Friday, 2 December 2016


What were the qualities that made these cities so 'smart'? The future of our cities as complex physical entities is a subject that has not been given much thought in these technological times of exponential, digital growth and development, and clever 'arty' architecture. This is the world of the 'selfie’: individuality reigns both central and supreme – it has become the core of everything, its measure. Very little thought or consideration is being given to any vision for the collective identity, its expression, and its well-being: its wholeness. Our cities have become a shambles, a mixed hybrid, ad hoc collection of whatever individual whims choose to be and do, irrespective of, unconcerned with any other whims. So what is so smart about these seven places that allow them to be listed as being ‘smart’?

The 'seven smart cities around the world doing it right' are, according to this report: Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Copenhagen, London, Seoul, Singapore, and Washington. What in particular makes these cities so 'smart'? The subtitle provides the suggestion: technology that is ' highly connected to reduce waste and make life easier.' Is that really all? Is this enough? Don’t we need more?

In summary:
Barcelona, touted as being 'one of the most progressive cities in the world,' has sensors that send information on empty parking spaces to mobile phones; and ones that tell when rubbish bins are full: mmm!
Buenos Aires has 'one of the largest free public wi-fi networks in the world,' and is currently 'working on’ digital payments digital and official forms: wow!
Copenhagen wants to be 'carbon neutral by 2025’ and is seeking to do something to reduce overcrowding and eliminate pollution by collecting ‘real time data from wi-fi devices around the city’: many cities ‘want to be’ something!
London is 'trialling driverless cars’ and using credit or debit cards to swipe for ticketing on public transport: is a trial enough?
Seoul can deliver almost anything 'within the hour’ with free wi-fi to ‘pay bills, shop or chat with their friends’: why is it in such a rush?
Singapore has ‘supertrees’- to moderate temperature, collect rainwater, act as venting ducts and some generate solar power. The city has sensors, cameras and GPS trackers to predict congestion and suggest alternative routes: is this an attempt to remedy existing city patterns and problems?
Washington, DC monitors ‘rants and complaints that get posted on social media.' The information 'gets fed to relevant agencies’ that are graded according to their responses: gee whiz!

The report finishes with a statement that says that 'these technologies . . . are not secrets!' Mmmm. Even 'we in Australia can look forward to the best innovations reaching our shores one day soon.' So this is what we have to look forward to? ‘Smart’ cities? Really; truly? Do we want this?

The sad thing is that the city fabric remains the same: unchallenged; unquestioned. There is nothing said about this at all. The only differences in the cities are the gadgets that have been adapted and adopted to provide electronic services – so-called connectivity and feedback. The city itself does not change as an experience of place, only the electronics, the technology - in part.

If we are to have better cities, then this concentration on the digital world of gadgets and possibilities that apparently 'make life easier,' (do they; can they?), needs to be seen for what it is – a crude but 'smart' diversion; a ‘clever’ distraction. The physical city itself is not improved or altered in any substantial manner; yet this infrastructure frames, shapes our experience of being there. Is this ‘smart’?

The big questions relating to what a city is and might become are left as voids, empty, given no consideration at all, as attention is diverted away from the everyday experience of being, and being there as a thinking, feeling, caring person, a part of a larger community. How can place hold this; care for it; embalm it; express this; facilitate it?

We need to ask more, and more serious questions about our conglomerate places, their futures. Are we going to continue with individuals driving (or not driving) vehicles, one per person, forever, oil-based or otherwise? Are our cities merely going to keep expanding, sprawling out into the countryside as the core CBD zones aimlessly reach higher and higher, with all zones accessed by an ever-increasing mess of vehicles? What is to become of public transport? Is it more of the same without drivers? Is this good enough? How are people going to best be accommodated in greater densities? What form of accommodation is required? How can a friendly, walking city, (not that of the Archigram model of the 1960s), a place for people, take its form and relate to, accommodate communal movement? How can existing city fabrics be transformed? What is a ‘city experience’? What is the city of the future? Can the present patterns be relevant at all? Utzon’s Kingo development is much praised, (see: ), but it is predicated on the visions of vehicular access in the 1950s: sprawling streets fingering idyllically into open green space. It offers only a romantic vision from the past rather than any reality for the future.

There are many questions that lie dormant, ready to be raised to the level of daily debate and continued, careful consideration, to reach eventual resolution. The core measure for each response has to be personal experience. That gadgets might play a role in this world does not give them any precedence or preference. They are mere tools to enhance well-being (at best) – everyday experience in which people can thrive away from the tortured world of tension, doubt and despair revealed in mental health problems. Gadgets are nothing more than a means; they are not an end – and they are not ‘smart.’ If the world is to flourish, then it needs to attend to the little things, all of those issues serious, subtle and sensuous. Offering sensors for parking and rubbish bins; offering connectivity; providing free WiFi does nothing but play games with hopes, while increasing unemployment and enhancing a mindless 'new efficiency' rather than the betterment of being. The clever gismos are there seeking crowd amazement; bewilderment.

If our emotional world is ignored, if our mental health is ill-considered, then we can only look forward to the horror of increasing problems, personal and cultural. How can happiness be enhanced? How can contentment be encouraged? We need to be stabilised, settled in a world enriched with contentment: as Paul said, ‘be content.’ If we cannot create places to allow all to be content, then we are making places for war; a battlefield for strife, hopelessness and despair. Gadgets do not make any difference other than distract our attention from our eventual demise.

Philippians 4:11King James Version (KJV) 11
Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.

Our world is one that heightens discontent. It is a world that promotes dissatisfaction for commercial gain: the new gadget, better, smaller, faster; that is out of date the day it is purchased, with manufacturers ready to promote the new something, anything that is more desirable . . . . whatever: there is always something more. Hopes are continually met with failures, demise; they are perpetually eroded into nothingness. Our cities need to begin to change, to embody our well-being, to enrich our contentment: or else.

How does one begin? Not by concentrating on the possibility of gadgets, eulogising them, or placing our hopes in the whiz-bang glee of technology. Cities only become 'smart' in this headline manner by using 'smart' in its limited, digital sense, as a cliché for things slick, new and different. They are not smart at all other than in the sense of carrying a sting, an intense pain, an unrelenting hurting, a smarting: that permanent and persistent aching for something otherwise revealed as a silent yearning. ‘Smart’ cities are there as games, to entertain and divert attention from the reality of life and love that needs enhancement, enrichment; indeed, enchantment, if it is to truly blossom.


Seven smart cities around the world doing it right
Urban areas around the world are becoming highly connected to reduce waste and make life easier.

Around the world, technology is advancing in leaps and bounds. International cities are engaged in a race to be named the smartest, the greenest and the most sustainable.
Take a look at how technology is improving daily life in some of the smartest towns in Europe, the US and Asia.

Widely recognised as one of the most progressive cities in the world, Barcelona has picked up new technological concepts and run with them in recent years.
In this historic city, drivers can be led to empty parking spots thanks to sensors that send real time information to their phones. Similar technology inside rubbish bins alerts authorities when they need emptying, meaning fewer trucks on the streets.

Buenos Aires
Argentina's capital has one of the largest free public wi-fi networks in the world. People living there can log on from the bus stop, at the park, in the museum or while they are riding the subway.
The city is also working on taking payments digital and allowing forms such as birth certificates to be registered online.

Copenhagen has set itself an ambitious goal to be carbon neutral by 2025 and is focused on reducing overcrowding and eliminating pollution.
The ‘Connected Copenhagen’ program collects real time data from wi-fi devices around the city, using the information to find out how people, cars and bikes travel.
The city is using this data to upgrade its traffic management systems, creating a new infrastructure that reduces road congestion. The plan is for bus and bike trips to take ten percent less time by the year 2018.

GATEway (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment) will trial driverless shuttles, autonomous valet parking and automated urban deliveries.
Fancy a drive but don’t feel like driving? London is currently trialling driverless cars in specific, controlled areas. These vehicles can carry up to six passengers at a time, using sensors and GPS to drive and park. Emergency stop buttons are available - just in case!
Similar technology is already in place at Heathrow airport, where ‘Ultra Pods’ carry passengers between the carpark and the terminal.
When choosing to take public transport in London, travellers can pay as they go, swiping their credit or debit cards without having to purchase an actual ticket.

Seoul is a massive metropolis with over 10 million people and the highest use of smartphones in the world.
In this city, almost anything can be delivered within the hour. You can use your phone to order lunch, nappies or dry cleaning pick up, nominating any location (including the subway platform).
Connectivity is a big deal in Seoul and its citizens are used to having free wi-fi wherever they go so that they can pay bills, shop or chat with their friends.

As a visitor to the highly crowded Singapore, you’d be forgiven for expecting noise, crowds and pollution. But you might be surprised to come upon ‘supertrees’- 50-metre tall man-made tree-like structures that moderate temperature by absorbing and dispersing heat.
Singapore’s supertrees collect rainwater, act as venting ducts and some even generate solar power.
There’s no excuse for being late in this town. Using sensors, cameras and GPS trackers, the city predicts congestion and not only notifies drivers of traffic jams, it suggests a better route.
The city is incredibly friendly to older and disabled people who travel on foot, giving them special swipe cards that will allocate them extra time to cross the street.

Washington, DC
Yes, Big Brother is watching. But for good reason in Washington DC. The government there closely monitors rants and complaints that get posted on social media to gather feedback and suggestions.
All the information then gets fed to relevant agencies that are given a publicly accessible grade based on their responses.

The great news about these technologies is that they are not secrets! Every smart city is eager to share what it has learned with their neighbours around the world, meaning that we in Australia can look forward to the best innovations reaching our shores one day soon.

After writing this piece, two reports on technology appeared in The Guardian: one relates to technology and society; the other to technology and mental health. Another report in ABC Science on research into distant galaxies is interesting for its understanding of the limitations of our knowledge, in spite of, perhaps because of our technology. One comes to realise that technology, even considered ‘smart,’ is no necessary or singular solution to our future well-being: much more is needed. The world must come to recognise this, acknowledge it, and act accordingly. The three texts are reproduced here in full.

This is the most dangerous time for our planet
Stephen Hawking

We can’t go on ignoring inequality, because we have the means to destroy our world but not to escape it

      Illustration by Nate Kitch
Friday 2 December 2016 05.28 AEDT

As a theoretical physicist based in Cambridge, I have lived my life in an extraordinarily privileged bubble. Cambridge is an unusual town, centred around one of the world’s great universities. Within that town, the scientific community that I became part of in my 20s is even more rarefied.
And within that scientific community, the small group of international theoretical physicists with whom I have spent my working life might sometimes be tempted to regard themselves as the pinnacle. In addition to this, with the celebrity that has come with my books, and the isolation imposed by my illness, I feel as though my ivory tower is getting taller.
So the recent apparent rejection of the elites in both America and Britain is surely aimed at me, as much as anyone. Whatever we might think about the decision by the British electorate to reject membership of the European Union and by the American public to embrace Donald Trump as their next president, there is no doubt in the minds of commentators that this was a cry of anger by people who felt they had been abandoned by their leaders.
It was, everyone seems to agree, the moment when the forgotten spoke, finding their voices to reject the advice and guidance of experts and the elite everywhere.
What matters now, far more than the victories by Brexit and Trump, is how the elites react
I am no exception to this rule. I warned before the Brexit vote that it would damage scientific research in Britain, that a vote to leave would be a step backward, and the electorate – or at least a sufficiently significant proportion of it – took no more notice of me than any of the other political leaders, trade unionists, artists, scientists, businessmen and celebrities who all gave the same unheeded advice to the rest of the country.
What matters now, far more than the choices made by these two electorates, is how the elites react. Should we, in turn, reject these votes as outpourings of crude populism that fail to take account of the facts, and attempt to circumvent or circumscribe the choices that they represent? I would argue that this would be a terrible mistake.
The concerns underlying these votes about the economic consequences of globalisation and accelerating technological change are absolutely understandable. The automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining.
This in turn will accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world. The internet and the platforms that it makes possible allow very small groups of individuals to make enormous profits while employing very few people. This is inevitable, it is progress, but it is also socially destructive. We need to put this alongside the financial crash, which brought home to people that a very few individuals working in the financial sector can accrue huge rewards and that the rest of us underwrite that success and pick up the bill when their greed leads us astray. So taken together we are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality, in which many people can see not just their standard of living, but their ability to earn a living at all, disappearing. It is no wonder then that they are searching for a new deal, which Trump and Brexit might have appeared to represent.

      ‘In sub-Saharan Africa there are more people with a telephone than access to clean water.’ Photograph: Andy Hall for the Observer

It is also the case that another unintended consequence of the global spread of the internet and social media is that the stark nature of these inequalities is far more apparent than it has been in the past. For me, the ability to use technology to communicate has been a liberating and positive experience. Without it, I would not have been able to continue working these many years past.
But it also means that the lives of the richest people in the most prosperous parts of the world are agonisingly visible to anyone, however poor, who has access to a phone. And since there are now more people with a telephone than access to clean water in sub-Saharan Africa, this will shortly mean nearly everyone on our increasingly crowded planet will not be able to escape the inequality.
The consequences of this are plain to see: the rural poor flock to cities, to shanty towns, driven by hope. And then often, finding that the Instagram nirvana is not available there, they seek it overseas, joining the ever greater numbers of economic migrants in search of a better life. These migrants in turn place new demands on the infrastructures and economies of the countries in which they arrive, undermining tolerance and further fuelling political populism.
For me, the really concerning aspect of this is that now, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together. We face awesome environmental challenges: climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans.
Together, they are a reminder that we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity. We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it. Perhaps in a few hundred years, we will have established human colonies amid the stars, but right now we only have one planet, and we need to work together to protect it.
To do that, we need to break down, not build up, barriers within and between nations. If we are to stand a chance of doing that, the world’s leaders need to acknowledge that they have failed and are failing the many. With resources increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, we are going to have to learn to share far more than at present.
With not only jobs but entire industries disappearing, we must help people to retrain for a new world and support them financially while they do so. If communities and economies cannot cope with current levels of migration, we must do more to encourage global development, as that is the only way that the migratory millions will be persuaded to seek their future at home.
We can do this, I am an enormous optimist for my species; but it will require the elites, from London to Harvard, from Cambridge to Hollywood, to learn the lessons of the past year. To learn above all a measure of humility.
• The writer launched earlier this year

Only emotional intelligence can save children from online gambling

Growing number of young people have online addictions. We must show them better ways to deal with life than by hiding in a digital cave

‘How do we warn our children of the dangers they face as digital natives when this is unfamiliar, uncharted territory?’ Photograph: Chris Radburn/PA
Liz Karter
Friday 2 December 2016 02.13 AEDT
We keep our kids safe from stranger danger, and the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse. We understand, in part from our own experience, the inherent risks. Who has not felt relief that the kids were indoors in front of the computer screen, or plugged into their smartphone instead of out there doing who knows what, with whom?
We did not know that the real, hidden danger within our homes and their school bags was that computer screen, that smart phone. How do we warn our children of the dangers they face as digital natives in this unfamiliar, uncharted territory?
One in eight European teenage boys gamble online, says survey
Suddenly, and scarily, the threats are revealed. The rise in digital addiction is stark: 23% of teenage boys gamble online; indeed, teenagers are more likely to gamble than they are to smoke or do drugs.
Most parents would not know how to spot the symptoms or understand what makes online gambling or digital activity addictive, making it difficult to have meaningful conversations with their children. You can tell your child to “just say no” to drugs; but how can they say no to online interaction?
Without going off-grid, they cannot do it. And anyway, in my professional experience as a therapist specialising in gambling addiction, restricting the ability to gamble or use digital devices is not enough to eradicate the risk. To reduce the risk of addiction in children, we need to pay heed to how much time they spend online, doing what. But it is essential we pay attention to what is going on in their world of thoughts and feelings.
A high level of online gaming in boys is related to bullying, according to the survey by the European school survey project on alcohol and other drugs. Online gambling and gaming is addictive because it provides distraction from stress, depression and anxiety. More young people now suffer these mental health problems for a variety of reasons – whether it’s the stress of school, worries about separating parents, or anxieties around their physical appearance.
My clients describe their addiction as calming, as a trance, in which concentration on gambling, gaming or their smartphone means that they can block out distressing thoughts and feelings. It is the self-soothing effect they are buying when they gamble. It only becomes about winning money when they have lost everything.
Teenage years are a confusing time of intense emotions, when we are vulnerable to anything that numbs emotional pain. Inadvertently, we teach children an association with self-soothing and digital devices when we offer a smartphone to ease toddler tantrums. And gambling is normalised for our teenagers through a plethora of advertisements, and the likelihood that at least one adult in the family will now engage in some type of gambling.
Escaping the misery of being bullied through gambling can mean falling behind with homework and falling out with parents – making the craving for yet more escapism even stronger. Withdrawal is as distressing as from any substance, and having their escape route cut off results in anger, agitation, lies and manipulation, in desperation for another “fix”.
In digital life you can create your character; you can become someone stronger. In pay-to-play games, you buy virtual ammunition; living life online as a warrior feels better than being a classroom victim. Gambling online and winning makes you feel like a winner. The winnings buy more gambling – and with it, more of that empowering feeling. All the while, the virtual world feels like the safest place to stay.
Spending on pay-to-play games is a short step away from spending money on gambling, although now that same desire to escape will mean losing track of the amount of money spent. Using a parent’s credit card to “borrow a couple of quid” results, for many, in maxing it out when money does not feel any more real than the virtual variety used in games. In a panicked attempt to win it back, a destructive cycle of loss-chasing can start.
Can we reduce the risk to children? I consistently see that what helps prevent the development of addiction is a strong identity, healthy relationships, and mental and emotional resilience. In childhood we are practising these skills essential to a healthy and happy life, but it takes time. Unfortunately, our lifestyles do not allow for this time.
I asked a young client of mine how he spent his unscheduled time. The exhausted 14-year-old said he had none; what was not demanded by school was divided between private tuition and after-school clubs. Well-meaning parents often don’t realise the impact of leaving no time for children to relax, reflect and relate one-to-one.
The boy concerned was medicating his stress in secret, gambling online rather than risk displeasing his parents by not meeting their schedule. A scary thing about online gambling is that if the screen is hidden, then so is the addiction.
One in five young people has suffered online abuse, study finds
Children are being deprived of the time and opportunity to develop social skills by overuse of social media. Real-world conflict resolution skills are not developed by blocking someone as a friend on Facebook or avoiding an awkward face-to-face conversation by texting. We cannot learn to tolerate natural separation anxieties if we constantly message and track those we love with our smartphones. We do not develop a strong sense of self if, instead of time for self-reflection, we feed ourselves an endless diet of bite-sized information and others’ opinions.
We must be realistic. The virtual world is here to stay. Removing all access to online gambling and the digital world is impossible. Teaching the poor odds of a gambling win is of little value in stopping a gambling addiction that is about more than money.
What is possible is teaching children emotional intelligence: how to normalise uncomfortable feelings and manage them. We need to practise what we preach and provide good examples for them. Rushing in, stressed from work, we can choose not to pick up our tablet to self-sooth. Rather, why not take a walk in the park with our children and talk about how our stress reduces as a result?
Online addiction in our children may be new territory, but the pathway to it is familiar – an attempt to manage seemingly unmanageable emotions. We reduce the risk of addiction when we teach our children the best way to deal with them.

'Shockingly' cold gas cloud surrounding early giant galaxy surprises scientists
ABC Science
By James Bullen
Updated about 8 hours ago

      PHOTO: An artist’s impression of the ocean of very cold gas in the cluster of galaxies (Supplied: ESO/M. Kornmesser)

The discovery of an enormous reservoir of ultra-cold gas surrounding a distant galaxy has reshaped our scientific understanding of how stars and galaxies formed in the early universe.
An international team of scientists detected the huge halo of gas, 100 billion times the mass of our Sun, surrounding the Spiderweb galaxy, a massive galaxy surrounded by smaller galaxies about 10 billion light-years from Earth.
Until now, it was thought early galaxies were formed by the merging of smaller galaxies, but the growth of the Spiderweb galaxy appears to be fuelled by the cold cloud, scientists reported today in the journal Science.
"This completely changes the way we think that clusters of galaxies form," said Professor Ray Norris, an astrophysicist at CSIRO and Western Sydney University and co-author of the study.
"We're realising that lots of things we thought we knew about the universe are really based on what's going on in the modern universe.
"As we learn more and more about the early universe, we're realising there's quite a few things that are pretty different back there."

Cold cloud a surprising find

      PHOTO: Four of the six dishes that make up the Australia Telescope Compact Array (Steve Dorman/

The research team expected the cluster of galaxies they were looking at, which formed about 3 billion years after the Big Bang, to be hot and violent as galaxies collided and merged.
But instead, they found that the central, larger galaxy was surrounded by an "enormous halo" of very cold gas with stars forming inside it.
"Nobody expected to see that," Professor Norris said.
The gas cloud, which had a temperature of about -200 degrees Celsius and was made up largely of carbon monoxide was a "major component" of star creation, he said, though the cannibalisation of small galaxies also played a part.
The discovery was made using Australia's Compact Array, a five-dish radio telescope in New South Wales, and the Very Long Array in New Mexico, to detect the carbon monoxide in the cold gas cloud.
While several telescopes around the world can detect carbon monoxide, Professor Norris said the wavelength range of the Compact Array made it the only one able to detect it at such a large distance from Earth.
The combined use of the VLA (which imaged individual galaxies in the cluster) and the Compact Array (which detected the gas) formed a picture of what was going on in the distant cluster.
"It's actually a combination of using these two telescopes together that really finally showed us what's going on," Professor Norris said.
More questions than answers
The discovery raises further questions about the nature of the early universe and the formation of stars.
Professor Norris said it was not yet clear exactly how the cold gas cloud came to be around the Spiderweb galaxy, but that it couldn't have come from the Big Bang because of its high carbon monoxide content.
"This gas has to have come from galaxies, even if it's early in the lifetime of the universe. So we really don't know [where it came from]. This is another really good question," he said.
The next step will be to image other clusters of galaxies from a similar time period to see whether they're also surrounded by vast gaseous reservoirs.

      PHOTO: The Spiderweb galaxy, seen here in the centre of the galaxy cluster, as captured by the Hubble Space Telescope
      (Supplied: NASA/ESA/G. Miley/R. Overzier/ACS Science team)

"The impetus will be to look for other examples of this. I'm sure we, and other groups, will start looking at other clusters and my guess is we'll probably see similar things in other clusters now," Professor Norris said.
He said the discovery deepens our scientific understanding of those first billions of years after the Big Bang, when the universe was still forming.
"There's a number of ideas that, if you asked astronomers 10 years ago, they'd tell you it's this or that, and we've had to abandon some of those ideas in the early universe," he said.
"So this new discovery, it fits into the context of things we're seeing.

"There's far more going on in the early universe than we realised."

Indeed, there's far more going on everywhere than we have ever realised - even in 'smart' cities. We have much to learn, and much to do.

For more on ‘city experience’ see: In one sense the ‘city’ as ‘our place’ is a myth; a fantasy. Public places are precisely limited to a defined network of motorways, highways, main roads, streets, lanes, tracks, and paths across the country, each with nodal zones of various scales attached. These places vary in size and relevance from National Parks, museums, department stores, and corner shops, to the doctor’s waiting rooms and the local councillor’s office. There are very few places that are truly open for all to share without invitation or some other controlling regulation.

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