Throughout the course of history, many utopians have promoted dreamy concepts of the “ideal city.” Plato and Socrates thought it would be a brilliant idea to have everything – including the best kind of bed – decided by the “Guardians,” who would be those born with “gold” in their blood. Jeremy Bentham, one of the early proponents of the political philosophy of Utilitarianism, designed prisons called Panopticons – with buildings in concentric circles and a tower at the center of the circles to watch over them all. He thought that the same design would also be applicable to the “ideal city.”
Prison… city… what’s the difference?
Later, Fritz Lang gave us Metropolis, with robots, flying machines, and totalitarian control of the people. Surely, we in the 21st Century have seen the silly ideas of the ancient city planners and know to avoid the prescriptions of the utopians.
Nope. The feds are doing what one might expect, spending other peoples’ money on what the bureaucrats and utopians believe is the “smart” city, and some of the folks being taxed for it might find the ramifications very alarming.
Monday saw the start of the “The Smart Cities Initiative Week,” an amplification of a year-old federal program to shower the tax cash of future generations via federal debt onto cities around the nation and make them “better.”
Because, you know, Washington, DC is such a glittering jewel, and the politicians know just how your city should be run, too…
Why are they doing this?
It’s right there in the Constitution. That invisible Article 1000 states that Congress shall have the power to shower other peoples’ money on cities around the nation and play favorites with local politicians and businesses, even while tightening federal control over them. It’s in there, surely.
Regardless… The rationale is expressed in a White House press release:
With nearly two-thirds of Americans living in urban settings, many of our fundamental challenges—from climate change to equitable growth to improved health—will require our cities to be laboratories for innovation. The rapid pace of technological change, from the rise of data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and ubiquitous sensor networks to autonomous vehicles, holds significant promise for addressing core local challenges.
Good thing the politicians and bureaucrats witll define for each of us what "our" fundamental challenges are. And with a press release filled with important terms like “our,” “climate change,” “equitable growth,” “data science,” “machine learning,” “artificial intelligence,” “sensor networks,” “autonomous vehicles,” and “core local challenges” who wouldn’t sit up and pay attention as these highly intelligent bureaucrats show us the righteous path to municipal glory?
Who wouldn’t applaud them like dutiful utopian drones as they begin the week spending another $80 million on cities to promote their centralized agenda?
According to the release, the number of cities now involved in this dangerous sham – sorry, “initiative” -- is up to 70, and the plans cover four issues: the ubiquitous “climate” problem, “transportation,” “public safety,” and “transforming city services,” the last of which is interesting because they are actually called “city services” not “federal services." Evidently, the concept of federalism is quite lost on these urban planners – or perhaps it’s outdated in their eyes.
When it comes to the climate, the feds are intent on spending $15 million to “tackle climate challenges” by using data analytics tools to create a network of buildings that would respond to a centrally-coordinated temperature algorithm.
Essentially, this means the thermostats of these buildings will be controlled by powers outside the buildings. The Community College system of New Hampshire already does this. The temperatures of all community college buildings across the state are controlled not by the people in them, who experience different needs at different times, but by one building in the capital city. It is an absolute mess.
On the topic of transportation, the feds have had the National Science Foundation waste $15 million on grants to “evolve” the “future of urban transportation”, including a plan to:
(T)est, for the first time, how an entire urban network of connected and autonomous vehicles can automatically cooperate to improve travel efficiency and operate safely during severe weather events.
Given the track record of other publicly-run systems in the northeast during storms, this would sound almost comedic if it were not so dangerous.
Government ownership and maintenance of roads has been shown to be an utter failure, and many political-economists have called for privatization. Despite this, urban “planners” continue to spend tax money creating new “plans” -- such as “carpool lanes” that get little use and restrict lane space for other drivers -- that make matters worse. The idea that cities might close off traffic to human drivers and institute policies whereby only autonomous vehicles can be used is not as unbelievable as it might first seem. Officials at Uber and Lyft have already floated the idea that someday, only autonomous vehicles will be on the roads.
So, if you’re a government busybody, why not make this official policy and have access to roads and all the cars on them controlled by political plans and bureaucrats?
On the subject of public safety, the feds focus on natural disasters, and who wouldn’t count on the ever-efficient federal government when it comes to protecting people from natural disasters? They are shelling out $10 million planned to fund “public safety, resilience, and disaster programs.” The Department of Homeland Security will handle this, because, of course, it’s done such a great job breaching the Fourth Amendment at airports that, well, why not?
The fact that protection against naturally-occurring phenomena is not a role reserved for government, let alone the federal government, seems irrelevant to the White House. The original concept of government upon which the Founders based the US Constitution was John Locke’s theory of natural rights, in which each of us has a right to be left alone by the other. We don’t steal from each other, or threaten each other - even if we think we have a noble use for the stolen wealth or noble reason to threaten.
According to Locke and most of the Founders, government was supposed to stop us from, or punish us for, person-on-person aggression. As a result, there is no provision in the US Constitution that allows for the federal government to “aid” anyone in stress due to natural causes. The taking of money from people to “help” others is simply legalized theft, and is just as illegitimate as person-on-person aggression. Legendary “Frontiersman” David Crockett spoke eloquently about this on the floor of Congress in the 19th Century, explaining that Congress had no power to help those in distress, that it was not the government’s money to give, and that morality and care can only be shown through personal volition.
The final area the feds plan to “smarten up” for cities is that of “City Services” which, as mentioned, one might think are supposed to be the purview of, well, the cities. Nope. The feds are showering money on “predictive analytics to identify precisely when city services succeed in helping homeless individuals transition into permanent housing, offering the promise of a future of personalized intervention.”
Of course, this is a nice idea in theory, but it overlooks the fact that the federal government is already spending millions a year trying to get homeless people into houses through renter assistance programs that are not only unconstitutional, but also perpetuate dependency, and through an array of “urban assistance” programs in places like Baltimore have proven to be utter failures. No “predictive analytics” can account for government waste, corruption, and the lack of competitive market incentives.
But that is irrelevant to the “smart” people in the White House. They have their sites set on becoming more involved in city traffic patterns, control over building heating systems, and spending more money on new contractors who can write programs that do nothing to address the causes of homelessness.
That might depend on whether you are the one in control of the money and making the orders from on high - or the one being usurped and controlled.