As the U.S. government, tech companies, the media and urban developers double down on the idea that future cities must be “smart,” critics warn the technology-driven urban projects will turn cities into “data farms.”
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg last week announced $94 million in grant awards to fund 59 smart city technology projects across the country.
Despite widespread and mounting pushback against biometric surveillance and control systems associated with smart city technologies and the failure of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) previous attempt to grant-fund smart city transformation in Columbus, Ohio, Buttigieg told The Verge he thinks “smart city technologies matter more than ever.”
Cities just need to take a different approach — experimenting with and testing out different technologies first, rather than implementing a “grand unified system” all at once, Buttigieg said.
The new grants, part of the Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) Grants Program, are the first round of $500 million in funding that will be awarded for smaller smart mobility projects over the next five years, authorized under the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
In this funding round, DOT awarded smart grants for a range of projects, including drone surveillance or delivery, smart traffic signals, connected vehicles, autonomous vehicles, smart grid development, intelligent sensors and other Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure. Some cities, including Los Angeles (LA), received multiple grants.
Smart city development typically focuses on the implementation of technologies like the IoT, 5G, cloud and edge computing, and biometric surveillance to track, manage, control and extract profit from an array of urban processes.
Whitney Webb, an investigative journalist and smart cities critic, said the smart city infrastructure is meant to facilitate the development of cities “micromanaged by technocrats via an all-encompassing system of mass surveillance and a vast array of ‘internet of things’ devices that provide a constant and massive stream of data that is analyzed by artificial intelligence (AI).”
Read More: Buttigieg: $94M Now to Fund More Data-Farming “Smart City” Projects; $500M over Next 5 Years