Smart Cities International: Berlin Swim, Snapchat Traffic, Temporary Mega City

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Lyon's Hikari development project
Lyon's Hikari development project
Emily Liedel

Cities depend on having just the right amount of the important things. That includes demographic growth. In places with stagnant or even declining populations, city leaders worry. As human populations peak and then start to trend downward, the city's very future is put into question.

But all too often, too much growth is the primary concern. This month, in addition to other smart city news, we’ll compare the challenges confronting Chinese cities and African cities as they deal with different kinds of growth.

â€" Emily Liedel


In Vienna, 2015 has been touted as the “year of walking,” and the city has been flooded with publicity campaigns about how healthy, safe and modern it is to travel on your own two feet. So why is it that the city’s pedestrian mode-share has actually decreased since 2010, Die Presse asks? (German) Some say part of the problem lies in the way things are counted: First of all, anyone who takes public transit has to travel part of the way by foot, but that portion isn’t counted. And perhaps more importantly, most of the city’s efforts to promote walking have taken place in the city center, where walking is already a preferred mode of transit. In the outskirts, on the other hand, pedestrianism has been almost totally neglected as mobility planners focus exclusively on where to put new subway or bus lines.


Many of the world’s most important cities acquired their status because they were (and are) ports. But what does it mean to be a smart port city? According to La Tribune and France’s Smart City Channel, a smart port is equipped to get cargo in and out without getting stuck for too long at any one point. Smart city tools are best applied in port systems when they manage to connect all of the actors, both on water and land, so they are better able to work together and move an ever-increasing volume of goods quickly into and out of their docking.


“Cities compete among themselves ... They compete for talent, capital and tourists," explains Spanish economist Montserrat Pareja in El Periodico. According to Pareja, building high-tech smart city infrastructure is one way for individual cities to try to stand out in the competition.


As more and more Africans move into cities, there are clear signs that urbanization is unequivocally good for the continent, increasing growth and reducing poverty, Quartz reports. Unfortunately, African cities do not have a strong history of sharing the benefits fairly among all their residents; and the trend towards car-dependent cities divided into slums and gated communities has barely slowed. So what does Africa need to do to build more equitable, sustainable cities? Start requiring urban development plans to pass democratically elected government bodies â€" in most places, there is virtually zero public input into urban planning policies â€" and reduce political corruption.


Would you plan your commute differently if you had instant access to all of your city’s traffic cameras? In Montreal, the city has chosen to make that information available to any motorist who wants to see what the freeways look like in real time, CNW Telbec reports (French). Montreal has cameras at around 250 intersections around the city, and they are now open for viewing to anyone. However, in an effort to protect individual privacy, the videos themselves are available only in real time and are not recorded.


Like many African nations, Ghana has seen rapid urbanization in the past 30 years. Now 51% of Ghanians live in cities, with the number of urban dwellers having more than tripled in the past three decades. Over the same time period, the World Bank found that the poverty rate in the capital has dropped by 20% and the country's average annual GDP growth rate stands at 5.7%.

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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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