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

Urban innovation isn’t just about digital technology. Emerging advances in design thinking can lead to equally remarkable progress in cities. They can also clash against existing regulation with the same force of a disruptive digital service.

That's happening right now in the new urbanist community of Celebration, Florida. The place is filled with design innovations meant to improve quality of life. One of the biggest is that the street design purposefully includes parked cars and curbside trees to help reduce road width. Since narrower roads tend to reduce driving speeds, the streets become safer for walkers and bike riders.

Fire officials aren't having it. Lloyd Alter recaps the debate: response crews are demanding the removal of street design elements to maximize road width so eight-foot fire trucks can have 20 feet of clearance in an emergency (Treehugger). The sad irony, pointed out by a local architect during a public discussion, is that studies show more people die in street collisions than in fires.

Local fire regulations are on the books to protect public safety, and we're all the better for them. But when they start to dictate urban design choices that potentially undermine that very mission of protection, it becomes time to explore yet another type of urban innovation: institutional.

  • Related: Celebration residents clash with fire department over parking (Orlando Sentinel)
(Image: traveljunction / Flickr)

What we're thinking

Productive read: The productivity paradox — why productivity growth has slowed despite great digital advances — is a frequent topic of discussion among technologists. The theory espoused by tech pessimists is that all our new tools don't live up to the hype. In a new must read on the topic, Ryan Avent offers a more nuanced take through the lens of economic history. He argues that new technologies haven't followed the same path as transformative ones like the steam engine because right now labor is too cheap (Medium). In other words, economic inequality and wage stagnation don't just hurt those on the wrong end of the equation, they hurt technological advance itself.
  • From the archives: Innovation, cities, and the optimistic case for economic growth in the digital age (Sidewalk Talk)

What we're doing

How's our newslettering?: This issue marks the one-year anniversary of the Sidewalk Weekly newsletter, so we'd be remiss not to take the chance to thank our readers. We'd also love to get some feedback on where we can improve. If you'd like to share your thoughts, we've set up a short, five-question survey in this Google Form. And if you're not into the whole online survey thing you can go the old-fashioned route and email us here.
  • Bonus read: Thank you again!

What we're reading

Hot flashes: The Billionaire on a Mission to Save the Planet From Trump (Wired). Report: An economically efficient path to scale up solar power (Stanford). California's Drought May Be Over, But Its Water Troubles Aren't (New Yorker). Here are some of the world’s worst cities for air quality (Science). Study: A new silicon solar cell is 26.3-percent efficient (Nature).
Straight cache: Google reduces JPEG file size by 35% (Ars Technica). Opposing Views on What to Do About the Data We Create (NYT). Big cities see early benefits from the Internet of Things, and grapple with ongoing challenges (Geekwire). Study: Wi-fi on rays of light: 100 times faster, and never overloaded (TU/e). The Mean Tweets of New York (CityLab).
SV U: Where Halls of Ivy Meet Silicon Dreams, a New City Rises (NYT). The gig economy celebrates working yourself to death (New Yorker). ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ Author Moves to Ohio to Find Venture-Capital Deals (WSJ - $). SF tech company offers employees $10K to move outside Bay Area (Curbed). Amazon, the world's most remarkable company, is just getting started (Economist).
Road rules: Orlando wants to turn its entire city into a theme park for self-driving cars (Qz). Self-Driving Cars’ Spinning-Laser Problem (Tech Review). How to Make Urban Highways Vanish (CityLab). The road ahead: self-driving cars on the brink of a revolution in California (Guardian). Did Uber Steal the Driverless Future From Google? (Bloomberg).
Up town: The Great 'Innovation' Rebrand of West Baltimore (Next City). What are the unintended consequences of building the city of tomorrow? (UCLA). Why does Donald Trump demonize cities? (WaPo). The world needs more immigration, not less (Economist). In Its Sanctuary Cities, America Is Already Great (Bloomberg View).
Long: iPads In Every Hospital: Apple’s Plan To Crack The $3 Trillion Health Care Sector (FastCo).
List: 16 big transit projects that could be out of luck under the Trump budget (WaPo)
"While it is hard to attribute the particular amount of the fall of transit ridership to a particular factor ... it is clear that a 50% fall in the price of gas could easily explain more than a 5% fall in transit ridership."
— David Levinson (Transportist)
Copyright © 2017 Sidewalk Labs, All rights reserved.
The Sidewalk Weekly Newsletter is written by Sidewalk Labs Editorial Director Eric Jaffe. 

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