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Issue 8: Sustainable cities: The future of climate change is decided in cities



September 1 · Issue #8 · View online

Dedicated to curating tech products and startups solving the world's most pressing problems, including climate change, pollution, and sustainability.

A couple of weeks ago Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs revealed it’s masterplan for Sidewalk Toronto neighborhood, the high-tech ‘city-within-a-city’. This is a truly massive and ambitious project aimed to prove that today’s new technologies are capable of addressing some of the biggest urban challenges. 
In this issue, we are looking at how with the help of technology we can reduce the ecological footprint of the cities and make our urban areas safer, healthier, and better places to live.

How technology can help cities solve their problems, including challenges of sustainability?
I don’t believe there’s a challenge anywhere in the world that’s more important to people everywhere than finding solutions to the problems of our cities,” Walter Disney said in a 1966 promo film introducing what would become Disney World. 
We can’t agree more, especially considering the rapid acceleration of urbanization which brings an enormous impact on biodiversity and on climate change. 
Let’s look at the numbers:
The United Nations has estimated that by 2050 more than 70% of the world’s population will live in cities. On top of that, the ecological footprint of the cities contributes significantly to climate change, as they consume two-thirds of the world’s energy and produce approximately 70% of the greenhouse gas emissions. That makes searches for solutions for building sustainable cities even more pressing than it is now. 
From Zurich to London to Sydney, many cities around the world have already redesigned their city planning strategies to address the urbanization issues. Smart cities bring us in a totally new era of technology and advancements in how we design and build more sustainable cities.
Smart cities have been tried before with varying levels of success. Early adopters were the European cities of Barcelona and Amsterdam, with Copenhagen, Dubai, Singapore, Hamburg, and Nice, France quickly following suit. In the US, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Miami, Denver, Boston, and Atlanta are among the cities adding smart city technologies and pilot programs.
 Toronto’s waterfront development embodies all the principles of sustainable, smart development and is one of the most exciting redevelopment plans.
A smart neighborhood on Toronto's waterfront could become a blueprint for how sustainable cities of the future might look like
‘Sidewalk Toronto’ is $1.3 billion development plan by Sidewalk Labs, an Alphabet’s smart-cities division, aimed to boost the local economy and to shape the city’s future and ‘provide a global model for inclusive urban growth.’
Together with leading urbanists and technologists, the company aims to demonstrate how data-driven technology can improve the quality of city life.
Sidewalk Toronto will be a new type of place that combines the best in urban design with the latest in digital technology to address some of the biggest challenges facing cities, including energy use, housing affordability, and transportation.
In general, the project is divided into five main sections:
  • sustainable and climate-positive development;
  • new mobility;
  • housing and affordability;
  • jobs creation;
  • urban innovation.
Sustainable and climate positive development is set as one of the major priorities in the plan, as Sidewalk Toronto should become ‘a global model for achieving climate positivity’.
Sidewalk Toronto project will begin with a neighborhood called Quayside, a part of Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront that was formerly dominated by industry and shipping, and now is uninhabited and with little commercial activity. Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs wants to transform it into one of the world’s most innovative city neighborhoods.
The proposed draft site plan for Quayside is full of ambitious ideas. It proposes a completely different approach to city building, layering technology beneath the neighborhood.
The physical and digital “layers” of Quayside. (Sidewalk Labs)
The physical and digital “layers” of Quayside. (Sidewalk Labs)
So, what will Quayside be like? Think of a neighborhood where: 
🚌driverless shuttle buses replace private cars; 
🏡buildings are constructed from modular units that can be expanded to accommodate the growing population; 
🚦all streets are packed with sensors that collect data to optimize the traffic; 
🤖robots transport garbage via underground tunnels.
Quayside project is focused on innovation around energy, waste, and other environmental challenges. It will set a new standard for the environment by reducing carbon emissions by 75–85 percent. Environmental innovations would include:
  • use of sustainable building materials and designs, 
  • solar power generation and geothermal heating, 
  • an advanced power grid for electricity, 
  • a smart disposal chain designed to increase recycling,
  • active stormwater management.
The project introduces the concept of the next generation of sustainable buildings. Buildings will be made from eco-friendly buildings materials (in particular, from a mass timber, an emerging building material that is as strong and fire-resistant as steel, but far more environmentally sustainable) and powered by renewable energy sources, such as roof and wall-mounted solar panels. A thermal grid would recirculate energy from non-fossil-fuel sources to heat and cool buildings.
Meet Sidewalk Toronto: Charlotte and Aaron Talk Sustainability
One of the most pressing issues surrounding this project was data privacy of residents. Now Sidewalk Labs announced their plan to create an independent, government-sanctioned Urban Data Trust to oversee the collection of information to be used in the neighborhood. Data will be de-identified and adhere to Privacy by Design principles and not won’t be used for advertising or shared with Alphabet companies.
In theory, this means that a person visiting the Alphabet’s neighborhood would have their data protected by the data trust. But following the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica’s massive data breach, the question of trust to technology companies remains the most difficult until every resident understands exactly how user data will be stored and collected and how, exactly, it will be implemented in the city’s new neighborhood.
You can learn more about the project on Sidewalk Toronto interactive site which is pretty good!
Wrapping up...
If you have any feedback for us, let’s connect on twitter  or email us at:
Till next issue,
Aleksandra and Andrea. 💚
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