Sustainable urban innovations in the wake of the Corona pandemic

In Milan, and many other cities besides, the constant dirty flow of noisy steel has been reduced to a trickle.

Now is the time to follow New York’s example, from the days of Michael Bloomberg and Janette Sadik-Kahn , when car lanes were painted over to become pavements and cycle paths. The experiment proved a success and became permanent. Milan is about to do the same , and hopefully many other innovative cities will follow suit.

Yet recent events in Toronto may have wider-reaching implications. Here, Google’s sister company Sidewalk, blaming the Corona crisis, has abandoned a major urban development project  that goes by the pretentious name of Waterfront Toronto. This was the flagship of the business-initiated Smart City movement, which arose following the 2008 crisis when the market for the all-purpose systems of tech companies dried up. Slogans along the lines of ‘buy our system, we’ll solve your problems’ enticed buyers in circles close to powerful, decision-making city mayors the world over. The actual needs of these cities were never the starting point. Academia later attempted to help , trying to find questions for these big, might-come-in-handy systems to answer. But a breakthrough never materialised. Simply delivering systems was not enough. Therefore Sidewalk adopted the role of developer and public-authority wannabe (which met opposition) to demonstrate a pioneering, viral example of the wonders of the completely digitised city, at the same time as property revenues, digital-advertising profits and levels of surveillance were all predicted to reach new heights.

The fact that Sidewalk, despite vast resources, failed to create a modern-day version of a company town provides hope. Instead, the path ahead is now clear for a democratic, innovative and eco-friendly digital development in Toronto and beyond, where cities and their inhabitants can dictate their own terms. 

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Last changed: May 18, 2020