Film Cities: The Smart City and Minority Report

The 2002 film Minority Report, directed by Stephen Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise, offers an image of Washington D.C. in 2054 that reflects aspects of the so-called ‘smart’ city.

The idea of the smart city, the incorporation of location-based and technology into a digital infrastructure that helps cities respond to 21st-century challenges with increased efficiency. Not surprisingly, such initiatives are being pushed by tech giants like IBM and Siemens.

While Minority Report has become dated in some ways – flip phones – in many ways it remains ahead of the curve.



The image of Tom Cruise walking through a shopping mall reflects aspects of the smart city (during the scene his character is addressed directly by
advertisements through retinal scans). The tailoring of the consumer experience to his character reflects trends with personalized ads on the internet. Even if AdBlock technology can give many internet users a temporary reprieve from the online assault of ads, when personalized billboards are everywhere, there may be no end in sight.

Location tagging with our mobile devices further reduces privacy and makes all of our movements traceable, just like Cruise’s eyes being scanned at every door. With the advent of wearable tech, the ability to “create your own narrative” with apps like Instagram and Snapchat comes at the expense of privacy, just like in real life.


The film was one of the first to include a digital newspaper. Considering Jeff Bezos’ purchase of the Washington Post, that future may not be far off. According to The Guardian, LG, the company behind the Kindle display is well on its way to producing E-Paper (




The image of the mag-lev superhighways reflects the continued dependence on automobile-like transport, though the cars are self-driving and smaller. Self-driving, you ask? Well, Google is well on that, since the state of California and three other states made their self-driving cars street legal in the last few years.

As for the fantastical superhighways – we’ll see about that. Recent efforts to improve cycling, streetcar, and rail use in major cities are limiting the demands for new interstate systems, making the superhighways less important.




Interestingly, Joel Garreau, the author of Edge City, who posited that new urban cores were forming on the edges of old urban cores, served as a consultant to this film. Minority Report divides its time between the wealthy apartment complexes and townhomes and the slum-like “Sprawl” that lies below. The image of the tenement alley reflects that though parts of the city are glitzy and modern, there is still an area that has been left behind by development, its residents deprived of the full “right to the city.”

Not even the film’s primary plot device, the pre-crime system, which stops crime before it happens, can pre-empt the urban segregation of economic class.




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