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

Imagine the following scenario: A city is considering whether to dedicate a travel lane on a major roadway to transit vehicles. Officials hold a public workshop to brainstorm potential implementation plans. Local residents at the meeting break into small groups and explore how these alternatives perform with a model.

The model provides immediate feedback on how each alternative performs in terms of traffic congestion, transit travel times, transit mode share, greenhouse gas emissions, and other measures. The small groups tinker with their ideas, and after leaving the meeting, residents are encouraged to try out other ideas and alternatives with the model, which are accessible online.

Today, the planning work described above can take months or years. If cities can reduce this time to weeks and extract good ideas from the community, they can create a future in which residents are more engaged and governments are more nimble, responsive, and effective—democratizing urban solutions. Using advances in data collection and analysis, Sidewalk's Model Lab is exploring new ways to approach modeling as a means toward addressing big urban challenges.

EIR Nick Chim and Model Lead David Ory explain more at their first Sidewalk Talk post (Medium). 

  • A key to democratizing urban solutions is building better models (Sidewalk Talk)
(Image: UBC Micrometeorology / Flickr)

What we're thinking

Hail no: Cheap rides are a key selling point for Uber, but that "may not be true for long," according to Alison Griswold and Akshat Rathi, who survey a range of cost pressures facing the company (Qz). The story isn't unique. With early venture capital backing a range of new urban-tech services, there's been a push for below-market prices to boost volume over profit. But city residents have adjusted their lifestyles around these options; in the case of ride-hail, for instance, many have sold their cars. Whether people abandon or stick with these services when their prices rise will be a key moment in understanding the impact new urban-tech can have on city life.
  • Bonus road read: Want Commuters to Ditch Driving? Give Them Cash (Wired).

What we're doing

Sub par: "New York’s subway is by far the least wheelchair-friendly public transit system of any major American city, with only 92 of the system’s 425 stations accessible." That's Google software engineer and disability advocate Sasha Blair-Goldensohn describing how New York has the greatest subway system—as long as you're not disabled (NYT). With help from Transit Center, our NYC Transit Explorer now features a toggle for ADA-accessible stations, so people can see just how much longer it takes to make a given trip in a wheelchair, and encourage the city to do something about it.
  • Bonus for coders: Transit Center has posted the ADA-accessibility station data (Github)
We're jamming: Last year, CTO Craig Nevill-Manning and Software Engineer Dan Vanderkam joined the Google Code Jam finals live stream to discuss their work at Sidewalk (YouTube - 2:15:18). Code Jam 2017 is almost here, so if you're ready to show off your coding skills to world, there's no better time to register than the present (Google).

What we're reading

Hard drive: Is a Traffic Tax the Solution to City Congestion? (Penn). Autonomous vehicles: Peaking, parking, profits, pricing (City Observatory). Uber Crash Shows Human Traits in Self-Driving Software (Bloomberg). If cities start planning now for AVs, they could drastically change their streets for the better. (FastCo). This ad perfectly skewers the self-driving hype (Verge).
Soft data: The best and worst cities to live in for tech workers, based on rent and commute (Qz). What the Republican online privacy bill means for you (Vox). Handcuffing Cities to Help Telecom Giants (Backchannel). A Plan to Save Blockchain Democracy From Bitcoin’s Civil War (Wired). Trump to create office for ‘American Innovation’ headed by Kushner (TechCrunch).
A terrible take on cities: Break Up the Liberal City (NYT). That must be satire, right? (Schweitzer). Seriously that piece is totally wrong (Richard Florida). Kolko: Americans’ Shift To The Suburbs Sped Up Last Year (538). Why does school start so early? Blame 1970s planning (CityLab). The big business of imagining the future city (Verge).
Dr. Know: Silicon Valley's Quest to Live Forever (New Yorker). A.I. versus M.D. (New Yorker). Go Viral or Die Trying (Esquire). Who Killed the Smart Gun? (Motherboard). How The Affordable Care Act Is Transforming Health Care Design (CoDesign). MIT Mathematician Develops an Algorithm to Help Treat Diabetes (Smithsonian).
Oh zone: Google Street View Is Spotting Methane Leaks (CityLab). Can we slow global warming and still grow? (New Yorker). A roadmap for rapid decarbonization (Science). Trump’s big executive order to tear up Obama’s climate policies, explained (Vox). Experts: Trump can't keep promise to bring back coal jobs (WaPo). Innovators in waste maintenance (Urban Omnibus).
Long: Elon Musk's Billion-Dollar Crusade to Stop the A.I. Apocalyse (Vanity Fair)
List: The 5 Best Cities for Women in Tech (Fortune)
"By cleaning the air that we breathe, we will transform our cities, making them fundamentally better places to live, to raise children and to grow old. We commit to lead a revolution in air quality for our citizens. Nothing will get in the way of that promise."
— Mayor Anne Hidalgo of Paris and Mayor Sadiq Khan of London (Reuters)
Copyright © 2017 Sidewalk Labs, All rights reserved.
The Sidewalk Weekly Newsletter is written by Sidewalk Labs Editorial Director Eric Jaffe. 

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