‘Smart’ is about the clever use of technology to make cities more livable, safer and sustainable. I’ve written before about the why of using technology, using seven touchstones. The last three principles are about money: saves money, easier maintenance and part of business case.
What strikes me about smart projects is that they presume it’ll make money, by reducing costs for instance. Often, this is the main reason for applying LED-lighting in buildings and public spaces, or by maximizing profits. This is partly the explanation for successes like Uber, AirBnB, Google and Apple. It’s not idealism that’s the driving force – to better the habitat, labour and environment. No, it’s about making money – driven by old economic values: the profit thinking of the last centuries.
I don’t think this is a desirable development. Chances are that with this approach we ‘throw out the good with the bad’. To earn back development- and administration costs – yes, of course. And maybe make a little money out it to pay the rent – couldn’t agree more. But most business models still presume (big) profits. Why? There must be another way?
A fascinating example is SolaRoad, constructed in the fall of 2014 in Krommenie (NL). I think it’s a great project: it demonstrates a great deal of guts and adventure to try something completely new. Imagine all paved roads would generate energy! Fantastic: very desirably for a sustainable environment. But those who oppose it are severe: “the road provides insufficient profit.” They speak of generating profit, but what they mean is financial profit. “The road surely isn’t sturdy enough… Already some solar arrays broke down.”
So should we stop altogether? No, for me that would be a perfect example to throw out the good with the bad. Certainly the solar arrays can get better when it comes to generating profit, or sturdiness. But realize how much we can learn from this experiment. What’s functioning, and what not? But also: this SolaRoad is already contributing to a better world. Before, there was only a road taking in energy without doing something with it.
I plead for increasing the importance of societal profit with every project concerning urban technology – now and in the future. If we keep on thinking in the old “economic growth”-ways, smart cities will not rise this near future. So: Stop profit thinking! Let’s adopt ourselves a new motto: not increase but improve.