5G and the hyper-connected city: utopias and dystopias

5G and the hyper-connected city: utopias and dystopias

How urban centers can change with 5G. An in-depth study by Ottavio Carparelli, former senior manager in the telecommunications sector, now a consultant in corporate strategy

This series of articles on Start Magazine intends to offer food for thought on possible scenarios of economic and social transformation linked in a more or less direct way to the capillary availability of a hyper-connectivity infrastructure (i.e. an extremely fast connection with short response times and deterministic, of the type of those promised starting with the generalized advent of 5G). Today we focus on the link between hyper-connectivity and urban centers.

Let's begin to make some considerations on the so-called crisis of the urban center. It has been talked about for many years now, but in reality the crisis, painful and highly transformative, had passed through a series of contradictory phases in recent times, even with aspects of countertrend. Let's proceed in order. The country that first highlighted the problem of the "urban center in crisis" many years ago was the United States. There we witnessed, in many cities, the consolidation of a situation in which the city center had often become a "disreputable" area (at least in the hours after work) with few shops and clubs open, and often infamous, with levels of high crime. The shops and restaurants had moved to the suburbs, where there was more parking space, the shopping areas could be controlled, and it was possible to spend the whole evening shopping, going to restaurants, and maybe seeing a movie or going. to a playroom for children or adolescents, all in confined space, practical and safe use. In short, there had been a boom in mega shopping centers to the detriment of the downtown promenade, which in those American cities did not have a social and cultural tradition. Over time, we have witnessed the propagation of the “centrifugal” model, in which the commercial heart of cities and towns has moved towards the periphery (large shopping centers), in some places more quickly, in others less. But then we have witnessed, in more recent times and in a non-homogeneous way, changes in trend. The cultural phenomenon of km 0, the association of the mega shopping center with ecological and ideological problems (the globalized and trivialized product), the extension of traffic problems to the periphery, the embellishment and pedestrianization of urban centers, the precautions related to security (many cities in the world have installed cameras and increased the presence of police), the transformation of businesses (more bars, cafes, restaurants, shops with non-bulky products, "special" products that put forward an impulse purchase rather than a necessity, etc.), the creation of markets, and many other initiatives, more or less controlled by the administrations, have led to a partial re-appropriation of the urban center, to the return of the "stroll" in the center (and even the large signs of shopping centers have begun to reopen nearby convenience stores), while large shopping centers have begun to suffer even more clearly from competition from online business.

But this counter-phenomenon, still fragile, seems to have been questioned in recent months, as a result of or in conjunction with the Covid pandemic .

Staying at home also led to the extension of online commerce to those sectors that had been recaptured from the city center. Even the restaurants and nearby shops have begun to make a good part of their income via orders on the internet, the spontaneous trade (consequence of the walk) has obviously decreased (since there was little or no strolling). But the more or less temporary factors of change in the purchasing model are only the tip of the iceberg (during the lock-down, commerce in the city has, in fact, suffered less than commerce in large shopping centers), in reality we are observing potential much deeper and structural problems. Many more people are choosing not to be surprised again by the pandemic in a small apartment in the center, in short: a house with land and a little bigger is better to deal with a lock-down. Work from home is normalizing, so there is no need to be very close to the workplace. The offer of live programs (including music and theater) on the net has exploded, and therefore the cultural magnet is less powerful. Even the Thai restaurant knows how to get the food home. In short, the feasibility of going for a walk in the center is disappearing, since we no longer live in the center … after all, many cities are experiencing the sudden increase in the number of vacant apartments, a warning sign of the shutdown of commercial signs.

Such a scenario cannot be acceptable to city administrations. The degradation of the center is the degradation of the community it represents. It is necessary to react in the same way that we have reacted in the past, when the term of comparison, if not the enemy, was the mega-mall. Again, the aim is to encourage the installation of an infrastructure that makes the center interesting, but this time the comparison is not the suburban shopping center, but the online experience.

What are the positive aspects of the online experience that you need to know how to respond to? The list can be long. Let's try to list a couple that probably play a role in this discussion: online I am "recognized" and therefore I am offered things that I like, the little shop I walk into often does not know me, cannot offer me targeted products and promotions ; I can buy online in a very simple way and have the items delivered to me in a place where they are not cluttered, the purchase and delivery procedures are now often longer and more complex in the store. Mine are generalizations that apply very often because I buy regularly on a limited number of "places" online, for example I regularly buy on Amazon, which is no longer a shop but a shopping center where many shops sell, large and little ones.

So how to ensure that the center of “Ovunque”, the province of Italy, can position itself as an alternative or complementarity to the “Amazon” shopping center. And this is where the discussion of city centers intercepts the discussion of hyper-connectivity. It is possible to imagine that Ovunque, the province of Italy, has set up an infrastructure that recognizes me, and that makes me suggestions while I am walking in the center, and that therefore makes means of payment available to me and to the shops in the country. delivery that suit me, as simple and preconfigured as those I have on Amazon, perhaps combined with the advantages associated with "loyalty", for example if I use Amazon Prime delivery I also have access to Amazon movies and programs, why not Should I have access to reductions on my tickets to the shows or my dinners in the city center when I shop locally?

And the Ovunque-Centro application could give me many other useful and pleasant things (safety aspects, aspects of playful participation, cultural and practical information, research skills, augmented reality, etc.) that would make my walk downtown a real beauty. experience, which perhaps could also be experienced in a slightly less "beautiful" way from home, when it rains or when you are in lock-down. An administration wishing to build and make available a hyper-connectivity infrastructure of this type should find a way to finance it, perhaps avoiding that the cost falls on users (consumers and small merchants) but leveraging interested third parties, without prejudice to that this is also a strategic initiative to allow the center to flourish and avoid decay. It is clear that dystopian risks cannot and must not be hidden here. A place that knows me can quickly become a place that controls me. The interested third party who invests in the infrastructure for the good of the center can quickly claim rights and pollute culturally if not environmentally. The administration can use the infrastructure to advertise itself and thus maintain power, and so on… But it is worth reflecting on the fact that these factors are exactly what we have to deal with online. In this moment of our social evolution, we have a tendency to accept these dystopian risks in front of a mobile phone or a computer, and not to accept them when they are set in motion in a non-virtual context. It would be worthwhile for the administration of Ovunque, the province of Italy, to start asking these questions, before they become useless because Ovunque has emptied itself.


This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Start Magazine at the URL https://www.startmag.it/innovazione/5g-e-la-citta-hyper-connessa-utopie-e-distopie/ on Sat, 19 Sep 2020 07:30:43 +0000.