A shorter one today as I’m on holiday but I finished a book called Sideways: The City Google Couldn’t Buy. Here are some things that stuck out to me.

First, we always want to look for the “sexy” innovations instead of doing what has been established as working1. We see this as we plan roads for self-driving cars because they’re sexy instead of looking at changing how we design cities without needing cars2 from proven methods that have worked in Europe for hundreds of years3.

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Second, we easily confuse success and expertise in one area for expertise in all areas4. We see this in the book as experts on city design have to explain to Larry Page why his ideas about how a city should work, don’t mesh with real humans living in a city5. Page assumed that because he had a good idea with Google, he must have good ideas all over, and if how things worked doesn’t mesh with his ideas, he must be right. People at Sidewalk wasted a bunch of time fielding Page’s ideas.

Third, tech companies show up with tech solutions that they graft onto issues in cities6. Since they start with their tech first, instead of the problems that the city is dealing with, the companies make money but the benefits to cities are in doubt.

Overall, Sidewalk (a subsidiary of Google) tried to come in and throw its “tech muscle” around expecting Toronto to be stunned by that muscle and acquiesce to its demands for laws that favoured its needs. Luckily Toronto stood up to the tech giant.

Further Reading

  1. Page 261
  2. Page 40
  3. See Strong Towns for more on infrastructure that works.
  4. The Death of Expertise Page 178
  5. Page 68
  6. Page 10, 11

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