New Smart Cities Can’t Escape the Same Old Problems

It takes more than garbage-collecting robots to build a great place to live.

The idea of wiping the slate clean and building a community from scratch is so appealing that around 150 of them are in the works globally. They range from Egypt’s aseptic New Administrative Capital to Mexico’s attempt to fuse the urban and natural worlds in its Smart Forest City. Even plucky Innisfil is planning a new town centre called The Orbit that could house 150,000 people.

In most cases, developers talk up their use of technology to create a clean, green place that’s free of aggravations like pollution, traffic and — in some cases — even bad weather. But there’s a fine line between hope and hubris, and many smart city projects have found themselves on the wrong side of it.

“There’s a lot of hype around new cities, but there’s not much follow-through,” says Sarah Moser, a professor of urban geography at McGill University. “Many of them are PowerPoint cities that exist only in websites and presentations.”

While the technologies themselves are sound, Moser says that many of these projects are driven by “utopian ideas and assumptions” that crowd out the more workaday realities of building a livable community. “I’m not anti-new city, but the way they are being done tends to be unrealistic. The idea of a smart city has been taken over by tech, but sometimes being smart actually means planting trees and building bike lanes.”

Here’s a look at some recent attempts to build a city of the future, and whether they succeeded in making the jump from artists’ rendering to reality.

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