Dumb Cities

The problem with city infrastructures is they have nothing to say . . .

Yale St Railroad Bridge relic
This railroad bridge relic was marooned here by a new flood control causeway, a new access road to Yale on Interstate 10, and gentrification of an ancient neighborhood … now it can not even be accessed for razing … it sits next to the failing Yale Street bridge (left) in Houston Heights – Photo/Nick Noecker

The Yale Street bridge in the Houston Heights is nearly a hundred years old, serves thousands of vehicles per hour, 24/7, and still can’t tell us how it’s holding-up. It’s slated for demolition before it kills somebody with silence.

New Yorkers built their first gas lines in the 1820s. Two hundred years later 6,300 miles of gas pipes serve millions of customers in New York City…the pipes average 56 years in age and still haven’t learned to talk. The recent explosion in Harlem was the result of a leaky 127 year old cast iron pipe. The blast killed eight, injured 60. Thousands of miles of pipe should be replaced before more people are killed. But will the new pipe have anything intelligent to say?

Photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Large-scale urban areas present large-scale problems…and that makes the idea of “smart cities” as intriguing as the reality is elusive. It’s clear from incidents like the one in Harlem that human sensors are poor substitutes for intelligent infrastructure integrated with maintenance processes. Strangely, people find it impossible to ignore alerts from software robots but ignoring alerts from human beings is a “lead-pipe-cinch.”


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