Life is in full swing in the dacha village of Anashkino near Moscow which is used to be empty from October to May. Now Muscovites are undoubtedly and enthusiastically immersing themselves in rural life. They say that they “are out of breath” in the city, pandemic restrictions set their teeth on edge, and it does not matter from where to work remotely.
Some people quit their jobs and moved to rural areas. This trend used to be called “downshifting.” My neighbor Sasha, a former car mechanic, does not know such words, but he has no desire to return to the city. His farm includes greenhouses, chickens, geese, rabbits, and two goats. A couple of times a month, he takes his products to the capital for regular customers. He says he cannot stand more than a day in Moscow. The metropolis takes his energy and requires new skills. One cannot live there for long with a dumb phone and is not too keen anyhow.
Living in customary urban spaces is a relic of the past. Now the agenda is to create “smart cities,” comfortable, environmentally friendly, and equipped with all the benefits of civilization. Will a bright future come soon? What perspective will it have it in store for us? Introduction of “smart city” technologies is discussed on all levels, from authorities and businessmen to young scientists enthusiastic about the idea. The agenda for creating “smart cities” was adopted by the UN in 2015, but Seoul pioneered this movement back in 1996. Even then, a prototype of a unified system of data analysis was installed in the capital of South Korea, allowing to effectively managing the life of the metropolis.
New York is now the world's No. 1 smart city. “The assessment is conducted according to eight indicators based not only on modern technology, but above all on “human-centeredness,” environmental and public safety, and the absence of risks,” said Daria Golembiovskaya, a RANEPA graduate, who studies smart cities for scientific purposes. “Architects bring futuristic projects to life. For example, there are residential floating islands based on cruiser ships in French Polynesia. In Japan, in the suburbs of Tokyo, one of the first smart cities, Fujisawa, was built on 19 hectares along the coast. The Rublevo-Arkhangelskoye project in the Moscow Region is very similar. According fot the plan, there will be “a new environment and a new way of life” on 400 hectares.
Sociological surveys of residents, how they see the megalopolis in 20 years, show that the city should be clean, bright, colorful, safe, accessible and mobile. Water as a natural resource should be free for all. Urban environment is expected to be comfortable for people of different generations and physical abilities. Old houses are not to be torn down, but restored. The suburbs will be not ghettos with dull housing developments, but low-rise buildings, where “you can hear birds singing, newspapers rustling, and bicycle bells in the streets.”
Urbanistic ideas are hotly debated on social networks. The risks of total control over private life and the lack of personal freedom that go along with caused criticism and rejection. It is difficult for a person to accept the loss of individuality and become just a dot on the map. This is a problem many have faced in the last two years of COVID-19 pandemic when we were monitored around the clock by “smart video cameras,” automatically sending out fines for violating self-isolation regimes. From being a private problem a novel coronavirus infection suddenly became a part of public domain. Could we ever imagine that a GP, a district policeman, a building-service supervisor or even a janitor can call to check on your cell phone at the most inopportune moment and demand to “open the door to disinfect the entryway?” Motorists have become accustomed to excessive electronic control as a means of replenishing the city coffers. But still, the enthusiasm around modern technology sometimes pushes the boundaries of reasonableness to far.
Recently, visitors to a fitness club in the Moscow neighborhood of Krylatskoe discovered a security camera disguised as a flower arrangement in the women's locker room. A legal assessment of these incidents is yet to come. Just let the lawyers recover the pandemic. According to the active participant of public discussions Alim Galimulin, head of the studio of landscape design from Kazan, now people tend to leave big cities and live in the countryside, and this trend will only become more and more popular.
Meanwhile, not all cities can boast of infrastructure compliance with the new requirements. Before installing expensive pavement monitoring systems, let's start by building roads, the Siberians say ironically. Their doubts are caused by the lack of professionals who can implement the ideas of engineers, architects and sociologists. The most in-demand IT specialists are leaving the Russian hinterland in search of high salaries and better working conditions, and without them a “smart city” is more of a project on paper.
In Russia, the project, based on an information system capable of analyzing more than 200 indicators of the quality of life in the city, is gaining popularity from the level of wages and benefits to the number of childcare facilities and catering outlets. The project involves 209 Russian cities. Moscow, Voronezh, Kazan, Belgorod, Khimki and Tyumen are leaders in the rating.
While scientists create concepts, and people who are not indifferent enter into discussions, manufacturers successfully work to improve the urban environment.
“Smart lighting” from one of the country's well-known lighting corporations is feast for the eyes, saves electricity consumption, and provides urban lighting and architectural illumination. Even an ordinary city bench can be “smart,” with a charger for devices, an emergency call button, a light box and an electronic cat that is pleased to play with visitors.
LED networks can become the basis for an automated “smart city” system that can control the work of public utilities, respond to residents’ requests, monitor traffic stream, crosswalks and parking congestion. It will be responsible for “smart” stops, environmental monitoring, road condition control, outdoor advertising and even garbage collection.
The vandal-proof housings of the lights and their ten-meter supports can be stuffed with electronics that transmit all this information into a single network in real time. This saves up to 80% energy consumption and reduces operating costs by up to 90%.
Tyumen is the company's pilot project. The towns of Elektrostal, Solnechnogorsk and Noginsk near Moscow, as well as Nizhny Novgorod, Blagoveschensk and others, are next in line. This is not the only company that offers innovative engineering solutions to the city authorities. Now, the Smart Cities network includes 13 facilities created by different contractors, including in Moscow and Volokolamsk near Moscow, Yekaterinburg, Perm, Surgut and other cities in Siberia.
Where can small towns get a lot of money to modernize their lighting, dismantle and replace outdated concrete and wooden poles, and other innovations? Those who have had a lot of experience in this area believe that public-private partnerships and concessions should be used to create the “smart city” infrastructure. This saves budget funds by shifting the financial burden to the private partner.
A “smart city” lights up. A “smart home” cooks dinner for the owners. A “smart alarm” clock gets us out of bed in the morning and sends us to the “smart shower.” Amidst all this futurism, the current snow-covered city will be remembered as a cozy Orenburg shawl.