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When city planners talk about the future, the increasing influx to urban centers is a source of both fear and excitement. Urban centers are, on a global scale, undoubtedly growing — some at a breakneck pace. It’s easy, however, to get caught in the illusion that cities will always grow, something that has been proven wrong by both recent and ancient history. Many cities, in fact, are designed for continual growth, depending on industries like construction that don’t fare well when the population holds steady. Yet there is nothing inherently wrong with a city with a stable population, although most agree that a declining population is usually a bad sign. The challenges facing cities with steady demographics are different, and they are often overlooked in discussions about how cities of the future will develop.
This week, in addition to other smart city news, we’ll see evidence that Chinese cities might not be destined for infinite growth, and we will also check in on a Turkish proposal to build a megacity out of nowhere.
— Emily Liedel
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THE MEANING OF SMART CITY
The term “smart city” is used to describe a wide variety of projects and goals, muses Tages Spiegel (German), and seems to mean something different to everyone who uses the phrase. Some think a smart city is a green city, some think it is a hyper-connected high-tech city and others think it is about optimization of systems. The truth about cities, the newspaper concludes, is that they are too diverse for a one-size-fits-all approach to their future. Indeed, many Central European cities have stagnant population levels and completely different challenges from a fast-growing city like Lagos, Nigeria.
“For me, smartness means thinking about how we can function more autonomously. That means without gas from Russia, without nuclear power from France, without water from the Alps and without food from Spain and South America,” Tia Kansara, a British researcher and sustainability specialist, said in an interview with Austrian newspaper Der Standard(German).
BRIDGING THE DIGITAL GAP
In a connected society, people without Internet access often have a difficult time taking advantage of many of the opportunities that others take for granted. That makes providing some kind of free access to the disadvantaged important for social equity. Buenos Aires is well aware of this dynamic, and is expanding a network of digital access points throughout the city that will offer free navigation for those who can't afford their own network, La Nacion reports (Spanish).
CAN A SMALL TOWN BECOME A SMART CITY HUB?
The town of Magog, Canada, located near Montreal, is home to only 27,000 people — hardly a major metropolis. But in an effort to revitalize its once industry-dependent economy, the town is working to become a hub for technology companies working on software and hardware for smart cities, Les Affaires reports (French). And it’s already seeing success, with 25 new companies relocating to the small town over the past 18 months.
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