COVID; A Great Time to Reimagine the Fair City

Last March, I came across something unusual as I was about to sit down to work at home. In the neighbour’s garden, a fox was, what I could only describe as, frolicking. A beautiful site. The restrictions brought in to stop the spread of COVID-19, as horrible as they are and endless as they seem, had given nature a chance to grow and flourish. Could the same be applied to humans, too?

Human Development

Since humans started banding together they realised that this unity and sense of purpose led to great technological developments. As these settlements grew and became famous sites like Göbekli Tepe and Jericho, to the cities of Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley Civilisations, ancient Rome through to the Cathedral dominated cities and towns of medieval Europe and on to our own time. Although these places could often be dangerous and have been the scenes of almost innumerable wars, conflicts, plagues, famines and other disasters, they also became hotbeds of technological advancement, cultural centres and areas to feed the soul. In essence, the story of cities is the story of us; humankind.   

Something happened in the last century which has started to change this. Our cities became not just zones of trade and commerce, their development became centred around one thing; the automobile. 

Think of stereotypical 1950s America and we get images of milkshakes in diners, teenagers at drive-in cinemas and the Cadillac. Think Back to the Future. The car was key to this new culture of upward mobility. 

The physical appearance of our urban landscapes were completely altered. As stated by this website;  “Almost like a plough breaking the plains, the automobile transformed cities. “ “The car has reshaped the nation’s landscape,” an observer noted, “making it virtually unrecognizable from the unpaved version of the previous century.” Indeed, the transformation of American cities by motorized vehicles was a twentieth-century phenomenon”.  But it wasn’t just the obvious material structure that was transformed. 

The living structure also took a blow. Taken from this Business Insider article; “Up until about 1880, cities functioned more like networked villages. A person likely worked, relaxed, and shopped all within about 20 minutes of their home. Cities of that era of course had plenty of their own challenges, but they functioned as cohesive units. Residents were more likely to interact and function together.”

The cars divided the cities into ghettos so the rich could go from their palatial houses in the ‘burbs to work in the city. Handing over cities to cars choked them and killed the natural movement of humans. And as it was done in the States, so too shall it be done in Ireland. Remember, we are closer to Boston than Berlin. 

However, cities everywhere are changing. In some ways, we move towards the future and in other ways, we look back to the past. Many European cities were built hundreds and in some cases thousands of years ago. They were constructed with horses and carts in mind, not super trucks. 

Realising this, there has been a move to repedestrianising towns and cities. Barcelona in particular. The first ‘superblock’ was created in Poblenou in 2016 and plans are afoot to develop more including 21 blocks , or Superilla, in the Eixample district pencilled in for completion 2030. 

The advantages of this urban reclaiming are numerous. Cities are cleaner, safer from traffic, there is less social isolation and smaller independent trade increases as people can walk unhindered from shop to shop. The urban jungle is being tamed.

This could be a time-sensitive issue, too. As Amazon look to open a “fulfilment centre” in Dublin, who is to say they wont have a bigger say in how Dublin is shaped and operates in future? To view the Amazon city of tomorrow, a dystopian nightmare if you ask me, watch this video. Also, if you are looking for more ideas on the “post-COVID” city, this article by  Simon Kuper is definitely worth a read.

Dublin the Smart City – 

As a city, we have had our fair share of intelligent people over the years, Joyce, Beckett and Wilde, but a Smart City refers to the interconnectivity of technology to plan, operate and review an urban landscape. The Internet of Things is basically where everything is connected to the internet and all the information provided is linked back to a central nervous system. 

For example, real-time information can be used to give information related to parking, find ATMs, the spread of diseases in a city (very topical now) and catch speeding cars. Take parking for example. The city uses sensors on street lights and metal detectors on the ground to tell if there is a car parked in a space or not. It relays this information back to the central system and this data can be checked by the ordinary citizen by app. This TEDx Talk gives a good insight into the challenges and possible solutions a Smart City can offer. 

Big Brother Watching?

Not only does this offer solutions to a variety of different problems, it is also green and can be more cost effective for running a city in the long-run. All of this sounds great, doesn’t it? So, what’s the catch with this citywide Alexa system? Well, how this information is being recorded and what happens with that information is concerning for many, especially if it ends up in the hands of large corporations. Imagine walking by a billboard, you look at it for a couple of seconds longer than you normally would and then you start getting ads on your phone for the product on the billboard. Not only would it be extremely annoying, but that information could then be sent onto third parties. This will only work if the information is transparent and open to the public. 

If you want more information or want to get involved and make Dublin a Smart City check out the Smart Dublin website. It will give you the details of those involved and all the latest information on what could potentially be the most exciting and important development in this city in a long time. 

Written by Patrick Brogan.

Have Your Say

What are your thoughts on Smart Cities?

Are they going to usher a future of human progress or an Orwellian nightmare?

Let us know. 

Stay informed and make a difference on the issues that matter most to you.

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