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Smart Cities International: Magnet Elevators, Disaster Prep, Rate-A-Loo

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Panama panorama
Panama panorama
Emily Liedel






Hello City Folk!

What good is the latest technology if a natural disaster wipes out a city’s entire electric grid? In a time when climate change increasingly produces unpredictable and violent storms, ignoring potential threats from Mother Nature is anything but smart — and many city planners recognize that. In Japan’s prototype smart city Fujisawa, preparation for an emergency is built into the city’s infrastructure: There are benches that can be used as emergency stoves, sewer systems with hidden public toilets, and solar panels meant to provide electricity during a blackout.

This week, in addition to other smart city news, we’re seeing how India, another country threatened by floods and cyclones, is prioritizing disaster preparation in its push to develop more smart cities on its territory. We’ll also check in on some interesting projects related to making our parks, beaches and public restrooms smarter than ever.

— Emily Liedel
Anyone who has ever used a public restroom has probably noted room for improvement. Now the city of Vienna has an app for that: Toilet Rating gives mobile users not only the ability to see a map of public restrooms and to plan the most direct route to the loo — but thanks to a feature that allows people to rate each restroom, users can also search for the best (and cleanest!) restrooms in town. Open Government Wien (German) unveiled the new app, which launched in February.
“The city should be a space where great diversity can manifest itself and do something good: innovate and create. That means the most effective way to guarantee security in a city is through integration — not the fortification and militarization of the city,” Saskia Sassen, a Dutch-American researcher who specializes in issues related to cities and social inclusion, said in an interview with El Espectador (Spanish).
German elevator company ThyssenKrupp has a new way to travel around — not just up and down — in the big buildings of the future. The new elevators use the same magnet technology that high-speed, Maglev trains use, and instead of resorting to cables to move one or two elevator cabins up a shaft, they work on a loop, with a string of cabins moving up one side and down the other. The end result being that passengers would only wait between 15 to 30 seconds for the next ride, Bloomberg reports. Currently elevator shafts can take up to 40% of a building’s footprint, and elevator delays are a major impediment to taller buildings. Will it truly revolutionize the way we experience our buildings? Not everyone is convinced.
When a cyclone hit the South Indian port city of Visakhapatnam last October, tens of thousands of lives were saved because the city had run numerous evacuation exercises beforehand, and most of the residents were able to evacuate safely. According to Actualités News Environnement (French), this kind of disaster planning and climate resiliency is crucial for cities that are hoping to get some of the $1.2 billion that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged to spend building smart infrastructure.
This means that while smart city infrastructure usually involves projects like solar street lights and high-tech water systems, a city that hasn’t planned for catastrophe cannot be called smart, the director of India’s National Institute for Urban Affairs said.

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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


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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