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The Boston Globe

Ideas

The too-smart city

We’re already building the metropolis of the future—green, wired, even helpful. Now critics are starting to ask whether we’ll really want to live there.

Parking in Boston can be a grueling experience, but Christos Cassandras envisions a way to make it almost effortless: Have the city itself sense when spaces are opening up, and guide drivers to the most efficient spot. The engineering professor at Boston University and his students have already piloted a “smart parking” system in a garage at the school, which uses a smartphone app and software that finds the optimal spot for each driver and tells drivers exactly where to go. “Everybody wins,” he says. “Less time wasted, less fuel consumed, less pollution.”

Cassandras’s scheme is just one step in the march toward what futurists and urban planners call the “smart city”—a wired, sensor-filled streetscape that uses cloud computing and sophisticated software to transform cities into intelligent machines that adapt to people’s lives and steer behavior. Smart city advocates envision a future in which tech-savvy cities offer better civic services, move us faster through traffic, reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions, and gather so much data that the complexities of urban life can be understood and smoothly managed.

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