Smart Cities International: Vienna parking, Siberian PR, Spanish crosswalks

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In Barcelona, Spain
In Barcelona, Spain
Emily Liedel






Hello City Folk!

Cities in developed countries are no doubt more likely to use state-of-the-art technologies, to adopt cutting-edge urban planning theories and to be seen as "world leaders" in the field of smart cities. But ignoring developing countries is a mistake, for many reasons: Many of them have robust public transportation systems that work remarkably well, precisely because most residents can’t afford a private vehicle. Early adoption of new theories or technologies is only an advantage if they can be applied, and turn out to genuinely improve peoples’ lives. In the case of urban planning, that has certainly not always been the case. Cities that missed the wave of urban development in the 1960s and 1970s that destroyed neighborhoods with freeway overpasses — perhaps because there was no money to build said freeway overpasses — are now having the last laugh.

This week, in addition to other smart city news, we check in with a Senegalese news site that thinks developing countries have an advantage in implementing high-tech solutions. We’ll also see how Tunisia is managing its water, how Spanish pedestrians are staying safe and how Siberian cities are working on their image.

— Emily Liedel
A new project in Tunis will allow the municipal water agency to monitor water quality using remote monitoring, checking all of the city’s water in real time instead of requiring technicians to travel around the city and take samples, reports La Presse (French). This means that if there is a problem, the authorities will be able to react immediately. A spokesperson stressed, however, that the water in Tunis is perfectly safe to drink now.
“A city’s image isn’t always built exclusively on positive events. Sometimes difficulties and negative tendencies can attract investment as well. For example, if a city has bad roads but the people are fixing them, that can be a factor that attracts investment,” Aleksandr Lyuklo, head of the innovation and business department at the mayor’s office in Novosibirsk, said in the run-up to a conference on image and branding for Siberian cities that took place last week in Novosibirsk, Mail.u reports (Russian).
As developing countries tend to urbanize more rapidly than developed countries, the challenges facing their cities are particularly acute. But the lack of established infrastructure can also be an advantage, the Senegalese news site SeneNews argues, since developing countries are able to install state-of-the-art technology more easily without worrying about disrupting existing infrastructure. In fact, the challenge in developing countries’ cities is perhaps more about citizen distrust of smart city infrastructure that feels too much like surveillance — and could be viewed not as a way to help improve people’s lives, but rather as a way for the rich to get even richer at the expense of the poor.
In the Spanish city of Santiago, a new system will give pedestrians more light when they cross the street at night, La Voz de Galicia reports (Spanish). When pedestrians prepare to cross the street at night, they will be able to press a button and increase the amount of light at the crosswalk, making them more visible to drivers. The crosswalk lighting will be part of a new city illumination system that will have flexible and dynamic controls and is expected to save the city around 70% on lighting costs.
According to the World Health Organization, 27% of all road traffic fatalities worldwide are pedestrians or cyclists.

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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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