Ever since the first cities emerged as a form of human settlement, urbanites have pondered their future. Plato’s “Republic,” written 2,400 years ago and still read on college campuses today, put forth a vision of Kallipolis, a beautiful “just” city-state run by a philosopher king who prioritized the “power of knowledge,” but who nevertheless resembles a benevolent dictator. A millennium and a half later, Thomas More’s landmark “Utopia” imagined a peaceful island metropolis where citizens would share goods and meals, learn a given trade and worship freely—albeit while also enslaving people, though many believe the inclusion of slavery was more ironic political commentary than recommendation.

Today, the long-held tradition of prophesying possible futures for urban landscapes has taken new form in the movement to build “smart cities,” in which the processes for building, operating and maintaining…

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