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The Sidewalk Weekly: what we're thinking, doing, and reading about the future of cities.
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10 Feb 2017

The scene above is one technology company's vision of the future of city life. Not pictured: any cutting-edge technology. Eventually this Samsung ad does showcase VR, mobile payments, and smart watches. But new gadgets aren't the focus — they merely help these cycling youngsters live their best spontaneous urban lives.

That's the keen insight from this week's urban-tech must-read: a City Observatory series that considers tech's place in future city visions (Part I, II, III). In some such visions, dating back to the famed GM Futurama exhibit of 1939, technology itself takes center stage, often in the form of new cars. In other visions, like the one above, technology is "incidental or subservient to the experience" of urban life, writes Joe Cortright. "Our vision of cities ought to be about the joy and wonder of the experiences we can have in them."

Technology is a means to addressing all sorts of urban challenges. But the end should always be a better quality of life for people.

  • From the archives: Smart intersections won’t help cities without smart policy (Sidewalk Talk)
(Image: Screenshot via YouTube)

What we're thinking

Disconnected: Internet access should be as much a basic right as electricity or water in modern cities, but the digital divide threatens to undermine job opportunities, education, civic participation, and more. Hence the uproar earlier this week when new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai blocked nine companies from providing subsidized broadband to lower-income populations (WaPo). Pai later clarified the decision and pledged to do "everything within the FCC’s power to close the digital divide" (Medium). That's a commitment the urban-tech world will be watching closely. More digital reads:
  • Pai defends decision to revoke broadband designations (Ars Technica)
  • Don't Neglect 'Invisible Infrastructure' (Bloomberg View)
  • Make America great with great broadband (Brookings)
  • Trump’s F.C.C. Pick Quickly Targets Net Neutrality Rules (NYT)
Inter-connected: Many of the challenges facing cities are closely related. Bad traffic congestion doesn't just make it harder to get around — it also harms air quality and creates a public health risk. The upside of this inter-connectivity is that efforts to address one problem can help relieve others. Stockholm has reaped such a cross-cutting reward with its congestion pricing scheme: not only has the plan reduced traffic in the city, but researchers report that there would have been 45 percent more cases of childhood asthma attacks without it (Inside Science). That's reason for cheer, and a basis for exploring well-coordinated solutions to tough urban problems. More road reads:
  • ICYMI - Pricing, subsidies, and transport equity (Sidewalk Talk)
  • The I-405 toll-lane experiment: How’s it working? (Seattle Times)
  • What Trump Needs to Learn About Planes, Trains and Automobiles (Bloomberg View)
  • Why car ownership may decrease in the U.S. (Curbed)
  • Ask the experts: What should the U.S. do about urban infrastructure? (Penn)

What we're doing

Spacing out: If you ask cities about their biggest mobility problems, as the Flow team did during the U.S. DOT Smart City Challenge, they'll quickly bring up parking coordination. That's why Flow is exploring pilots to connect drivers with parking spots before a trip, reducing circling and potentially encouraging transit use. The good folks at Google Maps report some initial success with their own newly launched parking prediction tool; in a pre-launch test, many would-be drivers considered taking transit once they saw how tough it would be to park (Google Research Blog). More from the Sidewalk parchives:
Free urban-tech talk: Sidewalk Chief Policy Officer Rit Aggarwala will discuss how technology enriches the public realm alongside NYC CTO Miguel Gamiño Jr., Heat Seek NYC CEO Noelle Francois, Partnership Fund for New York City CEO Maria Gotsch, and Civic Hall CEO Andrew Raseij at Columbia University on February 23. Register for free here. Read more Rit here:

What we're reading

A country of cities: The U.S. resembles two countries, one rural and one urban. What happens when they go to war? (The Atlantic). Map: The mega-regions of the U.S. (Dartmouth). Are Cities Too Small or Too Big? (CityLab). Sharing the Urban Commons (Geographical). Jane Jacobs’s vision of humanity (Nation). How do you build a place people want to live in? (Telegraph).
A Valley of immigrants: Why Silicon Valley Wouldn’t Work Without Immigrants (NYT). Study: How Immigrants Changed the Geography of Innovation (CityLab). Immigrant Shock: Can California Predict the Nation’s Future? (Upshot). Could Immigration Policy Turn Vancouver Into Silicon Valley? (CityLab). Immigration and crime: What does the research say? (Conversation).
Code read: The Next Big Blue-Collar Job Is Coding (Wired). This software can help identify data trends in unsolved murders (Bloomberg). Digital Democracy Brings Legislative Transparency to NY (GovTech). Report: The blockchain's potential to improve trust in government (IBM). Code-Dependent: Pros and Cons of the Algorithm Age (Pew).
Motor bots: The world through the eyes of a self-driving car (Free Code Camp). Tech firms, automakers split over driverless cars (Seattle Times). AI Is About to Learn More Like Humans—with a Little Uncertainty (Wired). Why we won’t get drone delivery anytime soon (Recode). FedEx Bets on Automation (Tech Review). Report: When AVs meet human drivers (GHSA).
Home work: Baltimore hopes tearing up a blighted block will give rise to a new city (WaPo). Google's Plan To Make Our Buildings Less Poisonous (CoDesign). Hard Lessons From Chicago’s Public Housing Reform (CityLab). Meet the YIMBY movement to ease America's housing crunch (Qz). Robots built this wooden pavilion (Dezeen). What’s it like to live on the 64th floor? (Guardian).
Long: The Battle for the Soul of San Francisco: Healing the tension between wealthy tech workers and their impoverished neighbors (Wired)
List: The Future of Transport: A Reading List (How We Get to Next)
"I am convinced that we are going to see more change in the next 10 or 15 years than we have seen in the last 100 years."
— Peter Schwarzenbauer, BMW management board (NYT)
Copyright © 2017 Sidewalk Labs, All rights reserved.
The Sidewalk Weekly Newsletter is written by Sidewalk Labs Editorial Director Eric Jaffe. 

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