The dark side of a Smart City

In 1945, asbestos was thé solution in building technology: it was strong, star, isolating and furthermore very cheap. The new material was used in all types of buildings and even for the brakes in cars. But through the years, perceptions changed. In the 60’s the first warning related to health issues concerning the use of asbestos came forward and in 1998 it became finally forbidden. No one could have expected the effects this new material caused to society, or could they have?

Smart City.jpg

This is one of the examples of a new innovation that ended badly. Innovation happens in every field, however the focus here will lay on innovation in the architecture-field. We live in a time where sustainability is more important than ever. This implements the role of architects: they create the living spaces for the next generation. There are thousands of innovations in architecture, for example: solar-panels, 3D printing, new isolation materials and so on. Architects create the environments where people live, and of course people want to have a comfortable living. That’s why innovation in this sector is so valuable, it effects someone’s home and someone’s comfortable space. 

A new interesting innovation in architecture are the Smart Cities. The concept of Smart Cities is to combine digital technologies and ICT to increase quality and performance in urban services. Smart City applications are developed with the goal to improve the management of urban flows and allowing for real time responses to challenges [1]. An example of a city that aims to be a Smart City is Amsterdam which uses these devices in projects to reduce traffic, save energy and improve public safety [2]. Smart Cities claim to be a harmony between a material and virtual world[3]. I think the word ‘harmony’ is a doubtful choice. That's because it will take a lot of agreements to find harmony between a physical, nearby world and a virtual, global world. Until now the way people live is something personal and something private. Do I agree that companies and governments intrude in my personal space?

Let’s do a test. I’m sorry it’s only for IPhone users. Go to General>Privacy>Location Services>System Services>Frequent Locations. Here you go, a list of all the exact addresses you’ve recently been. They know exactly where you’ve been. Apple or somebody else… as a big brother who’s watching you?

For me it’s no problem that Smart Cities are using big-data for something good. But because big-data are a new phenomenon there are no conventions how to deal with it. My concern is comparable to the asbestos-problem. They used asbestos in almost every building before they realised the trouble it brought. Dr. Moores said about Smart Cities: ‘Smart City development has focused on technology, not people; cost-savings, not security; and top-down, not bottom-up approaches.’  As Moores explains, “the persistent collection of data about people’smovements also raises privacy concerns something that some city’s citizens are beginning to push back against.”[4]

To prevent that it becomes an asbestos-problem and people lose their faith in Smart Cities, I advise that this can only be a success when it’s clear who is responsible and there are plain agreements about what to do and not to do. In a changing world where innovations are needed and sustainability is so valuable, architects have got to realise they bear a serious responsibility in using innovations and thinking one step ahead.




1.  Komninos, Nicos (2013-08-22). "What makes cities intelligent?". In Deakin, Mark. Smart Cities: Governing, Modelling and Analysing the Transition. Taylor and Francis. p. 77.ISBN 978-1135124144.

2. Amsterdam Smart City. "Amsterdam Smart City ~ About ASC".  Source:

3. Taewoo Nam and Theresa A. Pardo ( 27-9-2011). Smart City as Urban Innovation: Focusing on Management, Policy, and Context. Resource: :

4. Dr. Simon Moores, 17-05-2015, IFSEC conference Resource:

5. Image: 'The dark side of a Smart City', made by Lisa Gerards