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Smart Cities International: Bogota Blooms, E-Deliveries, LGBT Signs

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In Santander, Spain
In Santander, Spain
Emily Liedel

You know that friend or coworker with the very latest smartphone who winds up only using it ... to make telephone calls? Just because technology grows more advanced does not mean that the end users will make full use of its potential. Experts in smart cities â€" especially in Europe â€" stay busy reminding the public that our cities can never be smarter than the citizens who live in them.

This month, in addition to other smart city news, we’ll look at a city beautification project in Tanzania that went awry because too many citizens weren’t educated about basic tenets of environmental protection. Along the way we’ll also look at water issues in Uruguay and Kenya and see how a German company is trying to make deliveries to grocery stores more sustainable.

â€" Emily Liedel

THE PROBLEM WITH HIGH-RISES

In a new section of Munich, developers want to build several 13-floor apartment high-rises against the wishes of those who already live in the neighborhood. In several meetings, the area’s residents have said they don’t want any buildings over eight stories, Süddeutsche Zeitung daily reports (German). The controversy is making Munich officials rethink exactly how much citizen involvement is best for the city to both move forward and keep current residents happy. Or to twist around an old saying: "Democracy isn't always smart, but it's the least stupid of all the other systems."

CHINESE-KENYAN COOPERATION IN WATER

As demand for water has risen constantly over the past several years, the Nairobi Water Company has struggled to meet needs. But as part of a partnership with the Shanghai-based Tongji University, the water company is going to get training and technology that should both improve the quality of Nairobi’s water and reduce the amount of chemicals used in water treatment, All Africa reports.

GAY CROSSING SIGNS

As part of a campaign to promote tolerance, the Austrian cities of Vienna, Salzburg and Linz have installed a number of unusual crosswalk signs. Instead of the traditional walking man showing that it’s time to cross the street, these crosswalks have either two men or two women holding hands as they walk. But not everyone is happy about the unique crossing signals: After an election brought a more socially conservative government, the new leadership in Linz has decided to remove the privately-funded signs from the city, Kurier reports (German).

QUALITY VS. QUANTITY

Generally speaking, Uruguay does not lack for water. Still, the country's big cities should not take it for granted: Several recent water crises have shown that an abundance of the wet stuff does not necessarily translate to enough potable water, and in fact the drinking water supply seems to be reaching its limit in the capital of Montevideo, as well as in the coastal city of Maldonado, El Observador reports (Spanish) . The problem is likely due to agricultural chemicals running off into rivers, which has contributed to algae blooms that render the water unsafe for human consumption. It is a reminder that cities must rely on natural resources that may be sourced far away.

CLEAN STREETS / DIRTY AIR

A campaign to clean up the streets of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for the national independence day was largely successful, but with one hitch: While participation was high, many residents of the nation’s capital chose to get rid of the garbage on the streets by burning it â€" including tires and plastic, The Citizen reports. The smoldering garbage wound up covering certain neighborhoods in toxic smoke and rancid odors. The unintended consequences of the clean-up campaign highlight the importance of education, since some residents simply didn’t know that burning the garbage was bad for the city.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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