1 June 2015

Michiel de Lange: "The truly smart city is hackable and playful"

© iStockphoto.com/4774344sean
© iStockphoto.com/4774344sean

On 30 May the Dutch newspaper Het Parool published an opinion by media scholar Dr Michiel de Lange. He states that the belief in a 'smart city' where computers produce solutions for urban problems, does not take the interest of the citizens into account.

Dr. Michiel de Lange

Digital media technologies have become an essential part of our everyday life in the city. Mobile interfaces, wireless networks, GPS navigation, smart cards, video surveillance, sensors, a multitude of screens, big data and smart algorithms control how we work, travel, live, spend our leisure time and meet.

This intertwining of the digital and physical world is the starting point of smart city plans. Municipalities, technology companies and research institutions try to use "smart technologies" to efficiently organize urban processes and solve problems in the fields of energy, water, transport and logistics, health, safety and welfare, air and environmental quality. The hope is that this improves the quality of life and governance of the city. That is a laudable aim. But without wanting to lump all smart city initiatives together, there is a lot to criticize in such views. 

One alternative vision is that of the "playful city". The use of play and games can get people involved with their city. Game spark different people to participate actively and offers agency to experiment in a safe environment. Some games provide insight into rules, procedures and parameters, others encourage players to develop team strategies and mutual trust to build. Play and games make an appeal to creativity, innovation and learning. It seems a promising way to address and strengthen the cleverness of citizens. The truly smart city is a playful city.