Beware of Google’s Intentions

Journalist Susan Crawford takes a critical look at Quayside, Google’s Sidewalk Labs’ project in Toronto:

The situation appears messy: The details of the arrangement are not public, the planning process is being paid for by Google, and Google won’t continue funding that process unless government authorities promise they’ll reach a final agreement that aligns with Google’s interests. There are civil servants in every city, I’m willing to bet, who are deeply worried about massive IoT deals by their cities with companies like Google. It is likely that the burdens of these arrangements, over the decades to come, may outweigh whatever short-term benefits the city obtains. In partnering with local governments to create infrastructure, Alphabet says it is only trying to help. Local governments shouldn’t believe it.

Source: WIRED

Vermont to Embrace Blockchain

Early efforts to use blockchain technology for financial transactions are gathering momentum with the launch of a pilot project between Propy, a blockchain startup, and a Vermont city to use the digital ledger to record real estate deals.

Blockchain serves as a distributed ledger framework that posts transactions in real-time as cryptographically unique “blocks,” visible to authorized users. These blocks cannot be reversed or changed, with new additions to the ledger posted on top of the register of existing transactions.

The agreement between state and local officials and the startup based in Palo Alto, California, is among the first government projects designed to use crypto-currency technology in property transactions. Propy touted the deal this week as “paving the way to further government involvement.”

Source: EnterpriseTech

Placemaking and Redefining the ‘Chaotic Street’

Many renderings of new urban development projects include a plaza or similar open space, sitting somewhere in front or between the proposed new buildings. Glitzy visualizations paint pictures of future plazas teeming with life. People are lounging, meeting each other and actively engaging in public life.

But wander off to anywhere in Helsinki (or any Finnish city, really) and you will find dead plazas galore. Most of today’s plazas were planned before digital tools came into play and made adding people easy, but the story has been the same for a long time: once materialized, our plazas typically end up being devoid of the public life they’re envisioned to support.

Supporting public life is a topic we must discuss. The public and policy atmosphere is shifting towards a future of living in denser and more urban neighborhoods. This makes having high-quality public realms a top priority for livability. Thinking about why we have so many dead plazas also helps to advance the broader discussion for smarter urban planning.

Source: From Rurban to Urban

The Undiluted City: Integrating Nature into Modern Life

Just being in an urban environment, scientists have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control. While it’s long been recognized that city life is exhausting — that’s why Picasso left Paris — new research suggests that cities actually dull our thinking, sometimes dramatically so.

One of the main forces at work is a stark lack of nature, which is surprisingly beneficial for the brain. Studies have demonstrated, for instance, that hospital patients recover more quickly when they can see trees from their windows, and that women living in public housing are better able to focus when their apartment overlooks a grassy courtyard. Even these fleeting glimpses of nature improve brain performance, it seems, because they provide a mental break from the urban roil.

This research arrives just as humans cross an important milestone: For the first time in history, the majority of people reside in cities. For a species that evolved to live in small, primate tribes on the African savannah, such a migration marks a dramatic shift. Instead of inhabiting wide-open spaces, we’re crowded into concrete jungles, surrounded by taxis, traffic, and millions of strangers. In recent years, it’s become clear that such unnatural surroundings have important implications for our mental and physical health, and can powerfully alter how we think.

Source: Boston.com

Toronto’s Data-Laden Quayside Raises Surveillance Concerns

Quayside, as the project is known, will be laden with sensors and cameras tracking everyone who lives, works or merely passes through the area. In what Sidewalk Labs calls a marriage of technology and urbanism, the resulting mass of data will be used to further shape and refine the new city.

But extending the surveillance powers of one of the world’s largest tech companies from the virtual world to the real one raises privacy concerns for many residents. Others caution that, when it comes to cities, data-driven decision making can be misguided and undemocratic.

Source: The Seattle Times

Leading 2017 Urban Trends: Cross-Sector Work, Green Transportation

City leaders have developed a greater focus on sustainability and integrating technology and data into their operations, a shift that’s reflected in a number of smart city-focused conferences aimed at expanding the industry. Partnerships aren’t only forming between public and private entities; municipalities increasingly are partnering with each other to take on big projects.

Source: Smart Cities Dive

Collaboration Makes Smarter Communities

Across the nation, communities are building smarter energy infrastructure that leverages the power of data to solve problems. These projects will spur economic development, improve sustainability, enhance public safety and drive efficiencies — ultimately creating a better quality of life for citizens. For more of these projects to become reality, key stakeholders in the community, private industry and government must understand how best to work together.

Source: Smart Cities Dive

Cities, Suburbs and Exurbs: One Integrated System

Planners need to view cities, suburbs and exurbs not as discrete units but as regions, with one integrated environmental and technological system.

Millennial suburbanites want a new kind of landscape. They want breathing room but disdain the energy wastefulness, visual monotony and social conformity of postwar manufactured neighborhoods. If new suburbs can hit the sweet spot that accommodates the priorities of that generation, millennial habitats will redefine everyday life for all suburbanites, which is 70 percent of Americans.

Source: The New York Times

Upwork CEO Stephane Kasriel: 4 Predictions for the Future of Work

The talent war of the future will no longer be between companies, it will be between cities. As technology untethers society, and remote work becomes the norm, people will live in the cities of their choosing, rather than the ones that are nearest to where they work. The cities of their choosing will have a certain “vibe” by offering attractive living options in tech-friendly environments.

Source: World Economic Forum