I was on a panel discussion last week during Business in the Community's "Responsible Business Week" in which a co-panelist argued in an impassioned speech that we should avoid overly deterministic "top-down" approaches to developing sustainable cities, and should instead encourage "bottom-up" innovation. His points echoed some of the criticisms leveled at parts of the Smart Cities movement by writers such as Adam Greenfield and Richard Sennett.
That's an argument I hear frequently; but I think it's an argument against a proposition that I simply don't think anyone is advocating.
In all of my contacts across the world, in technology, government and urban design, I don't know anyone who thinks it would be "Smart" for cities to be run by technology; who believes that digital data can provide "perfect knowledge" about city systems; or who thinks that cities built and run entirely by deterministic plans driven from the top down would be healthy, vibrant places to live (or indeed are possible at all).
A smart city should create an environment in which technology, infrastructure, policies and culture encourage and support "bottom-up" and localised innovations that make people, communities and businesses more successful. The challenge is that creating that environment will require a significant degree of top-down leadership and change. So we shouldn't be arguing about whether top-down or bottom-up approaches are the right way to create better cities: we should be debating how to make both of them work effectively together.
I've written an article exploring those arguments on my blog, I'd appreciate hearing your views on them,