From slow dance to digital change
- posted March 5, 2020
Tokyo, London, Mexico City: three urban spaces, three megacities, three different continents. Their attractiveness for people from all parts of the world is great, yet some of their political and social problems are even greater. Allocation of scarce housing, gentrification, noise, traffic congestion, gridlock and violence are problems which large cities on a modern scale have to cope with. Intelligent solutions should provide a remedy for these difficulties of large cities. Urban solutions are diverse and are reflected in various initiatives, concepts and associations. Insight? Not really. Despite the visionary technology ideas, many of the Smart City solutions are characterized by short sightedness.
Let us begin with quoting Confucius: The journey is the reward: a journey not always easy to course ‑or to recognize in the first place. Anyone on the Avenida de los Insurgentes is aware of the challenges. With around 30 kilometres lengths this main arterial road is the longest main road through Metropolitan Mexico City with around nine million inhabitants (over 20 million live in the greater metropolitan area). Superlatives, which are inherently going hand in hand with another fact: traffic congestion and gridlock. Every day, huge lines of cars roll over the ‘Insurgentes’ and other streets.
According to an article of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung in 2014 “roughly 2.2 million private cars were driving on the streets of Mexico City in the year 2000. In 2010 that number has risen to 4.5 million and the Centre for Sustainable Transport expects this number to rise even further up to 6.8 million by 2020”. In a report video from 2017 titled: “CDMX! La ciudad con más tráfico en el mundo” (Mexico City, the city with the most traffic worldwide) the media portal “Diario de México” presents the following facts: Traffic in the Mexican capital is the most chaotic in the world. Inhabitants waste 227 hours a year in traffic jams. The average speed in private transport is an estimated six (6!) kilometres per hour.
About digital interests, new impulses and the challenges
Well-intentioned plans for smart cities are one thing. But in real, however, “Slow Dance” as a header would be much more in line with the realities on the ground. Why? In this context, unfortunately, there seems to be no honest intention to involve a city’s residents because citizens’ objectives are not always in line with the interests of digital multinational corporations.
Experience has revealed that digital multinational corporations have an almost religious attitude towards “smart” solutions and mention them as a kind of salvation for cities and their people.
The pan-European media network Euractiv writes in an article on “The cities of the future — Germany is struggling” that the hurdles for cities are high “and in the end it is not citizens but private companies that take the benefit”. The Digitalcourage society, which is committed to data protection and civil rights, formulates it as follows: “The focus of the Smart City is not on people, but on machines. Active citizen participation is more a kind of label which has not yet been implemented in planning: While, for example, numerous corporate groups are represented in the committees at EU consultations on Smart Cities, civil society initiatives have almost no place there”. And further: “This way the term ‘Smart City’ is no more than a marketing instrument. Companies experience the Smart City as a market where their own products can be placed. They themselves create the demand (…)”.
Big Business – Big Digital
Basically, from a large digital corporation’s point of view this is legitimate because its business model is based on the sale of solutions and services. With regard to the lobbying work of ‘Big Digital’ at EU, federal and state level this, however, should be communicated openly and transparently. And this ought to be self-evident. Lobbypedia (an independent, lobby-critical online encyclopedia) refers to the Internet giant Amazon as an example: “Amazon is known for its tax avoidance tricks and poor working conditions — and is lobbying intensively in Brussels. The corporation particularly active during the parliamentary passage of the EU General Data Protection Regulation. According to Lobbypedia, the proximity to German politics is an issue of concern. “The company is a member of Bitkom, a digital association with good relations to the Federal Chancellery and the Federal Ministry of Economics and Labour”.
Online retail giant Amazon intends to get a foothold in the door to smart mobility. In addition to automating warehouses using robots, the company is testing the utilization of self-propelled vehicles for the delivery of goods, according to a Wall Street Journal article in April 2017. Regardless of the projects of individual companies or the science of automated driving, this approach is too narrow.
Smart City ideas and approaches for an intelligent mobility of the future must be thought ahead. New impulses are needed — not only focused on the car.
It is understandable that the German car industry must keep on relying on individual transport, not least because decision-makers at the executive floors of the automobile companies in Munich, Stuttgart or Wolfsburg for far too long have misjudged the signs of change. And politicians know that. Economic and political choices for a basic reorientation are half-hearted, especially when it comes to the future of the automobile. Changing this is a huge but important challenge: away from test tracks for autonomous driving, unfulfilled dreams of electric mobility and solutions for parking management in the cities of the Republic, characterized by traffic congestion and gridlock.
It is time to rethink, to see smart as intelligent rather than witty since the Slow Dance will go on otherwise. For decades not only Mexico City but, first and foremost, metropolises in this country have been shown how Slow Dancers move.
Vom Stehblues zum digitalen Wandel
Die Gemengelage urbaner Stadtlösungen ist vielfältig und äußerst sich in diversen Initiativen, Konzepten und Verbänden. Durchblick? Wenig. Trotz der visionären Technologievorstellungen fahren viele der Smart-City-Lösungen auf Kurzsicht.