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

After a long December of stories about what went wrong in 2016, the new year brings some hopeful looks at what's ahead. Writing for the WIRED World in 2017 series, Sidewalk CEO Dan Doctoroff expects the next 12 months to mark a shift from providing ubiquitous connectivity to "imagining how it can radically transform cities and help reduce inequality."

Once cities close the digital divide, they can improve quality of life for more people across a range of areas. Connected streets can expand job access and shorten commutes. Online permitting can reduce timelines and costs for housing. Telehealth can provide a more personalized and convenient style of care. "Connectivity will enhance it all," he writes.

There's still a lot of work left, but if tech and government leaders keep reducing the connectivity gap in a responsible way, we could remember 2017 as the year when the digital and physical worlds finally converged. Related reads (hopeful and otherwise):

  • "We should settle for nothing less than universal, high-speed broadband for every household." (Wired)
  • Our cities are getting smarter and you probably didn’t even notice (Qz)
  • This Is the Year Donald Trump Kills Net Neutrality (Wired)
(Image: © Marc Aspinall / WiredUK)

What we're thinking

Planning is caring: "People don’t think about it this way, but planning policies, zoning policies, housing policies — they're all health policies." So says the health director of Fairfax County, Virginia, where health officials are working more closely with urban planners to improve local well-being (WaPo). The shift is a recognition that health isn't just a medical problem, it's also determined by environmental and social factors. In a recent Sidewalk Talk post, the Care lab team explored how data can help cities deliver better care that addresses these non-medical health determinants to the people who need it most.
  • Related: “The whole paradigm now is to identify your high-risk people and provide more resources to them, provide better care to them, keep them out of the hospital.” (NYT)
Planning is people: Five years into the Downtown Project, Tony Hsieh's plan to reimagine a core district in Las Vegas with new technology, the effort has received mixed marks. Surveying what's gone wrong so far, Quartz points to a late start on residential housing, a lack of emphasis on sidewalk activity, and a failure to make local residents core to the venture. The Downtown Project may still succeed yet, but its key lesson so far is timeless: first and foremost, great cities are about the people whose character makes the place so unique.

What we're doing

Join us:
 Our next Sidewalk Talk event (January 25, 6-8:30 PM) will focus on the question: How can data help improve urban healthcare? We'll hear from experts on health policy, population data, and care delivery in cities, followed by a panel discussion anchored around audience questions. As always, the event is invite-only due to space limitations; to apply for an invitation, please use this Google Form and tell us why you'd like to join the conversation.

Isn't that spatial: Sidewalk Labs and Intersection hosted a #GeoNYC meetup this week focused on the future of transportation. Holly Krambeck of the World Bank explained the Open Traffic initiative. Jacob Baskin of Flow got technical on the "conflation" problem with mapping data. Tabitha Decker of TransitCenter and Lela Prashad of NiJeL described a new bus-turnaround analysis tool. And Jeff Maki of Intersection spoke about connected streets. Map on, New York!

(Image: @intersection_co)

What we're reading

  • Watch out: The Watchers: A good long read on privacy, security, and surveillance in the digital age (Harvard Magazine). Uber Doesn’t Want to Give NYC (or Anyone) More Data (Bloomberg Tech). 2016 Blockchain Year in Review for Casual Observers (The Control). Police want an Echo's data to prove a murder case, but how much does it really know? (The Verge).
  • Move on: Study: Carpooling apps could reduce traffic 75% in NYC (MIT). Really, though? (CityLab). Report: What the U.S. DOT learned from its Smart City Challenge about the future of cities (DOT). The cutthroat race to build the world’s fastest elevator (WaPo). In 2017 cars are at the frontier of technology (The Verge). The Most Majestic Infrastructure Projects of 2016 (Wired).
  • Bit and bot biz: The Robotic Grocery Store of the Future Is Here (Tech Review). Technology didn’t kill the office. Instead it made co-working spaces even more important (Backchannel). Why Your Company Needs a Chief AI Officer (Fortune). How voice technology is transforming computing (Economist). Confessions of a chatbot personality designer (New Yorker).
  • Urban studies: In Phoenix, Signs of a Downtown Ready to Thrive Again (CityLab). Study: A new theory of urban scaling (Nature). Are “Charter Cities” a Solution? (Market Urbanism). The Growing Urban-Rural Divide Around the World (The Atlantic). Why rural America voted for Trump (NYT). We asked 72 mayors: How much do you care about inequality? (Richard Florida).
  • Broken homes: Evicted tenants are hiring private investigators to spot short-term rentals (Bloomberg). Pittsburgh's affordable housing trust fund is trying to make the city even more affordable (CityLab). Study: U.S. aging population needs more affordable, accessible housing (JCHS). The Year in Housing: The Middle Class Can’t Afford to Live in Cities Anymore (Wired).
  • Long: The Vertical Farm: Growing crops in the city, without soil or natural light (New Yorker).
  • List: 5 Ways Federal Infrastructure Spending Makes Cities Poorer (Strong Towns)
"That model of stepping up local funds first, or being innovative and bringing in the private sector, and then going to state and federal sources, I think is the model of how we’re going to do infrastructure."
— Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (Governing)
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