smart city have failed to reckon with the reality of power, and the ability of elites to suppress policy directions that don’t serve their interests. At best, the technocratic notion that the analysis of sensor-derived data would ever be permitted to drive municipal policy is naive. At worst, though, it ignores the lessons of history.
If a city can even be said to have any such quality as intelligence to begin with, that intelligence is bound to be singular, something that subsists in the unique lifeways, cultures and pragmatic local adaptations that have evolved in a particular place, It takes time for these circumstances to arise, and still more for them to bed in: years, at least, and more probably decades.
(...) in the just-so stories we're told about the smart city, the technology of everyday life advances, but everything else somehow magically remains the same. From family size and structure to work arrangements to the conception of the self, everything proceeds as though sequestered, serenely untouched by the radical discontinuity in the technics of the daily.