If you were in ancient Rome looking for signs of the big fall, you wouldn't look in the headlines. You'd have to look closely for small signs, faint signals. You'd have to keep watching day after day and year after year. That's roughly what Eric Schnurer argues in a long comment to a recent article in The Atlantic on Rome's slow fall, "Why Local Innovation Is the Answer." Small things, he writes, often have "large-scale effects but play out on the level of individual grains of sand."
Many people by now have resigned themselves to the ways of smart because they like the features. But smart cities are still new and mysterious, even a little bit unsettling. A friend asked me, "What's a smart city?" I give her the standard spiel about smooth traffic, sustainable garbage, on-demand this and that. She rolls her eyes. "Another top-down miracle," she says in disgust. What's it going to take to win widespread trust?
The secret sauce that's missing in so many complaints about transit service is supporting data. But soon there will be an app for that, at least in San Francisco. OpenTransit, now in alpha stage, running on public data, will provide transit users with the specific data they need to induce change.
Here's a theory I'm working on. Smart cities find a welcome duo in public projects and white-hat hackers. The hackers make apps that fill in the cracks where city administrators don't see or don't have time for. They can design, build, and propagate their wares unfettered by public expectations.