‘New Normal’ Tourism: ‘They’re Watching You, Wherever You Walk’

Smart City surveillance takes on a special role in cities dependent on tourism. Venice is perfecting Brave New World concept: “We know in real time how many people are in each part [of the city], and which countries they’re from.” ⁃ TN Editor

They’re watching you, wherever you walk. They know exactly where you pause, when you slow down and speed up, and they count you in and out of the city.

What’s more, they’re tracking your phone, so they can tell exactly how many people from your country or region are in which area, at which time.

And they’re doing it in a bid to change tourism for the better.

Welcome to Venice in a post-Covid world. The canal city may have been known as La Serenissima, or The Most Serene, during its centuries ruling the waves as the powerful Republic of Venice.

In the past few years, however, things have become rather less serene, thanks to the almost 30 million visitors who descend each year on the city of just 50,000 inhabitants.

Before Covid-19 struck, tourists were arriving in often unmanageable numbers, choking the main streets and filling up the waterbuses. Authorities had tried various measures, from introducing separate residents’ lines at major vaporetto (waterbus) stops to bringing in turnstiles that would filter locals from tourists on busy days. A planned “entrance tax,” due to debut in 2020, has been postponed to January 2022, due to the pandemic.

But as well as controlling footfall, the authorities wanted to track tourism itself — not just by registering overnight guests but, in a city where the vast majority of visitors are daytrippers, by counting exactly who is in the city — and where they go.

Enter the Venice Control Room.

On the island of Tronchetto, next to the two-mile bridge separating Venice from the Italian mainland, the Control Room opened in September 2020. A former warehouse that had been abandoned since the 1960s, it’s part of a new headquarters for the city’s police and government — a self-described “control tower” for the city.

The building has offices for the mayor, other dignitaries, and a large CCTV room, with cameras feeding in images from around the city, watched over by the police.

So far so normal. But then, across the corridor, there’s the Smart Control Room — another bank of screens with images and information coming live from around the lagoon. They’re not being monitored for crime, though; they’re feeding information to the authorities that will create a profile of the hordes of people visiting Venice. The hope is that gathering the information will not only track footfall now, enabling the authorities to activate turnstiles and start charging for entrance on busy days. Eventually, they hope that the data will help create a more sustainable tourism plan for the future.

“This is the brain of the city,” says Marco Bettini, co-director general of Venis, the Venice-based multimedia and tech company which built the system.

“We know in real time how many people are in each part [of the city], and which countries they’re from.”

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Wi-Fiber Tech Drives Ultimate SMART City Surveillance Systems

Total surveillance in Smart Cities has not been curtailed in the slightest as new tech is rolled out to police forces around America. Components like sensors, cameras, license plate readers, CCTV and more are being rolled up into a single surveillance sledgehammer for police, DHS, Fusion Centers, etc. ⁃ TN Editor

Part I

A four year old video from Wi-Fiber Technology does not even come close to telling the whole story of how law enforcement and Fusion Centers can use this product to secretly monitor Americans.

At approximately the 1 minute mark of the above video, Wi-Fiber offers a glimpse into how government agencies use their product to “improve public safety and emergency response in real-time.”

A look at Wi-Fiber’s website reveals next to nothing about how their “Self-Forming, Modular, Autonomous, Real-Time, Turn-Key” (S.M.A.R.T.) product is used. Which opens up a ton of questions.

Readers are left guessing as to how and why law enforcement would want to use S.M.A.R.T. until you start to read between the lines.

You see, S.M.A.R.T. is really just an acronym for smart cities and everything it entails. Wi-Fiber uses Smart Mesh, Edge Computing, Inter-Operability, Visualization, Cloud and G.A.R.I.2.  The G.A.R.I.2 PowerPoint Presentation reveals exactly why police are so excited to purchase Wi-Fiber.

All of these smart city devices are designed to do two things, be accessible by one platform and provide intelligence in real-time. As Canton, Ohio Police Chief  Jack Angelo said, “the more and more we dug into it, we saw that it was going to be probably more of a cost-effective solution.”
A recent Columbus-Dispatch article was a little more revealing.

“Wi-Fiber technology has proven more useful to police than the ShotSpotter system it replaced,  “We get a lot more out of cameras and license plate reading than we do out of the shot detection,“ Chief Angelo said.”

How are police departments getting more intelligence out of Wi-Fiber than license plate readers and ShotSpotter? Because Wi-Fiber allows law enforcement to use CCTV cameras in ways they could only dream about years ago.

“We’ve had alerts on stolen cars from the license plates readers, even able to follow the cars on the cameras, and we’re able to make arrests without pursuits,“ Angelo said.

Chief Angelo also mentioned that they used Wi-Fiber to monitor protesters “at a distance for a less visible police presence.” But would not get into specifics, because as he put it “they’re still going through the justice system.”

Could the reason he refused to divulge more specifics be that the Canton Police Department is using Wi-Fiber to illegally monitor innocent people? Or could it be that he does not want the public to know that the Department of Justice is funding public surveillance through “Project Safe Neighborhood” (PSN) grants? Both are questions that need to be answered.

As the Columbus-Dispatch mentioned, the Canton Police Department received two DOJ grants totaling $47,800, which will fund an expansion of cameras, license plate readers and shot-detection devices.

What makes Wi-Fiber so attractive to law enforcement is that it is similar to Stingray devices; it is portable and can be moved at a moments notice, making it nearly impossible for the public to know if police are using it to illegally monitor innocent people.

Read full story here…

Part II

Since 9/11, the Feds have been hard at work trying to create a national surveillance network ‘for our safety.’ And with Wi-Fiber Technology they might have finally succeeded. A new study by Safety.com revealed that CCTV cameras record every American at least 238 times a week, or more than 12,000 times every year!

Approximately 6 years ago the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) created a national license plate reader program which was allegedly cancelled after public outcry.

“Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Wednesday ordered the cancellation of a plan by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to develop a national license-plate tracking system after privacy advocates raised concern about the initiative.” 

An important tidbit, that has been mostly ignored by the mass media, is law enforcement’s involvement in helping create the DEA’s national license plate reader program.

In 2015 I wrote an article exposing law enforcement’s role in funneling license plate to the Feds.

“The DEA has gathered as many as 343 million records in the National License Plate Recognition program, which connects DEA license plate readers with those of other law enforcement agencies around the country.”

From repo companies to license plate reader companies like Rekor SystemsVigilant Solutions and Flock Safety a vast database of more than 14 billion license plates have been recorded.

Even Homeland Security’s, Customs and Border Protection are recording American’s license plates.

At the same time, police departments have been expanding their cam-share programs throughout the country. Police cam-share programs give law enforcement unfettered access to public and private CCTV cameras.

Our cities have become world leaders in public surveillance as a result of the many surveillance cameras in America.  Readers should note that since the pandemic, Americans have seen a proliferation of facial recognition/thermal imaging cameras spreading across the country.

While all of this has been going on, the Feds have been hard at work turning our cities into mini-CIA smart cities.

In 2017, the CIA’s “Signature School”, the University of New Mexico, has been helping turn our cities into smart cities. Not to be outdone, the U.S. Marine Corps also has their dirty hands in smart cities.

Last year, the U.S. Marine Corps signed a memorandum of understanding to work with the city of San Diego in turning street lights and the IoT into smart city surveillance devices.

I have written extensively about how cities like San Diego and Detroit have become mirror images of Chinese-Style surveillance networks. Both San Diego and Detroit use smart street lights equipped with an array of sensors that record pedestrians, vehicles and in some cases are equipped with microphones.

In San Diego’s case, smart streetlight’s are being used to create a public watchlisting network, which brings us to Wi-Fiber.  With Wi-Fiber, Big Brother now has the necessary tool to connect a hodgepodge of separate police surveillance networks into one cohesive public surveillance network.

In part 1, I mentioned how Wi-Fiber allows police to secretly monitor protesters “at a distance for a less visible police presence,” and it allows law enforcement to secretly follow vehicles as they travel throughout the city of Canton, Ohio. Part 1 also revealed how law enforcement can use Wi-Fiber to identify and track pedestrians and any items or clothing they may be carrying or wearing, which really only touches the surface of just how invasive police surveillance has become.

Wi-Fiber gives law enforcement access to public and private CCTV cameras, cam-share cameras, public transit cameras, red-light cameras, traffic intersection cameras, highway surveillance cameras, E-ZPass cameras, ShotSpotter cameras (with microphones), smart street lights and license plate readers to track Americans without a warrant. To see how police turned the “Electronic Monitoring Indigency Fund” into a highway surveillance program, click here.)

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Forbes Calls For Cities To Up Data Game To Conquer COVID-19

Data is the new oil of the 21st century. COVID-19 is providing the opportunity for city CIOs to implement massive new data collection and analysis systems at a time when other initiatives have no funding or support. Technocrats remain in control of the entire narrative. ⁃ TN Editor

Long ago, the private sector figured out that data was a valuable resource. Presented with big data, enterprises put it to work, using it to better understand their customers, improve marketing precision and designing compelling products and services. The public sector, while having made significant progress in the past ten years, is still lagging behind in leveraging one of the only resources it has in abundance. Cities are using data, but they’re not yet exploring its true value.

The sudden emergence of Covid-19 in all our communities has put pressure on local governments and city CIOs to respond in meaningful ways. In a recent report, the National League of Cities, an advocacy organization that represents the U.S.’s 19,495 cities, highlights the need for better data gathering to help manage everything from safe social distancing on public transportation to the risk of evictions triggered by economic hardship. Unfortunately, few cities are well-prepared to be able to meet this challenge with high-quality data.

To rise to the challenge, tech leaders will need to up their game. While not ultimately responsible for data’s use—that’s the role of data owners—city CIOs must deliver solutions for data collection, storage, security, and appropriate distribution. Data must be made available at the right time, on the right devices and kept up to date. This means working with stakeholders across government, local communities and beyond to leverage data more effectively.

CIOs as change agents

None of this will be easy for those cities that lag behind in terms of governance and data-management skills. Today, a city CIO must be both a strategist and an agent-of-change. In an era of Covid-19, the role is critical to delivering uninterrupted services and the adoption of digital tools. Ensuring that data is leveraged must be high on the agenda and be acted upon.

To do so, city CIOs will need to convince other stakeholders that change—and, quite possibly, additional spending—is necessary at a time when organizations and budgets are under significant pressure because of the pandemic. That will not be easy, but timely and accurate sources of data from cities are going to be essential if we are to collectively conquer Covid-19.

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Amid COVID And Riots, New York Aggressively Rolls Out Smart City Tech

Like a skilled magician who gets you to look at his right hand while the left hand is performing the “trick”, New York state is rolling out 500,000 smart streetlights that hook up to the Internet of Things (IoT).

According to Smart Cities Dive

Streetlights installed will be on Signify’s Interact City software, which enables local leaders to dim and brighten lights remotely, and centrally monitor outages and planned maintenance in real time. That system can then be upgraded to have sensors with features like environmental monitoring and noise detection. [emphasis added]

In an understatement, the article states “Cities are looking at streetlight upgrades as a way to move their smart city visions forward.” More accurately, it should have laid the blame at the feet of Technocrats within those cities.

Pandemics won’t stop them. Riots, looting and tearing down of historical statues won’t stop them. In fact, those things are helping to drive Smart City build-outs like this. In particular, according to the article, 

 …an increasing number of local leaders have expressed interest in using smart streetlights as a way to monitor large gatherings, in a bid to try and prevent the spread of infection.


Google’s Sidewalk Labs Kills Quayside Model Smart City Project

Sidewalk Labs

Plagued with problems from the start, Sidewalk Labs has abandoned Quayside and Toronto but is not giving up on ‘reimagining cities’. Former CEO Eric Schmidt, has just been tapped by New York City to reimagine its future existence. ⁃ TN Editor

In October 2017, Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto set out to plan a shared vision for Quayside, a fundamentally more sustainable and affordable community resulting from innovations in technology and urban design. Since the project began, I’ve met thousands of Torontonians from all over the city, excited by the possibility of making urban life better for everyone.

So it is with great personal sadness and disappointment that I share that Sidewalk Labs will no longer pursue the Quayside project.

For the last two-and-a-half years, we have been passionate about making Quayside happen — indeed, we have invested time, people, and resources in Toronto, including opening a 30-person office on the waterfront. But as unprecedented economic uncertainty has set in around the world and in the Toronto real estate market, it has become too difficult to make the 12-acre project financially viable without sacrificing core parts of the plan we had developed together with Waterfront Toronto to build a truly inclusive, sustainable community. And so, after a great deal of deliberation, we concluded that it no longer made sense to proceed with the Quayside project, and let Waterfront Toronto know yesterday.

While we won’t be pursuing this particular project, the current health emergency makes us feel even more strongly about the importance of reimagining cities for the future. I believe that the ideas we have developed over the last two-and-a-half years will represent a meaningful contribution to the work of tackling big urban problems, particularly in the areas of affordability and sustainability. This is a vital societal endeavor, and Sidewalk Labs will continue our work to contribute to it.

On these fronts, we’ve already started innovative companies addressing urban mobilitynext-generation infrastructure, and community-based healthcare, and invested in startups working on everything from robotic furniture to digital electricity. We continue to work internally on factory-made mass timber construction that can improve housing affordability and sustainability, a digital master-planning tool that can improve quality of life outcomes and project economics, and a new approach to all-electric neighborhoods.

The Quayside project was important to us, and this decision was a difficult one. We are grateful to the countless Torontonians who contributed to the project, and for the support we received from community groups, civic leaders, and local residents. Sidewalk Labs was attracted to Toronto by the diversity, growth, and opportunity the city has to offer, and that view has been affirmed and strengthened at every step along the way. Toronto is one of the world’s great centers of technological innovation, and nothing about this decision will in any way diminish that.

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Smart City Tools Advanced To Fight COVID-19

smart city

The Internet of Things, AI, machine learning and other Smart City Technology is proposed to be the catch-all solution for ‘winning the war’ against COVID-19. Likened to Superman, this article states, “This sounds like a job for data visualization and smart city tech.” ⁃ TN Editor

How to get supplies and field responders to the right place at the right time is a resource optimization problem. One company is using IoT, machine learning, and smart city technology to solve it.

There’s more to COVID-19 support than knowing how many people are sick; you need to get them to hospitals. Those hospitals need ventilators, protective equipment, and tests to show up in time. That means they need to be ordered in advance based on prediction.

This sounds like a job for data visualization and smart city tech.

Smart city technology

While the Internet of Things (IoT) was teaching your thermostat and doorbell to be smarter, an entirely different side of the family was teaching the cities to become more self-aware. The simplest example of the smart city is the humble waste disposal team. That is, the people who pick up your garbage every week. Internet-enabled trash cans, combined with stop lights and trucks, can optimize travel routes. This lowers traffic congestion, reduces emissions and hourly employee costs. Residents see lower trash (or tax) bills. Everyone wins. The same sort of technology can time those stop lights, direct the fire department and police, plan parking spots or optimize water use. That is, the tools provide insight into how resources are used to deploy scarce resources more efficiently.

It turns out the same technology that can make a city smart can be used to respond to the novel coronavirus. One company that specializes in that area, Quantela, is stepping up to do just that. I talked to the CEO, Amr Salem, from Dubai, on his sixth week of lockdown from the virus himself.

After 20 years at Cisco, where he managed its IoT and smart cities business unit (and later the public sector business), Salem joined Quantela. He explained the company has 95 live deployments, including installations in Albuquerque, NM, Erie, PA, and Las Vegas, NV. Certainly, Las Vegas has plenty of need to optimize light, electrical, and water use—at least until recently.

Salem’s team noticed that the problems that smart city software solves, of scarce resources, also apply to COVID-19. “We found a lot of authorities are looking at data that comes from hospitals,” he said. “They want to know how many hospital beds are available, how many nurses, how many ventilators, the personal protective equipment (PPE), testing equipment. They need to know how many ICU beds, and how many cases reported in the area around the hospital. In this case, you have two different needs, the infection rate and also the critical assets.”

Salem said the leaders want “to make sure the critical assets are available where and when they have the most patients, but also to make sure the patient is sent to the hospital that has the assets they need.”

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Pandemic Seen As Opportunity To Drive Cars Off City Streets

One man’s deadly virus is another man’s sledge hammer to drive smart city policies, including booting cars out of city centers to make way for foot traffic, scooters and public transit. Demand for this is falsely attributed to local urbanites rather than green urban planners. ⁃ TN Editor

Last Tuesday, a Gemballa Mirage GT barrelled into a series of parked cars on a Manhattan street. The driver fled and was arrested. And for a moment, New York seemed almost normal, free of the quiet that has ruled the city for three weeks, since residents were ordered to shelter in place to corral the spread of the novel coronavirus. As traffic has evaporated, car crashes in the city have dropped more than 50 percent compared with the same time last year. So have injuries to drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists. The air is cleaner, the honking but an echo.

Cities that have seen traffic calmed, however, face a new kind of congestion—not on their streets but their sidewalks. Like urbanites around the world, New Yorkers barred from offices, bars, theaters, and restaurants are crowding into the city’s public spaces, often trampling social distancing rules in the process. Mayor Bill de Blasio said police will begin fining people up to $500 for disobeying the order to stay 6 feet from others, a price that has since doubled. “Anyone who’s not social distancing at this point actually is putting other people in danger,” the mayor said on The Today Show.

De Blasio and many other civic leaders are trying to enforce the 6-foot line by restricting access to places where people get together: dog parks, basketball courts, playgrounds, beaches, hiking trails, and the like. The problem with curtailing the supply of open space, though, is that it doesn’t reduce demand. People still need to go outside, some to work, others to play, all to keep their sanity intact. Now, though, the demand comes chiefly from people on foot, rather than in vehicles.

In that shift, urbanists see a chance to save city dwellers not just from the sweep of a pandemic, but from the auto-centric culture that has dominated urban life for decades. They want to prioritize the movement of people—pedestrians, cyclists, transit users, and their ilk—over cars. This isn’t just opportunism, a shot at grabbing street space while most cars are parked. A range of tactics long demanded by urbanists can make life outside more pleasant and practical amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. And depending on how much life goes back to “normal” once the pandemic has passed, the moves could change cities for the better, and for the long term.

One easy, obvious option is disabling the buttons that pedestrians use to summon a “Walk” sign to cross the street. Advocates of pedestrian-friendly roads have long lambasted these “beg buttons” for making driving the default mode of transportation: no push, no walk signal. Now, public health officials see the devices as potential conveyors of the coronavirus. Several cities in Australia and New Zealand have rejiggered traffic signal cycles to include walk signals, no push needed. So has Berkeley, California. “That’s a good example of an easy and sustainable thing cities can do,” says Tabitha Combs, who studies transportation planning and policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. By turning them off, cities are tacitly admitting that the buttons aren’t meant to make intersections safer for pedestrians, but to keep cars moving as much as possible. “They’ve let the cat out of the bag that it’s something they can do,” Combs says.

The bigger move is closing streets to vehicles, so people have more room to walk around or exercise. Bogota, Colombia; Calgary, Canada; Denver, Colorado; St Paul, Minnesota; Cologne, Germany and other cities have blocked off stretches of road in recent weeks. Friday, Oakland said it will close 10 percent of its street network—74 miles worth—to vehicle traffic. Others, like Vancouver, have booted cars from roads in parks. Closing streets, though, demands resources, including materials to indicate cars are no longer welcome and people to enforce the new regime.

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Smart Region: The Rise Of The Activist University


Arizona State University is not a state agency nor a representative of surrounding cities, but it is instrumental in creating a regional scheme to force smart city tech on 4.2 million people and 22 cities in Arizona. ⁃ TN Editor

ASU is a founding member of a new “smart region initiative” to bring cities and towns together in the Phoenix area together to collaboratively solve challenges and problems using technology.

As part of this initiative, ASU partnered with the Maricopa Association of Governmentsthe Greater Phoenix Economic Council and the Institute for Digital Progress to form The Connective, a consortium to help provide the greater Phoenix area with the tools necessary to create a smart city.

The city of Phoenix is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, but according to Diana Bowman, the associate dean for international engagement in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, the metropolitan region is not up to date in terms of becoming a smart city.

“The greater Phoenix area is well behind the ball,” Bowman said.

But the goal of creating The Connective was to solve that issue by bringing the cities together. The partnership is meant to advance the technologies necessary to create a smart region by involving community and industry leaders.

According to Forbes, smart cities “bring together infrastructure and technology to improve the quality of citizens and enhance their interactions with the urban environment.”

Bowman said that the goal of The Connective is to “improve quality of life” in the greater Phoenix area.

“It’s not about the technology, it’s about the … individual,” Bowman said.

In 2020, members of The Connective have started working with different towns and cities in the greater Phoenix region to get an understanding of what issues they are facing.

The Connective will be working with partners in both the public and private sectors to combat those challenges, whether it be parking, water, transportation or other issues.

The 22 partners that make up The Connective, include Dell, Cox, Sprint and The Salt River Project.

Bowman said ASU’s role in the partnership will be accelerating the development of necessary technology by using its campuses to test and research in a sort of “sandbox” environment.

“ASU is really critical in terms of the idea of co-creating and testing technology, and the technology partners are already on board to help refine and drive it into the market,” Bowman said.

Dominic Papa, vice president for smart state initiatives at the Arizona Commerce Authority, said that the problem prior to The Connective was that cities were never really great at working together.

Papa said cities tend to focus on helping themselves and ultimately don’t have the time or resources to do more, causing various urban problems like pedestrian fatalities and a lack of mobility.

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‘The Connective’: Arizona Pioneers ‘Smart Region’ Concept

The Connective

National and global buzz is increasing over the Smart Region concept dreamed up by Arizona State University where smart city technology will bypass individual cities by imposing regional policies directly.

Many think this is a great idea, but there are just a couple of problems with it. First, it strips sovereignty from individual cities and second, any regional form of governance is patently unconstitutional. ⁃ TN Editor

During the ASU Smart Region Summit in November, the formation of the statewide collaborative, The Connective, was announced at the State of the Smart Region Gala. The Connective’s vision is that through a community-driven applied research model and intentional, unprecedented collaboration, the consortium of public, private, university, and community partners will empower Greater Phoenix communities to build the nation’s largest, most connected smart region, developing and deploying technology-scalable solutions rooted in connectivity, mobility, equity, and sustainability. This constitutes a big bold new vision for Arizona!

“This is the first major regional effort in the United States to engage communities across such a broad range of municipalities in co-designing and co-investing in our smart and connected futures,” says Lev Gonick, chief information officer at Arizona State University (ASU).

While ASU is planning its own smart city project, they’re also uniting with the Arizona Institute for Digital Progress (AZiDP), Arizona Commerce AuthorityMaricopa Association of GovernmentsGreater Phoenix Economic Council, and 22 Greater Phoenix cities and towns to create and build The Connective.

“Creating a smarter, safer, more vibrant city is at the heart of this effort. ASU is proud to partner with industry and municipalities to advance this initiative for our city, our region, and the state,” says Cynthia Sagers, vice president for research at ASU.

A day-long summit closed the SRS focusing on surfacing the big ideas and highlighting the strategic partnerships that will bring our cities and regions into the future.

Several companies have announced partnerships with The Connective, including Cox, Dell, Sprint, and SRP. Cox and ASU recently announced their plan to launch the Cox Connected Environments Collaboratory at ASU, an incubation space that will cultivate a smart region ecosystem while addressing the need for a consistent, powerful network on campus and beyond to really capitalize on the promise of these smart region initiatives. Students, faculty, and staff will develop Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to problems facing the optimization of buildings for sustainability and new way for us to interact with our evolving environment, providing new learning experiences in virtual and augmented reality, infrastructure modeling, privacy and security, sustainability, and more.

Sprint recently announced a significant collaboration to bring 5G, the Curiosity IoT Network to fruition, a whole new university degree program for IoT development.

Further, Alteryx and ASU are teaming up to use the former’s data analytics platform to effectively use data to solve smart region challenges. This partnership will give students, faculty and staff members an edge on tackling real-world business issues and driving social impact.

All of these announcements signal a substantial industry commitment to public private partnerships and improving the experience of ASU community members while broadly sharing their discoveries and forward pathways.

Bill Gates, Microsoft’s co-founder, had invested in the purchase of 25,000 acres west of the White Tank Mountains for a planned new smart city known as Belmont, and has now also invested in another 2,800 acres in Buckeye.

Belmont’s partners consider the greenfield community to be a “blank slate of opportunity” for developing advanced communication, energy, and transportation infrastructure designed for innovation and delivering an improved quality of life.

In the meantime, Microsoft Corporation has acquired three land parcels in the West Valley for enormous data center builds.

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Private Cities: ‘Priority Is Not The Needs Of Citizens’

Private Cities are the beginning of neo-Feudalism where citizens exist for the pleasure and convenience of the land barons. If the ‘owners’ don’t like you, you can be summarily expelled with no recourse. ⁃ TN Editor

I was walking beneath the tightly packed, identical high-rise towers of Danga Bay, a new 20,000-person mixed-use development built entirely on reclaimed land in Johor Bahru, in the south of Malaysia, with my camera drawn. I had been writing about new cities and developments like this all over Asia for many years, and doing informal visits where I could get a feel for the place, chatting with home buyers and people running local businesses, was part of my standard operating procedure.

But something happened here that I hadn’t experienced before: I was approached by a security agent and was sternly told that I couldn’t use my camera—that cameras were not allowed in Danga Bay.

I questioned him: “So in a development where 20,000 people are supposed to live, nobody is allowed to have a camera?”

He said that was correct.

Of course, that wasn’t true, but there was nothing that I could do: I was in a small city-sized development that was 100% privately-owned and operated by the Chinese developer Country Garden. The word of the company was law.

Private cities, generally marketed as being “better, cheaper and freer than existing state models” have become the new trend in the 21st century urban development. They are mixed-use developments where people live, work and play that are presided over by a CEO rather than a mayor—a company rather than a government. In some ways, private cities are viewed as a “win-win” type of shortcut, as governments can get their new developments built for them via private capital rather than tax dollars and still take a cut of the earnings, while private firms can profit at each stage of the urbanization process.

Private cities, kind of like special economic zones, often have their own sets of rules which often run perpendicular to the laws of the nations they are geographically located within. They are essentially legal wild cards—a swath of land purchased by a private company that can be run as that company sees fit. They are wild cards where the conventions of the broader country don’t apply, where new labor regulations, tax codes, financial laws, business and property registration systems, and education models can be implemented and tested. The ideas behind many private cities tend to be very libertarian: get government out of the way and let the people prosper.

According to Moser, there are well over 15 new private cities and dozens more new urban areas being developed on public-private partnerships throughout the world today. Songdo, a 130,000-person new city owned and operated by Gale International and POSCO in South Korea is one of the dominant models of this movement. Forest City, a nascent $100 billion 700,000-person new city being built on reclaimed land just up the coast from Danga Bay by China’s Country Garden is another. As is Springfield, Australia, a private city that was built from scratch on 7,000 acres of bush by Australia’s 39th richest man that now houses 40,000 residents. Google even recently received approval to build a private “smart” city in a Toronto suburb.

“Private cities are appealing to many governments who want instant urban and economic development and believe that outsourcing to the private sector is efficient and lucrative,” Moser notes. “Real estate development companies and technology companies are attracted by the profits that stand to be made in new city projects and governments around the world are willing to cede land, utilities and control in the hopes of attracting Amazon or some other tech giant.”

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