Surprises in Shenzhen

If I told you I went to Shenzhen (China) recently, what first comes to mind? Fishing villages, blocked Internet access, iPhone factories, smog? If you’re an average US citizen (and given the current political climate), you probably don’t have a favorable opinion and might be wondering why anyone would visit at all.

I’ll admit I felt the same way before this year. The last time I had even been in the same province was almost 13 years ago — back then Shenzhen was just farmland you travelled through from Hong Kong to Guangzhou. Who would bother stopping by?

Fast forward to 2018 and I found myself with an opportunity to visit Shenzhen on business. The four days I spent there completely changed my perception of China overall, and I’d like to see if I can change yours as well.

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Thoughts on the Sidewalk Labs Vision for Waterfront Toronto

Quayside illustration

If you’re an urban planner, city official, or just an aspiring urbanist like me, you’ll no doubt have heard the big news from Toronto – Waterfront Toronto recently chose Sidewalk Labs as their partner to redevelop Quayside, a neighbourhood with enormous potential right to the east of the downtown core.

I’ve followed Sidewalk Labs for some time as they sought a site to build out their vision for the future of cities, and I’m a fan of Canadian cities overall – so this is a particularly exciting development for me. Canadian cities already rank astoundingly high for livability (Toronto recently came in 4th in a global livability report), and this new endeavor is likely going to solidify their place for decades to come.

As an active student of modern urbanism (who should have pursued a minor in planning when I had the chance), I’m always eager to stay abreast of all the current trends and best practices in city planning. I knew that Sidewalk’s response to Waterfront Toronto’s RFP would contain a forward-thinking vision that could push the field of urban innovation in new directions, and it did not disappoint.

I went through the 196-page (!!) public vision document and found quite a few intriguing ideas – some that were new applications of existing technology (e.g. self-driving taxibots) and some that were radically ambitious (e.g. overhauling building codes to be metric outcomes-based). I’ll share some of my feedback for the vision below, including questions I’d raise with Sidewalk regarding the feasibility/scalability of some of their proposals.

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