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

At Sidewalk we talk a lot about bridging the urbanist-technologist divide, but there's an equally troubling gap growing between cities with and without a strong tech presence. Mark Muro and Sifan Liu of Brookings drop some rough new numbers showing that "tech is divergent, not convergent" in the U.S. (TechCrunch). The most striking stat: from 2010 to 2015, just five metro areas accounted for 28 percent of digital job growth across the whole nation.

This great divergence isn't new, but addressing it remains an urgent task in a country that feels more divided every day. Muro and Liu call on tech companies to distribute jobs across smaller cities and "make the 'rise of the rest' a reality." Meanwhile, local government in aspiring tech cities can encourage innovation clusters and create strong new marketplaces for digital tools.

Of course, growing tech centers themselves have work to do — specifically around making their growth more inclusive. That's where urbanists and technologists must play a leading role. If we're not developing innovations that improve quality of life or reduce the cost of living for a diversity of people, we have to stop and ask whether or not they're really worth pursing. More growing links:

  • Rust Belt cities need to stop planning for decline (CityLab)
  • Three maps that show how US metro economies are doing (Brookings)
  • Lawrence Summers says Bill Gates’ idea for a robot tax is “profoundly misguided” (Qz)
  • Three Models of Building for Innovation in Philadelphia (ULI)
(Image: Morgan Burke / Flickr)

What we're thinking

The road less trafficked: Adaptive traffic signals are getting smarter all the time. Take those in Ann Arbor, where tech-enabled lights have helped to reduce weekday travel times by 12 percent (Wired). But great urban intersections don't just move cars — they move all people, whether they're on a bus, a bike, or their own two feet. In a new Sidewalk Talk post, Willa Ng explains how the next-generation traffic tech will help all modes share the street (Sidewalk Talk).
  • Bonus read: Philly Lays Out Data-Driven Plan for Vision Zero (Next City)
No funny stuff: A fun new graphic novel turns those endless terms and conditions that everyone skips into a comic book that people might actually read (NYT). But reimagining the privacy policy shouldn't be left to cartoonists. As our Rit Aggarwala said recently: "The future of urban tech depends on people having confidence that their data is being used in the way it's intended" (Twitter). When it comes to inspiring that confidence, maybe it's time for companies and government to go back to the drawing board.
  • Bonus read: FBI Director Comey: "There Is No Such Thing As Absolute Privacy In America" (BuzzFeed)

What we're doing

Talk of the town: CEO Dan Doctoroff recently spoke at the University of Chicago about Sidewalk's ongoing explorations into an urban district that can serve as a living lab for testing new innovations at scale. The purpose, of course, isn't to use technology for technology's sake — it's to help improve quality of life. "Can we actually dramatically reduce the cost of living in a meaningful way? Can we give people back more time in their day? Can we make it safe to walk the streets — not just adults but children and senior citizens?" he asked. "That’s what it’s all about." Catch the full talk here.
  • ICYMI - Reimagining cities from the internet up (Sidewalk Talk)

What we're reading

Drive in: Self-Driving Cars Can’t Cure Traffic, but Economics Can (NYT). There's only one way to fix L.A.'s traffic: tolls (LAT). How to keep Uber from becoming a monopoly (The Week). Study: Taxi-sharing in cities follows math law (Nature). Traffic-dodging apps prompt cities to game algorithms (USA Today). How a Failed Experiment Could Still Be the Future of Transit (Wired).
Move on: What we know about rent control (City Observatory). The Architecture of AI (Archinect). Detroit's Foreclosure Crisis and the Need for 'Information Justice' (CityLab). Report - Mapping the Shortage of Affordable Homes (NLIHC). Families save more leaving SF than almost anywhere in U.S. (Curbed). Americans might be done with the McMansion (Business Insider).
Whoa-bot: 17 experts discuss our fears of AI (Vox). A ‘whoa’ moment for AI (The Verge). Is tech's gender gap a feature or a bug? (The Ringer). The promise of quantum technology (The Economist). A Visual Search Engine for the Entire Planet (The Atlantic). Tech companies should be donating patents (The Outline). A chatbot is helping refugees claim asylum (Guardian).
City cells: Cities are the lifeblood of our country: Q&A with Ed Glaeser (WaPo). The Quest To Grow Cities From Scratch (Co.Design). Innovative responses to urban issues (PBS). The Steady Destruction of America’s Cities (The Atlantic). Archives: A city of women (New Yorker). How America became a colonial leader in its cities (Vanity Fair).
Community servers: Why public health and tech need to work together (FastCo). The Night Zombie Smartphones Took Down 911 (WSJ - $). Police Body Cameras Will Do More Than Just Record You (FastCo). Build a map of city services with the NYC Facilities Explorer (NYC). Report: Innovations in digital democracy (Nesta). Street Signs That Can Talk (Smithsonian)
Long: The future of transportation in Boston includes fewer cars and more options (Full report: Go Boston 2030 / Coverage: Globe)
List: 5 things you should never, ever say to a woman in tech (Recode)
"We don’t have a robust ethics curriculum as part of computer science. We don’t have the ability to analyze the impact that a product has on society and culture, and on the team that makes it."
— Anil Dash (Fast Company)
Copyright © 2017 Sidewalk Labs, All rights reserved.
The Sidewalk Weekly Newsletter is written by Sidewalk Labs Editorial Director Eric Jaffe. 

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