The term “Smart City” covers such a diverse range of topics that it’s impossible to give a neat definition.  Though, it’s likely that many would agree on many of the contributing features: transport, energy, IoT, health… however, at the top of many people’s lists would have to be digital government and not far behind would surely be retail. Afterall, what use is a city that without shops, and how can you have shops (or any property, for that matter) without a controlling body to keep the city in order?

We now live in a consumerist and capitalist society, and it is now long ago that the Sex Pistols sang about, “Anarchy in the UK,” with the line: “your future dream is a shopping scheme.” Somehow between the late 70’s and now, Punks leading icon, Jonny Rotten, became a salesman for butter.

Yes. Butter.

His appearance in a television butter commercial almost ten years ago surely signalled the end of the Punk’s dream of Anarchy: Punk officially died the day that the butter advert was first broadcast.

According to Genius Lyrics, which comments on and attempts to explain song lyrics, the dreams of the song, “are often an expression of capitalism’s influence on how we perceive reward and consumerism: all anyone wants are ‘products’ pushed by companies, rather than anything truly original.”

Are we now in that future dream of commercialism? Without a doubt. With a massive Black Friday recently, and – for the first time – an even bigger Cyber Monday just a few days later, the prediction of the, “future dream of the shopping scheme,” has come true. Perhaps Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistol never envisaged the internet, or even the adoption in the UK of an American holiday that has been warped into an over-exuberant celebration of commercialism, but the essence of their warnings has been realised.

But maybe Smart Cities could come to the rescue to revive some of the Punk Spirit and usher in a ‘pure’ form of Anarchy? I’m not talking of disruption, riots, or civil disobedience – quite the opposite, in fact.

Just as blockchain is redefining the finance industry with its decentralised and distributed model, could Smart City technologies lead to a radical redefinition of how we are governed, at least at the municipal level? Just as modern technology could conceivably lead to a pure form of direct democracy (where every citizen is personally involved in the decision making-process), there is no reason why the governance of cities couldn’t also be decentralised.

Cities could be run without a central organising body.

Perhaps it’s Utopian thinking that would be undone by Human Nature: perhaps without a centralised force at the city-level keeping track and controlling things for us, things would soon fall apart – though perhaps no central authority at the city-level is a very real possibility?  Perhaps cities and communities within cities really could look after themselves?

perhaps without a centralised force at the city-level keeping track and controlling things for us, things would soon fall apart

Of course, the streets need to be kept clean, of course the bins need to be emptied and of course law and order needs to be kept. But will the smartest of smart cities allow citizens the ability to govern themselves without the need to defer to a central city body?

History has seen communities and regions coming together to form countries, and blocks of countries: but history has also shown us many amalgamated regions breaking up and splitting apart again – often in troubling and bloody conflict. Even recently, it has been suggested that London could split from the rest of the UK to become an independent state, such are the differing needs and expectations of England’s Capital to the rest of the United Kingdom.

It’s this contradictory nature of forces bring together smaller communities to create a larger whole, whilst also feeling a need to stay in “our own” small blocks that could both signal the possibility of success, or the inevitability of failure, of distributed authority in self-governing cities, depending on your point of view.

The future of Smart City Governance could radically change due to available technologies Click To Tweet

The future of Smart City Governance could radically change due to available technologies – but should it? Would a decentralisation lead to an anarchy as defined as, “a state of society without government,” or would it inevitably lead to anarchy as defined as, “social disorder due to the absence of governmental control?” Only time will tell.

And as shown above, time does tell for all things: time moved on for Johnny Rotten and he succumbed to commercialism. Perhaps time will show that no amount of technological advancement can result in the successful decentralisation of governance for Smart Cities.