Week 3 : Citizens vs Elite

(Announcement – I do not have a TV licence, so I could not open the BBC link.)

I grew up in the communist regime in a small communal one-room flat with my mom and dad. They slept in the kitchen, and I was in the room, which served as our living room during the day and my bedroom at night. But we were lucky because we did not have to live in a shared apartment as was common in the USSR, where whole families had to live with complete strangers. As Gregory (Grisha) Freidin, professor of Russian literature at Stanford University, remembers his childhood,

‘On one side of my room was the man who washed corpses at the local morgue. There were two rooms where the mother and father served in the KGB. Then there was the woman whose husband was serving a sentence for stealing bread from the bread factory where he worked’ (The Kitchen Sisters, 2014).

These were my first associations when reading Townsend’s Smart Cities, where he not only writes about the concept of a smart city as an automated digital infrastructure but calls for an overall change in the social order on a global scale, using terms like the ‘sharing economy’ ( Townsend, 2013: pp 15 -16). It may sound like the ultimate solution to reach a utopian society, and the same romanticized narrative can be found in  Forbes by Ida Auken, in which she describes people who own nothing, do not even have their own apartments, but share rooms in the principle of ‘rotating use’ – when the room empty, it will be used by whoever appears first.

And while such a vision of the city and life, in general, may indeed sound like the best option, it should be mentioned that young Westerners who have grown up in abundance are most prone to such ideas. They had their own rooms in large houses, which, especially in America, have at least two bathrooms and several rooms, including a separate guest room, living room, etc. And, of course, it is all owned by their parents who, except maybe with friends or family, never shared their homes with strangers. However, let’s assume you offer an identical vision to people who grew up in poverty and were forced by the state to live with strangers. In that case, whether they will accept that concept as an option is highly questionable. Especially considering the fact they know that these ideas do not come from the citizens themselves but from the WEF – the World Economic Forum, a private elite club that gathers the wealthiest and most powerful individuals in the world who fly to Davos every year in their private jets to decide the fate of billions of people, but without any intention to possibly involve themselves, by their own example, in the circular economy or ‘shared economy’ process. The text in Forbes is mentioned as ‘WEF contribution’, and Townsend, as it turned out, is also a WEF contributor, so it is not strange that I found so much similarity between his vision and Ida’s dream.

Having in mind that Klaus Schwab, founder of WEF, recently proudly announced that they are ‘penetrating the cabinets’,

it is not unusual to see that the citizens, even in Western counties such as the UK, are not particularly thrilled with the ideas of smart cities in general, including ULEZ (MyLondon, 2023) and implementations of concepts such as ’15 minutes city’ which is not grassroots in Britain but is a global agenda present in Croatia, and other countries.

Smart City koncept: 15-minutni grad, 2021, Pametni grad

Smart City koncept: 15-minutni grad, 2021, Pametni grad

All mentioned above leads us to the main problem and question – who will live in a smart city, and who will be the actual owner of these cities?

Unknown,(2023) Twitter


Anthony Townsend, World Economic Forum [Online]. Available at: https://www.weforum.org/people/anthony-townsend (Accessed: 20.03. 2023).

Auken, I. (2016) ‘Welcome To 2030: I Own Nothing, Have No Privacy And Life Has Never Been Better’. Forbes, 10. August [Online]. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/worldeconomicforum/2016/11/10/shopping-i-cant-really-remember-what-that-is-or-how-differently-well-live-in-2030/ (Accessed: 20.03. 2023).

Benady, R.M., (2023) ‘ULEZ cameras covered with bags in South West London in latest act of defiance against expansion’. MyLondon, 17.March [Online]. Available at: https://www.mylondon.news/news/south-london-news/ulez-cameras-covered-bags-south-26490694 (Accessed: 20.03. 2023).

Kumar, K., Kaushik, M. (2022) ‘My Carbon: An approach for inclusive and sustainable cities’. World Economic Forum, 14. September [Online]. Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/09/my-carbon-an-approach-for-inclusive-and-sustainable-cities/  (Accessed: 20.03. 2023).

The Kitchen Sisters (2014) ‘How Russia’s Shared Kitchens Helped Shape Soviet Politics’. NPR, 20. May [Online]. Available at: https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/05/20/314054405/how-russias-shared-kitchens-helped-shape-soviet-politics (Accessed: 20.03. 2023).

Townsend, A.M., (2013). Smart Cities, New York: W. W. Norton & Company


Nieuwsitems (2022) WEF – Klaus Schwab (founder of The World Economic Forum): “We penetrate the cabinets. 2. Jun 2022 [Online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjxJ1wPnkk4


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