DESIGNING A DIG­I­TAL CITY

Idealog - - SECTION - This in­ter­view has been edited for brevity and clar­ity.

Craig Nevill- Man­ning, who j oined Google i n 2000 as a se­nior re­search sci­en­tist and started i ts fi rst re­mote en­gi­neer­ing of­fice i n New York i n 2003, i s one of New Zealand’s most suc­cess­ful tech ex­ports. As en­gi­neer­ing di­rec­tor, he has over­seen projects l i ke Google Maps and Google Shop­ping, fur­thered Google’s phil­an­thropic ef­forts i n disaster zones l i ke (fi ve- and- a- bit years af­ter i t ap­peared as an op­tion on the search en­gine). But i n 2016, he moved to fel­low Al­pha­bet com­pany Side­walk Labs, which i s reimag­in­ing cities i n or­der to i mprove qual­ity of l i fe. Its vi­sion i s that “by com­bin­ing peo­ple-cen­tred ur­ban de­sign with cut­ting- edge tech­nol­ogy, we can achieve new stan­dards of sus­tain­abil­ity, af­ford­abil­ity, mo­bil­ity, and eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity” and, as head of en­gi­neer­ing, he and his team are cur­rently at­tempt­ing to bring a slice of wa­ter­front l and i n Toronto kick­ing and scream­ing i nto the dig­i­tal era – and then take those i nsights and i deas to the rest of the world. Ben Fahy talks with him about a more fl ex­i­ble fu­ture, how au­ton­o­mous cars could change every­thing, the role of open data, what New Zealand cities are do­ing well and the con­flict be­tween dig­i­tal ef­fi­ciency and messy hu­man­ity.

Ben Fahy :

Google's al­ready solved a pretty com­plex prob­lem: or­gan­is­ing the world's in­for­ma­tion. Is this the next step, and is fix­ing cities harder than what you've done be­fore?

Craig Nevill-Man­ning:

It’s cer­tainly very dif­fer­ent. I'm go­ing to be pedan­tic for a sec­ond, but while we are re­lated to Google, we're def­i­nitely a dif­fer­ent com­pany. I had to quit Google, I lost my badge, and we are in a to­tally dif­fer­ent of­fice, in a dif­fer­ent part of New York. I go to Toronto once a week, some­times twice a week, and we're hir­ing a lot of peo­ple in Toronto as well. In my old life at Google, or­gan­is­ing the world's in­for­ma­tion was a fun prob­lem. I don’t think that’s re­ally been solved yet, but I feel like Google's made a pretty good start.

So what at­tracted you to Side­walk Labs?

It feels like this gap be­tween what's cur­rently done and what's pos­si­ble when it comes to tech­nol­ogy in cities. And it's ex­cit­ing to think about how tech­nol­ogy could ac­tu­ally im­prove qual­ity of life in cities, in a whole bunch of ways. And there are a num­ber of rea­sons why all of this tech­nol­ogy hasn't been ap­plied be­fore, and I think Side­walk Labs are in a good po­si­tion to help make that leap.

What are some of those rea­sons? One of the things that peo­ple talk about is that plan­ners don't re­ally un­der­stand tech­nol­ogy and maybe tech­nol­o­gists don't un­der­stand cities. Is that ten­sion you're play­ing with?

We use this phrase so much within Side­walk Labs it's a bit cliché, but you’re right, there's a gap be­tween tech­nol­o­gists and ur­ban­ists. And so we think a lot about how to bridge that di­vide. I love cities. I'm a big fan of cities. I love New York, I love Auck­land, I love Toronto. They're great places to be, but be­fore join­ing Side­walk Labs, I didn't re­ally have a sense of what made them tick. How they worked, how you'll get things done, how you might even go about im­prov­ing them. So from the tech­nol­o­gists' side, there's that and from the ur­ban­ists' side, in gen­eral cities have used tech­nol­ogy in re­ally in­ter­est­ing ways in the past. Think about aque­ducts in Rome or the power grid start­ing in places like New York City.

I love the story of the Lon­don sewer sys­tem. In a rare ex­am­ple of long-term think­ing, they said ‘Let's triple the size of it’ af­ter they got the re­port back. They ad­mit­ted that they didn’t know what the city was go­ing to be like in a hun­dred years and that sew­er­age sys­tem was still work­ing un­til rel­a­tively re­cently.

It's all tech­nol­ogy. It's all things that im­prove qual­ity of life, im­prove health, im­prove well­be­ing in cities and so cities have done that a lot in the past. They are adopt­ing dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy over time. One of the chal­lenges, one of the di­vides I guess, is that if you're a soft­ware com­pany and you say ‘well, let's try this new idea’, you can launch some­thing as a beta and get it out there and tell peo­ple this may

or may not work. Try it out and give us some feed­back, and then you it­er­ate to­wards per­fec­tion hope­fully. Or you just grab the idea and you say ‘well, that was worth try­ing but it turned out not to be a good idea in prac­tise’. Cities don't have the lux­ury of do­ing that. If they don't pick up the rub­bish on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, re­ally bad things start hap­pen­ing. So there's a dif­fer­ent ap­petite for risk for very, very good rea­sons in cities, and fur­ther­more, as you know, to make a change in a phys­i­cal city in­volves a lot of new in­fra­struc­ture. It's very dif­fer­ent from soft­ware, and so I'm stat­ing the ob­vi­ous, but …

Cities are also sim­i­lar to soft­ware in the way that they're quite it­er­a­tive. Things get bolted on over time, they grow and evolve and so the in­ter­est­ing thing with Toronto, where Side­walk Labs is con­duct­ing its first project, is that there's al­most a clean slate. You’ve got this chunk of a city that you’re go­ing to try all of this new stuff in. What will we be look­ing at in five years? What's the vi­sion of Side­walk Labs in that area?

You're right. In many ways, this area in Toronto is a clean slate. It used to be the Port of Toronto for many, many decades. There was ship­ping in and out of that area. It got built up over time, and for a whole bunch of rea­sons, when it stopped be­ing a port, it hasn't been de­vel­oped as a neigh­bour­hood in the city. Even though ge­o­graph­i­cally it's right there, right down­town. Hon­estly, one of the rea­sons we are su­per ex­cited about Toronto be­cause we wanted to be able to de­velop in­fra­struc­ture from scratch. Think­ing about that in a new way, but we didn't want to do it out in the mid­dle of nowhere, which would have been eas­ier in terms of get­ting per­mis­sion.

Like one of those Chi­nese cities where they just build it and hope that mil­lions of peo­ple will even­tu­ally live there.

Right. Whereas we wanted to do it in a city in North Amer­ica where there was al­ready a great city life and ur­ban environment so that you can es­sen­tially have that spill over into this new place rather than try­ing to cre­ate that from scratch. This also cre­ates con­straints be­cause you have to do this with the en­thu­si­asm of the city, in this case, Toronto. In terms of the clean slate, if you be­lieve that in some small num­ber of years, self-driv­ing cars will be prac­ti­cal, and I hap­pen to be fairly op­ti­mistic on this front, I think things are mov­ing in­cred­i­bly quickly and cities could ac­tu­ally look very dif­fer­ent. So it's not a ques­tion of just how that will change how peo­ple get around from A to B, it's also about how you change the way you use land in the city. If you think about a neigh­bour­hood where it's 100 per­cent self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles and in that environment you've got ve­hi­cles drop­ping peo­ple off and pick­ing them up. If they need to recharge or they're not in use, they can go into a base­ment or to the edge of town and recharge them­selves. There's no rea­son to use pre­cious ur­ban land for stor­ing cars, for cars sit­ting around wait­ing for some­body to jump and drive them.

A huge chunk of ur­ban space is ded­i­cated to cars. Do you know the per­cent­age on that?

It's be­tween 30 and 40 per­cent in main

If you think about a neigh­bour­hood where i t's 100 per­cent self- driv­ing ve­hi­cles and i n that environment you've got ve­hi­cles drop­ping peo­ple off and pick­ing them up. If they need to recharge or they're not i n use, they can go i nto a base­ment or to the edge of town and recharge them­selves.

cities, and if you think of how valu­able city land is, stor­ing cars seems like a crazy use of that land.

Park­ing is quite a lu­cra­tive in­dus­try though, isn't it?

That's right, but you can use land for other things once you don't use it for stor­ing cars any­more. Also, they tend to be in places where all the peo­ple want to be. So, of­ten cars are parked along the sides of the streets but if you get back that land, you pre­sum­ably can make the foot­path wider, you can maybe add an­other lane. But I think the more in­ter­est­ing thing is if you don't have streets and build­ings al­ready that would de­fine what will work, what's the right an­swer? Is it ac­tu­ally mak­ing the street nar­rower?

Flex­i­bil­ity seems to be a key theme of some of the ideas that I've seen from Side­walk Labs, like the abil­ity for a street to be the same size, but then it changes at dif­fer­ent times of the day or even build­ings that can adapt. Is that some­thing that has been key from the start?

Ab­so­lutely. Cities do adapt over time and you cer­tainly see old ware­houses get­ting reused as artists' spa­ces and then as apart­ments, but build­ings and streets aren't nec­es­sar­ily de­signed to be flex­i­ble. And we think with dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy, one di­rec­tion you could move in is to ap­point much more flex­i­ble streets and build­ings. So that as uses change, the ac­tual environment changes with you, and so maybe in a build­ing that's over a num­ber of months, but as you pointed out in a street case, it might be over the pe­riod of an hour. So maybe you have a street that is one way in the morn­ing when it's rush hour, and then as a pedes­trian plaza in the lunch time. It be­comes one way in the other di­rec­tion for the evening rush hour, and then maybe in be­tween ac­tu­ally you shut down a lane be­cause school's get­ting out and it's time to drop off and pick up the kids. And we haven't quite fig­ured out ex­actly how you sig­nal all of those things. We've ac­tu­ally done an ex­per­i­ment

where we just ren­o­vated a ware­house on the Toronto wa­ter­front and in there we've got an ex­per­i­men­tal street of the fu­ture where you es­sen­tially have lights that in­di­cate to pedes­tri­ans and cy­clists that this part's side­walk, this path's a lane go­ing in a cer­tain di­rec­tion, and then that switches and sud­denly the whole thing is a pedes­trian plaza. We don't think we got it quite right in that ex­per­i­ment but we can start it­er­at­ing on that idea when we're ac­tu­ally build­ing the thing.

Do you have any other pre­dic­tions around how we'll live? Will we be mov­ing pan­els around our houses to fit our own day?

Build­ings do change. If you think about the down­town build­ings, they do change in their use over time, from light in­dus­trial ware­houses to some­times res­i­den­tial, to com­mer­cial. And even dur­ing their lives in a par­tic­u­lar use, you want to move around the floor plans. We think we can make that much more flex­i­ble. So maybe as your fam­ily grows, you need an­other bed­room, you don't nec­es­sar­ily have to move out of the build­ing. You can ac­tu­ally rear­range things within the build­ing to en­able you to stay in the same neigh­bour­hood. That de­rives from a num­ber of po­ten­tial tech­nolo­gies. One has been around for a while – mod­u­lar hous­ing. Build­ing out of mod­u­lar com­po­nents, and then be sort of mixed and matched. There's a re­ally in­ter­est­ing tech­nol­ogy around low volt­age power. If you look around at most of the things that you plug into the wall, a lot of them don't re­quire high volt­age. They of­ten have a trans­former brick at­tached to them and then low volt­age com­ing out the end. Can we ac­tu­ally have more low volt­age sup­plied within build­ings? That would mean that you don't nec­es­sar­ily have to have an elec­tri­cian to move a wall around be­cause you don't have high volt­age ca­bles em­bed­ded.

Will we even have power lines?

I think so. Peo­ple are work­ing hard on wire­less power, but that's one tech­nol­ogy that doesn't seem quite ready for prime time, un­less it's the wire­less power that says, "I put my phone down on a par­tic­u­lar spot on the ta­ble and it charges." I think that at longer range, we haven't seen suc­cess­ful ap­pli­ca­tions. But I wouldn't rule it out, to be hon­est, in the decades ahead.

What's the time frame for this? I know tech com­pa­nies like to move quickly and Google cer­tainly does. But cities don't re­ally move quickly, they evolve over time. At the mo­ment, the idea of smart cities is largely traf­fic lights and maybe a few sen­sors in some of the more de­vel­oped cities. Lots of cam­eras ob­vi­ously around, but at the mo­ment there's a lot of ex­pectancy and hype around it. Is the sub­stance go­ing to come soon do you think? Are we in the trough of dis­il­lu­sion­ment at the mo­ment?

Well, I think in terms of smart cities more gen­er­ally, I feel like there's a lit­tle bit of a false start. In the sense that a num­ber of com­pa­nies said cities should be smarter. Here are a bunch of sen­sors. Let's sprin­kle them around the city and we're sure they're go­ing to be use­ful for some­thing. And it wasn't re­ally driven by im­prov­ing qual­ity of life. In some cases they were but in gen­eral I think it's good to take a step back and say, “what are we try­ing to achieve?” And in this case of Side­walk Labs, hav­ing a bunch of tech­nol­o­gists like my­self be in a room for all the work­ing day with a bunch of ur­ban­ists, we think about qual­ity of life and what that means for sus­tain­abil­ity or for flex­i­bil­ity or for mo­bil­ity and ac­ces­si­bil­ity. And then we work back to the tech­nolo­gies that we think will be help­ful, and so I think we're go­ing through that now.

So it's be­com­ing a bit more use­ful?

I think so, and the tech­nol­ogy might not nec­es­sar­ily be a mil­lion miles dif­fer­ent, but it'll be used in much more con­sid­er­ate way. I think one good ex­am­ple you men­tioned is cam­eras. In var­i­ous past in­stances, cam­eras were scat­tered around and peo­ple didn't al­ways con­sider the pri­vacy as­pects of that. It's good to start from the point of view that peo­ple's pri­vacy is sacro­sanct and they shouldn't be be­ing spied on by the city, and start­ing from there you can think about if you want to use cam­eras for un­der­stand­ing the flow of ve­hi­cles in a city for ex­am­ple, through an in­ter­sec­tion. Can you do that with­out ac­tu­ally trans­mit­ting any of the ac­tual footage from the cam­era but rather can you – and this has only just be­come tech­ni­cally plau­si­ble – have a de­vice that is a cam­era and pro­ces­sor all in one? And all the pro­cess­ing is on the de­vice, and then the only thing that's trans­mit­ted back is, say, counts of cars ev­ery five min­utes. Pre­serv­ing ev­ery­body's pri­vacy but still giv­ing you the up­side of be­ing able to un­der­stand whether there's con­ges­tion and whether there are near ac­ci­dents.

That's some­thing that has been talked about a lot with Google's mo­ti­va­tions. Side­walk Labs is a dif­fer­ent com­pany, but Google’s busi­ness model is based around col­lect­ing data and us­ing it to make money. So who will own the data in the city environment? Will you own it? Will the city own it? What's your take on the data is­sue?

We are dif­fer­ent from Google. And it's true that Google uses ma­chine learn­ing data to tar­get ads. But that's not part of our busi­ness model. We're de­vel­op­ing a city and it's not at all clear that any other busi­ness mod­els from Google ap­ply to Side­walk Labs. Our busi­ness model is more around build­ing real es­tate, we'll sell some of that real es­tate, we're op­er­at­ing a city. In terms of the data it­self, there's a re­ally strong open data move­ment within cities that has gained mo­men­tum over the past decade. What ev­ery­body re­alises is that data about what's go­ing on in the city has some value. But it has value to a whole bunch of dif­fer­ent play­ers and so it is good to make this data open and avail­able and then see what peo­ple do with it. Rather than try to make money of the data stream it­self. So there are a lot of dis­cus­sions that we're cur­rently hav­ing with the city of Toronto, the res­i­dents. Noth­ing's been de­cided, but that's a pretty ac­tive area of dis­cus­sion.

In terms of what you see com­ing, what are the things that ex­cite you most?

I think the self-driv­ing car piece, not just be­cause of mo­bil­ity, but be­cause of the way it changes the way you think about how you ac­tu­ally de­sign cities and how flex­i­ble they can be and how you use the land. I think an­other big area is sus­tain­abil­ity. We want to make this place, for ex­am­ple, planet pos­i­tive. We want to make sure we're tak­ing car­bon out of the at­mos­phere, es­sen­tially. And there are a bunch of ap­proaches that we need to use in par­al­lel. One of them is just be­ing more ef­fi­cient about heat­ing and cool­ing and light­ing. Build­ing sys­tems that can use ma­chine learn­ing to im­prove the ef­fi­ciency of heat­ing and cool­ing and those other energy uses. I think there's a lot of head­room there. So that I'm pretty ex­cited about. And this is this is go­ing to sound kind of brazenly fu­tur­is­tic, but…

That's what you're there for.

Ex­actly. But with ro­botic de­liv­ery of goods around the city, ei­ther with real ro­bots or maybe it's drones, the tech­nol­ogy's go­ing to ad­vance quite a bit, I sus­pect, in the next decade and be­yond. But, again it's not so much that you're go­ing get your pack­ages from some on­line mer­chant faster, although that will hap­pen. It's also about hav­ing to own less stuff. So, imag­ine I have a cord­less drill, I use it maybe 10 min­utes a month, but when I use it I re­ally need it. I kind of need it for those 10 min­utes. But maybe I don't need to own it, es­pe­cially when I can get it in a few min­utes' no­tice.

Es­pe­cially if you don't have to deal with any­one to pick it up or you don't have to have that awk­ward trans­ac­tion.

Yeah, so maybe I share it with a bunch of peo­ple or maybe there's a sort of a cen­tral reser­voir of cord­less drills. But imag­ine, if I could say to some sort of dig­i­tal as­sis­tant, ‘I re­ally need a cord­less drill’ and then five min­utes later I open my closet in my apart­ment and there's a cord­less drill. Be­hind the scenes there's a ro­bot that de­liv­ered it and scur­ried up the el­e­va­tor and put it in. Maybe there's a closet in my apart­ment that has a door on the other side that ro­bot puts stuff in. And so it's re­ally, re­ally seam­less. Now, I don't need to own one so I'm sav­ing some money. I don't need to find room in my apart­ment to store all the stuff that I needed oc­ca­sion­ally. I don't need to re­mem­ber where I put it. All that stuff sort of goes away and so there's a whole bunch of ef­fi­cien­cies there. It's not just that we're be­ing lazy, although it will make life a lit­tle bit eas­ier. It’s about us­ing re­sources more ef­fec­tively. We're not buy­ing a cord­less drill in most of the apart­ments around the city and find­ing some way to store them, we're just mak­ing smarter use of the re­sources.

So we may be go­ing back to hav­ing a se­ries of pneu­matic tubes around the city, like we used to have in the of­fice?

If you've been to C1 in Christchurch, they de­liver ham­burg­ers by pneu­matic tubes.

Have you still got your cafe?

Yeah, we have a lit­tle New Zealand cafe in New York City, called Happy Bones. It’s quite small. It's only about 450 square

Cities l ast a l ong time and so one of the big, al­most meta- chal­lenges of cities and tech­nol­ogy i s how do you de­sign things so that i n 30 years' time some­body doesn't l ook back and say, ' Those guys are crazy.'

feet, so 45 square me­tres or so.

On the topic of Christchurch, what do you think of the process they've gone through? I wouldn't call it a clean slate, but a lot of peo­ple talked about the op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate a new smart city. From what I've heard, that hasn't re­ally come to pass. What's your im­pres­sion of what Christchurch has be­come?

I haven't been to Christchurch in a few years, so I haven't got it up­dated on what's been go­ing on there. I re­ally like the look of the plans, they stepped back and con­sid­ered the over­all structure of the down­town and how to cre­ate new parks, which is great. I do think that tech­nol­ogy has ad­vanced a lot since the earth­quake in 2011. Hon­estly, if you started fresh with Christchurch to­day, you might make even slightly dif­fer­ent de­ci­sions. For ex­am­ple, self-driv­ing cars were much less de­vel­oped than they are to­day. But that also brings up this re­ally in­ter­est­ing chal­lenge, in gen­eral, which is that tech­nol­ogy's go­ing to con­tinue to evolve, right? We know all about self-driv­ing cars and drones and to some ex­tent, ro­bots, but what's go­ing to be pos­si­ble in 10 years, 20 years, 50 years? Cities last a long time and so one of the big, al­most meta-chal­lenges of cities and tech­nol­ogy is how do you de­sign things so that in 30 years' time some­body doesn't look back and say, “Those guys are crazy. They com­pletely built every­thing around as­sum­ing that drones were go­ing to be the big thing and it turns out there was a much bet­ter idea just around the cor­ner and now every­thing's kind of de­signed for that old, out of date tech­nol­ogy.” I think there's some amount of hu­mil­ity that you have to have when you're think­ing about plan­ning things.

Hu­mans are not par­tic­u­larly good at pre­dic­tions and we don’t seem to think long term enough these days. In Auck­land at the mo­ment there are quite a few is­sues around raw sewage go­ing into the har­bour af­ter it rains, grid­lock, hous­ing un­af­ford­abil­ity, but it's still a

very pop­u­lar place. The in­fra­struc­ture just isn’t keep­ing up with the growth. Are these prob­lems just part of life in the city? Can you ac­tu­ally solve those things? There are prob­a­bly things you can put in place to fu­ture-proof your­self a lit­tle bit. And some of these things are easy and doable and some of them are very, very hard. One of the things we've learned on the soft­ware side is that you can up­grade it over time. The fact that your phone ev­ery so of­ten says, "Hey, it's time for an up­grade. I've got the lat­est ver­sion of the soft­ware." And sud­denly your phone is a lit­tle bit more ca­pa­ble than it was be­fore. That's maybe a lit­tle bit of a stretch to think of a city as a phone be­cause that's re­ally not the same thing. But there's prob­a­bly some truth to the idea that if you can have things more soft­ware-run, soft­ware mod­i­fi­able that you can prob­a­bly adapt a lit­tle bit bet­ter. For ex­am­ple, the so­lu­tion from the peo­ple who've tried to solve con­ges­tion in the past is to build more roads. Oh, the mo­tor­way's con­gested, let's add an­other lane. It turns out when you add more lanes to a free­way, you end up with what's called in­duced de­mand. More peo­ple drive and a few years later it's just as con­gested as be­fore if not worse. It might be the case that the bet­ter so­lu­tion is to un­der­stand the flow of traf­fic in a much more fine grained way us­ing sen­sors. And then have a way of feed­ing back to driv­ers and to ve­hi­cles, so that peo­ple can make bet­ter de­ci­sions about whether they're driv­ing or not. En­able, for ex­am­ple, pub­lic tran­sit to take an ex­press lane. You al­ready see this to some ex­tent with Google Maps and Waze tak­ing data from peo­ple us­ing those de­vices and feed­ing them back and say­ing, "There's a crash up ahead, you should take a side street." There’s more op­por­tu­nity for those soft­ware so­lu­tions to en­able the cities to con­stantly up­grade them­selves not from an in­fra­struc­ture point of view, but from a tech­nol­ogy point of view. And that's your the­ory on the city as a dig­i­tal plat­form, in a way. Hav­ing the data flow­ing through a city and us­ing that ef­fec­tively? Ex­actly. If I'm a soft­ware de­vel­oper and I want to build an app on a phone, if I'm build­ing it for iOS or An­droid, there's a whole bunch of pre-pack­aged APIs, these in­ter­faces that pro­gram­mers use to make it easy to do cer­tain things, to use cer­tain fea­tures of the phone. The ques­tions we're ask­ing are what are the APIs for a city? What should be the stan­dard things that, if I want to build a bet­ter trans­porta­tion sys­tem, or a more ef­fi­cient way of heat­ing build­ings, what are the APIs that I should be able to take for granted that pro­vide the in­for­ma­tion about what's go­ing on in the city at an ag­gre­gate level? One of the phrases that I saw used was around turn­ing Toronto into one of the most mea­sur­able cities in the world. For Google and lots of other dig­i­tal com­pa­nies, an­a­lyt­ics are re­ally im­por­tant to guide de­ci­sion mak­ing. Is that some­thing cities need to do bet­ter? I think most cities al­ready mea­sure them­selves. They keep track of things like con­ges­tion and usage, but there's an op­por­tu­nity to make that even more ef­fec­tive. As soon as you say mea­sure­ment in a city you al­ways raise the spec­tre of sur­veil­lance and lack of pri­vacy so I think you need to be very care­ful that you're not mea­sur­ing so much de­tail that you're ac­tu­ally gath­er­ing per­sonal in­for­ma­tion. You need to keep it in the ag­gre­gate, in a way that's un­per­son­alised. But when you can mea­sure some­thing bet­ter you can de­cide which trade-offs to make in a wellinformed way. I guess there's an­other ten­sion here be­tween tech­nol­o­gists and ur­ban­ists, and it’s that ur­ban­ists are of­ten look­ing at the hu­man stuff; the in­ter­ac­tions, not the al­go­rithms. Dan Doc­to­roff [the CEO of Side­walk Labs] was asked about the High Line in New York. It took a long time to get through, and a lot of peo­ple didn't want it. It re­quired peo­ple who had a vi­sion and it wasn't based on an al­go­rithm or data, it was based on a weird hu­man de­sire to bring an idea to life. Have you found that dif­fi­cult, and have you moved in the di­rec­tion of ur­ban­ists – to look more at hu­man re­sponses and that kind of or­ganic ap­proach to de­sign? There are cer­tain things that mea­sure­ment and al­go­rithms are use­ful for and, to your point, a whole bunch of other things that re­ally re­quire hu­man em­pa­thy and ex­pe­ri­ence and un­der­stand­ing and re­la­tion­ships. I hon­estly think if you walked into Quay­side in Toronto and said, "Oh my good­ness, look at all this tech­nol­ogy," I would con­sider that a fail­ure. You want to walk into a place and say, "Oh wow, what a great neigh­bour­hood. Look at all this stuff go­ing on. Oh, we should check that place out, I've heard it's great." And it's about the peo­ple, it's about the energy, it's about the creativ­ity on the street. In the back­ground some­where, it is tech­nol­ogy mak­ing that more ef­fi­cient and safer, but that's not the goal. It's kind of like the sew­ers un­der the street that make sure that the right stuff hap­pens with waste in the city. No­body pays it much at­ten­tion most of the time. It just has to work. But it en­ables all of these other things in the city and keeps peo­ple healthy. That's the way to think about the way tech­nol­ogy should be used in the city. An­other crit­i­cism of the smart city is that it's aimed to­wards wealthy cities, or wealthy suburbs? How do you stop more in­equal­ity be­ing cre­ated with these tech­nolo­gies? We re­ally set right up front the goal that this would in­crease af­ford­abil­ity and would be an in­clu­sive place. For ex­am­ple, in Toronto, we want this neigh­bour­hood to re­flect the di­ver­sity of the greater Toronto area, which is in­cred­i­bly di­verse. It turns out that Toronto is ac­tu­ally prob­a­bly the most di­verse large city in North Amer­ica. Im­mi­grants make up 50 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, which is amaz­ing. And long may that con­tinue. And so one of the things we have to fig­ure out is how do you make this

place feel like it was built for each of the folks that live in Toronto, that they can see them­selves liv­ing in this place. Part of that's af­ford­abil­ity, but there a whole lot of other cul­tural as­pects of that. Where you want to build a place with di­ver­sity and at­tract a di­verse set of res­i­dents, a di­verse set of vis­i­tors. And we hope that some of these tech­no­log­i­cal ap­proaches will ac­tu­ally help on the af­ford­abil­ity front. If we can drive down the cost of get­ting around, if we can drive down the cost of heat­ing and cool­ing homes, etc. There's a good op­por­tu­nity to pass that on to peo­ple who might not oth­er­wise be able to af­ford to live in down­town. I think adding park­ing into a devel­op­ment adds around 30 per­cent to the cost. Right. So you take that out and the cost comes down. And we're hav­ing that de­bate in Auck­land at the mo­ment. There are some pro­gres­sive devel­op­ers who have said, "We're go­ing to have a cou­ple of shared cars and there's no car park­ing." And then they get com­plaints from the lo­cals be­cause they think the res­i­dents will take up their parks on the street. But there’s de­mand for that type of devel­op­ment and they tend to in­spire more pub­lic and ac­tive trans­port. There are some things that need to be bro­ken for the city to get bet­ter and more ef­fi­cient. I think your point here and ear­lier on when you were talk­ing about the High Line is that this back and forth be­tween peo­ple within a city is crit­i­cal. It's very rarely the case that some­body's first idea is the per­fect idea. And these things get shaped by that pub­lic dis­cus­sion. And some­times the idea turns out to be a ter­ri­ble idea af­ter that dis­cus­sion and it doesn't go ahead, but even in the case where it does go ahead, it's of­ten sig­nif­i­cantly mod­i­fied. And so you have to have that pub­lic en­gage­ment and pub­lic dis­cus­sion be­cause I think that's what ends up cre­at­ing great places. Some­times ef­fi­ciency is the en­emy of great places isn't it? You want that ran­dom­ness, and that serendip­ity. Whereas you look at the tech mind­set, they are of­ten try­ing to limit hu­man in­ter­ac­tion. But the more you in­ter­act with friends or peo­ple in gen­eral, the more likely you are to live longer. That kind of thing is be­ing thought about more now, with more shared spa­ces within de­vel­op­ments and bet­ter place­mak­ing in pub­lic spa­ces. In­stead of putting fences up, ac­tu­ally try­ing to talk to your neigh­bours and cre­ate com­mu­ni­ties. I don't know how of­ten you get back to New Zealand, but do you see any­thing that we're do­ing over here that is stand­ing out, that you would say is world-lead­ing, or is just in­ter­est­ing? In gen­eral, New Zealand is in­cred­i­bly friendly. I get back there once a year, but when­ever I have vis­i­tors from the US who go to New Zealand and come back, they say, "I can't be­lieve how friendly ev­ery­body is." So there's a base­line of peo­ple be­ing pleas­ant to each other, in­ter­act­ing, like you say, in pub­lic spa­ces. Com­bine that with New Zealan­ders' com­fort with tech­no­log­i­cal change, so many tech­nolo­gies get tried out on a small scale in New Zealand be­fore they get tried

In the back­ground some­where, i t i s tech­nol­ogy mak­ing that more ef­fi­cient and safer, but that's not the goal. It's kind of l i ke the sew­ers un­der the street that make sure that the right stuff hap­pens with waste i n the city.

out in the rest of the world. I think about EFTPOS in the ‘80s. So I think that New Zealand cities are go­ing be up with the fastest cities in terms of adopt­ing new tech­nol­ogy. In terms of those spa­ces, I think that Christchurch is a good ex­am­ple of where there's been a lot of thought about the new down­town in a mod­ern age. And pre­sum­ably it won't be per­fect, but cities never are. They're al­ways in the process of be­com­ing some­thing else. But I think New Zealan­ders are gen­er­ally thought­ful about that. Do you have a favourite city? I chose to live in New York, so I'm a big fan of New York. But hon­estly, cities are so di­verse around the world. Toronto's amaz­ing in the sense of its in­ter­na­tional as­pects and di­ver­sity, sort of the Cana­dian-ness of Toronto. I love vis­it­ing cities. In fact, when we go away on va­ca­tion, it's al­most al­ways to some city else­where in the world. I think cities are end­lessly fas­ci­nat­ing. There's a huge ur­ban­i­sa­tion hap­pen­ing all around the world. Peo­ple are mov­ing into cities faster than ever be­fore. Once Toronto is up and run­ning, how big is the op­por­tu­nity for Side­walk Labs? And will you at­tempt to take those in­sights into other cities? The whole point of this project is firstly to make a fan­tas­tic place within Toronto, but then, as you in­ti­mated, take those ideas and seed other cities around the world with them. Once the ideas have been de-risked a lit­tle bit and it’s clear that they can work and have a pos­i­tive im­pact, cities do tend to adopt things rel­a­tively quickly. So we're hope­ful that hap­pens. And you're right, ur­ban­i­sa­tion is hap­pen­ing at an in­cred­i­ble rate around the world, so it's ac­tu­ally su­per im­por­tant that we do a re­ally good job of designing cities and take ad­van­tage of all the tech­no­log­i­cal op­por­tu­ni­ties there. That's our hope, that the longer term im­pact of this won't be just in Toronto, but that it will be in cities around the world.

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