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

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  722 ratings  ·  80 reviews
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 more people live in cities than in the countryside.

In Smart Cities, urbanist and technology expert Anthony Townsen
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published October 7th 2013 by W. W. Norton Company
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David Sasaki
Sep 13, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Nolan Gray
Aug 20, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: city-reads
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
Nov 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"[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)

Jan 26, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Sep 15, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: democracy, urbanism
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 ...more
Michael Siliski
Bailed on this book 1/4 of the way through. Really mostly a survey of technologies with some musings on top. Very historically focused, but not because the history is important to understanding the current situation or the future. Felt very rote, like I was taking a college course and would presumably need to know all this stuff for some purpose later. I read the Sidewalk Labs Toronto Vision and found it a far more interesting and forward looking view of smart cities.
Nabeel Ahmed
Mar 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great accessible introduction to smart cities, suitably cautionary and not full of hype and fluff. Everyone interested in the topic should read it.
Luis Martins
Interesting take in urban design but did not age well. To the point of making some predictions or assumptions that missed the mark.
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 Goodreads 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
Peter Foley
Oct 22, 2013 rated it really liked it

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
Dec 31, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Pablo Lafón
Aug 08, 2013 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Dec 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
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.
Justin Cole
Apr 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Dec 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bom apanhado geral sobre o tema.
Good overview about the subject.
Roberto Charvel
I had been eyeing this book for quite a while. It had the perfect title and the author seemed to have the right qualifications for writing a great book, but I really struggled to finish it.

The books doesn’t have a comprehensive structure or a clear plan to describe or define what a smart city is. Most of the book references American cities (are they really the most “Smart Cities” in the world?). Foreign references seem distant. Vague and seem incidental rather to explaining to the point what has
Shuaib  Choudhry
Apr 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book about how corporate visions of a city of the future just don't address the citizens requirements and a grassroots civic hacking culture is a better way to do build the smart city through active civic participation and not just app contests with privileged developers developing solutions that are the problematic in their eyes but not in the eyes of the less advantaged of a city which are the more numerous bulk of the population. Making sure the benefits of technology are spread equ ...more
Yerzhan Karatay
To be honest, I started reading the book because of its name.
So when I opened Smart Cities, I was expecting to see the author's vision on what a smart city should be like, now I'm quite unsure if we're capable of controling the bugs, and in a way, I got what he wanted to convey, there are things to improve but I can't say it was really well-written, not sure if I understood everything he meant to share, it felt like Anthony Townsend went too deep into the past to describe technologies and their
Patrick King
Dec 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Dec 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: quit
Honestly it was a good book. He is a good writer and talks about how the world has changed over the past 20+ or so years with regards to technology changing city life. Full disclosure, I only read about 120 pages throughout different parts of the book and stopped for reasons un-related to the book. I think I'll come back and finish it some day in the future. ...more
Aug 15, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
mostly critical of existing technology that was developed to solve pre-existing issues, current unsolved urbanisation issues were hardly addressed. it's always easy to criticise existing processes, but difficult to innovate and was hoping to read more ideas and forward thinking rather than critiques on other peoples inventions. ...more
Feb 16, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jun 20, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not sure what I expected from this book, but whatever it was, it didn't offer it. Very wishy-washy talk about how some cities have turned smart, quickly changing subject when all the shallow aspects have been discussed. ...more
Adrian Halpert
An important read about the emergence of smart technologies in cities. This book felt a bit rambling at times, but overall I think it's a good contribution to the conversations about the potentials and pitfalls and applying smart technology to urban landscapes.
3.5/5 Stars
Braden C
Oct 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
An interesting take on different methods to improve urban planning with, however, does have some digression in his writing. It provides a decent history of what has happened in the past and what could happen in the future.
OK, not great, read on technology and cities.
Jaanika Merilo
Dec 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not really surprising book on much discuzzed topic...
Mar 26, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I’m sure there’s good info in here. I just had a real hard time getting into it. My mind was constantly wandering.
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Anthony M. Townsend is the author of Ghost Road and Smart Cities, and the president and founder of Star City Group, a strategic foresight and urban planning studio. He lives in Jersey City, New Jersey.

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96 likes · 10 comments
“With our days and nights increasingly stretched across the vastness of megacities, we’ve turned to these smart little gadgets to keep it all synchronized. It’s no accident that the most common text message, sent billions of times a year all over the world, is “where r u?” 1 likes
“Stop for a second to behold the miracle of engineering that these hand-held, networked computers represent—the typical CPU in a modern smartphone is ten times more powerful than the Cray-1 supercomputer installed at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1976.” 1 likes
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