Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia

Anthony M. Townsend

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Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia

Smart Cities Big Data Civic Hackers and the Quest for a New Utopia An unflinching look at the aspiring city builders of our smart mobile connected future We live in a world defined by urbanization and digital ubiquity where mobile broadband connections outnumber f

  • Title: Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia
  • Author: Anthony M. Townsend
  • ISBN: 9780393082876
  • Page: 381
  • Format: Hardcover
  • An unflinching look at the aspiring city builders of our smart, mobile, connected future.We live in a world defined by urbanization and digital ubiquity, where mobile broadband connections outnumber fixed ones, machines dominate a new internet of things, and people live in cities than in the countryside.In Smart Cities, urbanist and technology expert Anthony TownsenAn unflinching look at the aspiring city builders of our smart, mobile, connected future.We live in a world defined by urbanization and digital ubiquity, where mobile broadband connections outnumber fixed ones, machines dominate a new internet of things, and people live in cities than in the countryside.In Smart Cities, urbanist and technology expert Anthony Townsend takes a broad historical look at the forces that have shaped the planning and design of cities and information technologies from the rise of the great industrial cities of the nineteenth century to the present A century ago, the telegraph and the mechanical tabulator were used to tame cities of millions Today, cellular networks and cloud computing tie together the complex choreography of mega regions of tens of millions of people.In response, cities worldwide are deploying technology to address both the timeless challenges of government and the mounting problems posed by human settlements of previously unimaginable size and complexity In Chicago, GPS sensors on snow plows feed a real time plow tracker map that everyone can access In Zaragoza, Spain, a citizen card can get you on the free city wide Wi Fi network, unlock a bike share, check a book out of the library, and pay for your bus ride home In New York, a guerrilla group of citizen scientists installed sensors in local sewers to alert you when stormwater runoff overwhelms the system, dumping waste into local waterways.As technology barons, entrepreneurs, mayors, and an emerging vanguard of civic hackers are trying to shape this new frontier, Smart Cities considers the motivations, aspirations, and shortcomings of them all while offering a new civics to guide our efforts as we build the future together, one click at a time.

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      381 Anthony M. Townsend
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      Posted by:Anthony M. Townsend
      Published :2019-02-18T08:57:58+00:00

    One thought on “Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia

    1. David Sasaki on said:

      First came the mainstream computer, enabling a privileged few to perform complex calculations. Then the personal computer, a first step toward the democratization of computing power for the masses. Next, the smart phone and tablet, keeping us constantly connected to the cloud and to each other. What's next? The city itself, according to Anthony Townsend, author of Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia.The "city as computer" is Townsend's first premise, and it has [...]

    2. Nolan Gray on said:

      Hmm. I'll start with the positives.1. I learned a fair amount our power grid. Can't say I knew anything about that.2. Townsend's criticism of over-planning, mainly in chapters two and three, are fantastic. The "Mirror World" musings were fascinating, and the Jacobsian history of urban theory was fascinating. Had the book ended with chapter three, it would have been a four star book. Now the the criticisms:1. The book reads like an advertisement for NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program mo [...]

    3. Liam on said:

      "[T]he most common text message, sent billions of times a year all over the world, is 'where r u?'" (7)"[I]t soon became clear that looking smart, even more than being smart, was the real force driving mayors into the arms of engineers." (68)"Mirror worlds were 'a centrifuge designed to stratify society based strictly on a person's fondness for playing games with machines.'" (quoting David Gelernter, 71)"In Uganda, for instance, there are now more mobile phones than lightbulbs." (177)"Unlike ot [...]

    4. Nils on said:

      A breezy account of the various ways that cities are being festooned with sensors and how the data generated by those may be used to create greater efficiencies but possibly also more surveillance and social/political control. Glances back episodically at previous episodes of urban planning. The book lacks a clear thesis however and is ambivalent over whether it wants to be in the "gee whiz isn't this tech cool" camp, or in the cluck-click Cassandra mode of warning about dystopian scenarios. The [...]

    5. David on said:

      Available as an 11+ hour audiobook. It's worth consuming in that fashion if the alternative is for you (as for me) not consuming it at all. However, the ideas come thick and fast, so probably worth the effort to engage in some old-school reading on this one, if you are still retro enough to read books.Liam's review here at has a nice selection of quotes from the book which demonstrate the thick and fast ideas. I'd like to add one more, which occurs in the audiobook chapter 9 (physical book chap [...]

    6. amy on said:

      A mixed-up compromise between history, criticism, and recommendations for building smart cities that aren't awful and run by corporations. Townsend has high praise for Code for America, NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program, and local broadband (i.e. Chattanooga). He spends a ton of time on tiny projects like something called Botanicalls (plant tweets when it needs water, admittedly cool) while rushing through The History Of Cities in a really breezy and facile way.The book ends with a ca [...]

    7. Peter Foley on said:

      The smart city debate continues between the top down approach promoted by technology companies, and the bottom up actors including advocates, hackers and the civic engagement movement. Townsend appears aligned with the bottom up approach to smart cities, but does provide a balanced perspective of the strengths and weaknesses of each.I am familiar with much of the subject matter and found that reading this book deepened my understanding, and provided me with many valuable insights. Smart Cities i [...]

    8. Maheswaran on said:

      As much as I wanted to like this book, I suspect the author was determined to fill pages. For every single thing, there was an unnecessary back story (for example, and if I remember correctly, there was a section where the author wanted to talk about the effect of bugs in software, as related to big data/cities, but he decided to give a two page long history about bugs). There were definitely some good ideas in the book but the length rendered the book a bit painful.In short, the book was needle [...]

    9. Pablo Lafón on said:

      I thought this book would be mostly about architecture, but I was wrong. The entire concept of this book is "Corporations are making advances on planning smart citites, but don't surrender the entirety of the projects to them,make space for organic innovation and integretaion of the average citizen. The way it was written was not very technical, very annecdotal, but still a bit of a slog. I would recommend it if you are interested in any way on getting ides to present to city developers and city [...]

    10. Mark on said:

      I didn't finish this work. To be honest, I couldn't get past the rah-rah "ain't tech great and ain't it going to save us through crowd sourcing data crunching." The author did occasionally mention all this is totally dependent on the infra staying up and people having the tech to access the data. Unfortunately, that got set aside fairly quickly.Other reviews I've read will provide you a whole lot better critiques of this work. I encourage you to find and read them.

    11. Justin Cole on said:

      As someone interested in the future of cities, I think that this is one of the few (if not only) books out there that do a great job not only detailing the history of "smart cities" but the many failures that have shaped the notions of how technology can improve the lives of urban dwellers.

    12. Joni Baboci on said:

      An interesting book on the future of the smart city with a clear tendency towards open source, freely accessible, network based city management systems.

    13. Rodrigo on said:

      Bom apanhado geral sobre o tema.------------Good overview about the subject.

    14. Patrick King on said:

      This immensely well written and easy to enjoy. Early comments about the Power Broker Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs illustrated a more thoughtful reflection of the issues facing "Smart Cities". This is perfect for the planner / technocrat but not a how to guide as it's up a level from that - thankfully. I found the insights deep at times though the bulk of the text was not necessarily new. If you're interested in smart cities this worth a read - 3.5 stars

    15. Panz on said:

      It's a little longer read than I expected, perhaps because I was not expecting so much historical background to smart cities and rather a futuristic outlook. The comprehensiveness of the content was a pleasant surprise and I probably did not grasp everything in the first read through. Solid recommendation for anyone even remotely interested in this area, you'll find a lot more work has been done than meets the eye

    16. Scott on said:

      An interesting read, providing an oversight of the technology that is connecting cities.However, not quite what I was expecting in regards to how this technology can be leveraged by the individual and the organisation.

    17. Kelvin Humphreys on said:

      Densely packed full of information, names, anecdotes, and stories the author manages to pull it all together into a riveting and cohesive journey that explores the links between technology and urbanism from history to the present. The author explores some of the biggest issues facing our cities (and societies) today such as climate change and segregation and how technology can and is being used to help overcome them. Townsend also speaks to the problems and ethical concerns that technology itsel [...]

    18. Kostas Pelechrinis on said:

      There have been numerous attempts to define what constitutes a smart city, each of which captures one (or just a few) aspects of the concept constrained from the domain that this definition originated. Anthony Townsend takes a holistic and interdisciplinary approach and manages to give a spherical view of the current status of smart cities and where they are heading.He starts with a description of the technological factors that render the development of smart cities possible and then takes us to [...]

    19. BCS on said:

      For the majority of human existence, people lived primarily in small, mostly rural groups. But over time, they moved together to live in larger urbanised communities to take advantage of the concentrated skills and manpower that this brought.However, there are many practical issues that are caused by so many people living close together, from dealing with waste to transporting people and goods throughout the urban environment. As the cities grew in size and complexity, these issues became more o [...]

    20. Jeremy on said:

      The history section was so informative. I knew nothing of the history of urban modeling since WWII. Fascinating stuff.

    21. Andy Oram on said:

      Townsend produces here neither a simple history nor a rah-rah presentation of a glorious future, but a nuanced view of the impacts technology is already having and will likely have of on our lives. He combines his own substantial experience in government and technology with interviews and research to create an impressively broad overview of data collection and the involvement of the public in using it for improving public services The book will be valuable to people interested either in technolo [...]

    22. Khalil James on said:

      Being a player in the "quest for a new Utopia", Townsend is in a great position to capture all of the excitement around the Smart City. Seamless chapters feature conversations with ambitious Smart City entrepreneurs and leaders; conversations that help the author question and guide his conclusions on how a city might go about becoming 'smart'. The author's dystopian concerns about the over-reliance on, and complexity of, technological solutions to city problems are reminiscent of everything from [...]

    23. Kevin Kaiser on said:

      Useful lessons about failings of centralized gov efforts or big companies to understand what individual citizens can offer the smart city movement.

    24. Ira on said:

      I read Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia to better understand the concept “smart cities“ and to consider how I can apply this concept to my professional work. The author, Anthony M. Townsend, provides a cautionary tale for the adoption of technology to address urban problems. To build this argument, he takes the reader on on a survey of early 20th century information technology inventions and early mobile telecommunication inventions to explain the uneven [...]

    25. 123theone on said:

      I read this book for two reasons: 1) I am a sci-fi author looking for inspiration and facts to back up my story and 2) I am a software engineering student trying to learn more bout the future of the field.For goal 1, this book was OK. The book has some useful ideas that I wrote down, but much of it was not useful. One good thing was the fact that it talked a lot about government and culture, which I think helped me balance my world building with the technical and the social, the latter of the el [...]

    26. Josh on said:

      When talking tech in public policy, it's imperative to not come off as a cheerleader swearing that this will automajically fix all of our ails. Townsend does a solid job of setting the stage for where we are as a result of past actions and how that puts us in a position to advance. While tech holds huge potential for curing a number of urban issues, the author does spend a fair amount of time discussing potential issues, pitfalls and highlighting past failures as a way to guide future design thi [...]

    27. Chuck on said:

      Townsend chronicles how technology will change city planning and management, but I'm still left searching for someone to write this chronicle well. It's certainly an interesting and engaging book, worth reading for anyone interested in the future of cities. It centers around very privileged and vanguard places: MIT, Silicon Valley, and New York, but it lacks parallel between where most people live. Most people live in less dense and less trendy places where the technological investment that Town [...]

    28. Arden on said:

      I went in and out of liking this book. I enjoyed some of the anecdotes that the author recounted, especially about the success and failures of app contests for local governments, the Code for America project and the history of municipal wi-fi initiatives. The history of computer modeling for urban design was also interesting background that was new to me. On the whole, I didn't feel like the book held together very well, but there were enough new ideas, organizations and people that I learned ab [...]

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