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On the future of human development - contra polis

This is a part of a miniseries of articles I've written in Italian, now translating to English, as the title suggests, it's an explanation of why I am against the City present and future Model, especially the Smart City which in the introduction of this miniseries, still to be translated, I've defined as a novel revenant Fordlândia to cut it short, here i details a bit for the theory and practice.

the narrative on smart cities

In the highly recommended article (a full book but only in Italian) Rethinking the smart city, by Francesca Bria and Evgeny Morozov there is a nice pass defining how "beautiful" smart cities are as a "perfect examples of corporate storytelling: stripped of all politics and accounts of dissent these narratives inevitably celebrate the unstoppable march of progress and innovation, greatly accelerated by the ingenuity and inventiveness of the private sector" well, let's leave it as that; what do we know about this narrative?

the Sharing Economy

One of the cornerstones is a concept well described by another text I recommend Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy by Saskia Sassen: the Sharing Economy as the "outsourcing of everything".1 A theory actually simple to visualize: we own many things we use regularly, but they stay idle most of the time, a domestic coffee machine for instance typically dispenses just 3 coffees a day, instead of dispensing a lot of coffee continuous used in a bar, a washing machine wash clothes once every 1-3 days at home vs a coin-operated one that runs much more every day. The theory is that we need many stuff we simply under-use and we can solve this "inefficiency" sharing them, so saving raw materials, work, thoughts, maintenance and costs while still having all the services these tools provide. Sound nice eh? But we don't limit ourselves to household appliances, the theory is general: cars? Pooled, everyone grab the first free available, use it wherever he/she want and another users will takes it shortly after, no choice of model, insurance, bureaucracy, … The buildings? Ditto, we own no accommodation, we travel lightly, everything is rented, including clothes, we drop the dirty ones and take the clean ones for some service, we sleep in a capsule hotel, not owning nothing we don't need more, the only "personal belonging" is the login on some app/device from time to time, only the login though, data, tools to store and use them are not ours.

Now in just a paragraph we quickly went from "hey, but this sharing economy seems smart!" to "WTF It's a dystopian nightmare in which the individual are erased!" and in fact ante litteram, the third book that I recommend, by Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society describes precisely this. In the sharing economy we return to proletarians, Ford model replaceable workers, meat-robots weighed with a social score acting as a kind of ledger to decide how many services we can consume, Hayek-ian style to ensure the minimum physical subsistence for the workers except to perhaps prevent riots or revolutions, perhaps offering euthanasia for those who prove to be useless. After all, in order to share well, everything needs to be interconnected and managed, individuals are just part of the system so they need to works as planned, otherwise how can we guarantee the availability of the services for all? The same theory of the failed Soviet planned economy, just re-dressed in a nazi-style coating, where the target – leaving well – became the measure of an efficient society instead of the contrary, that is…

…the IT-driven, inclusive Smart City

Yes, so it is said, a beautiful clean city where everything flows harmoniously thanks to the smart management, of course designed outside the smart city since it need to be and act a priori, not changeable nor controllable by local residents, but continuous monitoring them to manage the smart city in the most effective (for who it's not mentioned) and harmonious way. Of course for such paradise we need the aforementioned meat robots, to understand why just think of a train journey: if we are just humans there are no problems, our dimensions are various but quite similar, like farmed chickens that can be slaughtered by machines because they are almost "well calibrated" in size and characteristics, but when a human is on a wheelchair the journey start to be nightmarish for many, it's complex to board the wheelchair, there is little room to move etc. Just suitcases are problematic, even hand luggage, children can cause problems if they don't stay quiet and sit, that's also why many restaurants don't want them, the same goes for animals… Industrial systems demand standardised stuff, little variety, compliance and schedule and here's the crux: who makes the program? What's the targets and the outcome?

Are the inhabitants of the polis the ones who decide for themselves how to evolve? Of course not, the polis cannot evolve, it's no longer composed of individual buildings in which at most we worry about making connections for clean and waste water, electricity, fiber optics and roads. It is a single interconnected system. Changing it means redesigning it, there is not much evolvability as everything is centralized and there is no space to build construction sites that are not nightmares for traffic. The smart city is a large intensive human farm, something can change, but only slightly, for more we need to redesign the city infrastructure which by nature is not modular. We already see this problem in today's cities: once upon a time there was paper mails and parcels were a rarity. To be efficient we designed paper mails wall boxes in a special niche in all multi-storey building entrance to ease also the postman works, but now paper mails are very few while parcels are the norm, online-retail is the strongest form of commerce. Well… There is no room for delivery vehicle parking and no room to accommodate parcels in a central place. Delivering in multi-storey buildings in dense city is a nightmare, not at all efficient. Most current experiments with drones does not work at all, automated rail delivery is so costly that can't be done, there is simply no solution but rebuilt the city. Smart city where anyone inside own nothing can ease the problem a bit, the owners outside the city can simply relocate people to makes room for such storage places. People individually see no difference, they always get the same services they not own, they have nothing to decide, only obeying or die.

The issue is that we are not an enterprise, we do not live to fulfil a social purpose but to live, creating such factory-cities and rebuild them is an immense waste of resources FAR from being efficient even in mere practical resource usage terms. Such cities are JUST human farms missing customer who buy the farmed animals and suppliers who maintain the company-city. A distopic childish management game, practically unsustainable.

the social effects

In cities we keep moving for anything, since there isn't room to own nothing at home, we typically go to the office and the office + apartments model is a proof of inefficiency: we waste gazillion of resources to build high-rise buildings that are used just a bit less than half a day and we also need to commute at least twice a day. UAU, how efficient. The sole efficiency was and still is for commerce (not e-commerce though): keeping moving means being unable to own, to carry anything, so we keep buying anything in an infinite loop of consumption. In the end even in the free time in most cities we can only consume services. There are not much other options. Unhealthy ready-made food, fast fashion shopping, single-usage staff. A gazillion of short-living thing who end up in landfills, while most narrative state the opposite. Try yourself or try to read different reasoned opinions or news that pops up here and there.

To really understand the social effects in the long run I suggest the very long series of experiments by John B. Calhoun who try to give a population virtually limitless supply of anything, no predators, no environmental constraints except for space: density, his results are known as behavioral sink, the aforementioned population at a certain point start to derail, behavior disturbances ranged from sexual deviation to cannibalism and from frenetic overactivity to a pathological withdrawal from which individuals would emerge to eat, drink and move about only when other members of the community were asleep. The social organization of the animals showed equal disruption. Females were unable to carry the pregnancy or even after successfully giving birth, fell short in their maternal functions, few cohorts with different behaviours emerge but the point is that the population finally collapse and even pushing out many individuals effectively lowering the density and keeping the abundance of anything can't restore the population. They goes extincts.

Green New Deal and cities

Well, I cut short: we have enough tech to converge to electricity, like we have (almost done) converging to IP, a convergence needed for similar economical, industrial, natural needs. But that said tech can't work in cities. Photovoltaic works well for local self-consumption, so fit well on the roof of a shed to power equipment inside, in the parking lot of a supermarket to power fridges during the day and with some tech (electrical storage, but also transcritic CO₂ storage etc) also during the night from a sunny day to another, on the roof or in the garden of a home to power local appliances and recharge a BEV car. In agriculture for irrigation and various small machines2 but not in cities. We can automate very well some industries with renewable, not some others, meaning we can build homes and sheds on RE tech, but not metros, rails, … on scale. We can build semiconductors, wood, glass, aluminium and copper on RE sources on scale, we can't make concrete and steel. We can't make an online-retail for anything in dense cities and so on. In short despite the claims the Green New Deal is incompatible with smart cities and spread living is very compatible if well done (no residential-only suburbs but intermixed spread areas) and well, that's can't be done by the private sector.


As you will have understood, the smart city is in fact a new Fordlandia, the first owned by Henry Ford, a more modern one by Toyota (NOT following the Toyoda model anyway), still owned by someone who does not live there, the inhabitants are his employees, assets that the owner can exchange with others smart city in a revenant neo-feudalism3 stating a modernised version of the Middle Ages "it is God who establishes the destiny of man, you were born a peasant, this is what you have to do, everyone has their own task" reformed as "it's the 'science' of the masters which determines your qualities, only them knows what you can really do to develop your potential and we must all contribute to the functioning of the munificent system". The dating app finds your partner, the social score tells you if and how many children you will have and so on. A practical form of that Clinton Roosevelt have written in it's The Science Of Government, Founded On Natural Law, a society not by the people for the people but by a small cohort of Alphabet-s who own the information and Meta-information mastering, Micro-managing anyone in an only apparent soft benevolent dictatorship. All based on failed theory: classic fascism, classic communism, a false free-market witch is just the classic gladiator arena at the colosseum, the gladiators as citizens of the smart-city/arena, the Romans in the stands as those who direct the society. Seen the past is very likely it will works, as it works, at an early stage, to evolve in another nightmarish distopia with even worse consequences than the past '900s -isms which have led to progress and well-being long after them but at a price so high our world can't probably sustain anymore.

If you don't believe me try seen India's Modi's "revolution" with the first imposed digital currency resulting in a gazillion more poor and excluded, squeezed out of the society without durable and substantial modernisation for the rest of the population in return, the 100 smart cities projects that's likely end up not differently than Saudi Arabia Noem or Arkadag, Innopolis, populated with 1500 African "volunteers" (archived version) since no one seems wanting living there and so on. Life the original Fordlândia projects and social experiments done in exotic places to gain experience without most people noticing. This is the future of cities witch fails to fulfil any other purpose failing to evolve and catalyze innovation, failing to be the hubs of a complex network in the modern Network Theory, failing the old success, the economy of scale, since they are too dense for the present and future economy.

We need resilience, cities can't provide it. We need being able to evolve, cities can't evolve. We need to be flexible, cities are like old factories, they have no flexibility, they might be designed to be efficient and they'll be already outdated before the project completion, we need as always to do more with less, and cities demand more for doing less. We need an evolved population and that's probably the core of the problem: populations seems to be unable to evolve except being "re-built" after some catastrophic events. That's is a subject of another article, but so far surely there is no positive future for the humanity in present cities and in their natural evolution, the smart city.

In other articles in this series I details another possible world I see.


the book is not freely available but it's concepts in short forms appear in various freely available articles like this.


today we have a certain slice of p.v. developed for irrigation but only few machines have made to work in self-consumption, most agro industrial stuff still run on diesel, even if we can build different kind of machines to do the same job on p.v. only or almost only. This tech and the relevant developmental distortions we experience is the subject of another article.


There are various authors who use this term, from the well-known former Greek Finance Minister, the economist Yanis Varoufakis in his Technofeudalism. What killed capitalism in Mariopaolo Fadda The environmentalist Armageddon: From the "silent spring" to neo-feudalism via Raul Jimenez Tellado and Fernández Luis Moreno in Robotic Democracies. USA and EU: neofeudalism and citizenship income? just to mention the first titles that come to mind on the topic.