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In February, the city of Toronto announced plans for a new development along its waterfront. They read like a wish list for any passionate urbanist: 800 affordable apartments, a two-acre forest, a rooftop farm, a new arts venue focused on indigenous culture, and a pledge to be zero-carbon.

The idea of an affordable, off-the-grid Eden in the heart of the city sounds great. But there was an entirely different urban utopia planned for this same 12-acre plot, known as Quayside, just a few years ago. It was going to be the place where Sidewalk Labs, the urban innovation arm of Alphabet, was going to prove out its vision for the smart city. 

Sandwiched between the elevated Gardiner Expressway and Lake Ontario, and occupied by a few one-story commercial buildings and a mothballed grain silo, Quayside shouldn’t have been that hard to develop. But controversy ensued almost from the moment in October 2017 that Waterfront Toronto, a governmental agency overseeing the redevelopment of 2,000 acres along the lake shore, announced that Sidewalk had submitted the winning proposal. 

Sidewalk’s big idea was flashy new tech. This unassuming section of Toronto was going to become a hub for an optimized urban experience featuring robo-taxis, heated sidewalks, autonomous garbage collection, and an extensive digital layer to monitor everything from street crossings to park bench usage. 

aerial rendering of proposed Toronto waterfront
An aerial view of the new proposed plan for the 12-acre site situated along the Toronto waterfront.WATERFRONT TORONTO

Had it succeeded, Quayside could have been a proof of concept, establishing a new development model for cities everywhere. It could have demonstrated that the sensor-­laden smart city model embraced in China and the Persian Gulf has a place in more democratic societies. Instead, Sidewalk Labs’ two-and-a-half-year struggle to build a neighborhood “from the internet up” failed to make the case for why anyone might want to live in it. 

By May 2020, Sidewalk had pulled the plug, citing “the unprecedented economic uncertainty brought on by the covid-19 pandemic.” But that economic uncertainty came at the tail end of years of public controversy over its $900 million vision for a data-rich city within the city.

It’s hardly unusual for citizens to get up in arms about new development, and utopias fail for all sorts of reasons. But the opposition to Sidewalk’s vision for Toronto wasn’t about things like architectural preservation or the height, density, and style of the proposed buildings—the usual fodder for public outcry. The project’s tech-first approach antagonized many; its seeming lack of seriousness about the privacy concerns of Torontonians was likely the main cause of its demise. 

There is far less tolerance in Canada than in the US for private-sector control of public streets and transportation, or for companies’ collecting data on the routine activities of people living their lives.

The shift signaled by the new plan, with its emphasis on wind and rain and birds and bees rather than data, seems like a pragmatic response to the present moment.

“In the US it’s life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” says Alex Ryan, a senior vice president of partnership solutions for the MaRS Discovery District, a Toronto nonprofit founded by a consortium of public and private funders and billed as North America’s largest urban innovation hub. “In Canada it’s peace, order, and good government. Canadians don’t expect the private sector to come in and save us from government, because we have high trust in government.”

With its very top-down approach, Sidewalk failed to comprehend Toronto’s civic culture. Almost every person I spoke with about the project used the word “hubris” or “arrogance” to describe the company’s attitude. Some people used both. 

The end of the smart city?

Time and time again, we convince ourselves that the big idea of the moment will not only improve our daily lives but cure society’s ills. In England, the “garden city” movement introduced by the urban planner Ebenezer Howard in 1898 aimed to merge the countryside and the

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By: Karrie Jacobs
Title: Toronto wants to kill the smart city forever
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2022/06/29/1054005/toronto-kill-the-smart-city/
Published Date: Wed, 29 Jun 2022 09:00:00 +0000

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Learning and listening in Amazonia

IMG 1412 scaled

We had just sat down to lunch with Dona Dada, an Indigenous Brazilian artisan, at her family farm in São Gabriel da Cachoeira. It was April of 2022, and my research colleagues and I were visiting to learn how she collects and processes plant fibers for use in her crafts. Before us were traditional foods that I was familiar with, including tambaqui fish and beiju de tapioca, a large, crunchy tapioca crepe cooked in a traditional clay oven. But I was intrigued by a bowl of what appeared to be a dark-brown lumpy sauce and asked what it was. “Saúvas,” replied Dona Dada. My friend Samy began laughing hysterically. Looking closer, I saw hundreds of fat, juicy ants floating in a bowl of broth and green onions. Dona Dada grabbed one and popped it in her mouth. I heard the crunch.

Although I’d never expected to dine on its bugs, the Amazon rainforest has always captivated my imagination with its lush landscapes, its rich biodiversity, and the profound wisdom of its Indigenous peoples. I was also drawn to this ecological wonder by my interest in applying materials science in a unique way to address issues related to sustainability and climate change. So I was excited to be able to venture into the Brazilian Amazon for the first time in the summer of 2019 through the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) program. My desire was not just to do another internship; I wanted to understand the intersection of traditional knowledge and modern science to help solve the problems facing our world. And when I researched natural botanical resins in Santarém, a town in the Brazilian state of Pará, I developed an appreciation for the interconnectedness of Indigenous culture, materials, and music.

In the town of Alter do Chão, where my professor lived, traditional Paraense carimbó music dominated everyone’s social lives. As an undergraduate who was double-­majoring in music, I decided to join the town’s major carimbó group, Grupo Cobra Grande. Despite my rudimentary grasp of Portuguese, I knew that I could communicate with the group through music. With the help of offline Google Translate and charades, I managed to learn not only the intricate rhythms and dance moves involved in this traditional musical style, but also the meanings of the lyrics and the associated folklore. We began every rehearsal and performance with a song calling the mythical frog Muiraquitã into the Lago Verde lake to protect the town and the people from evil spirits. The dance moves in carimbó reflect stories about the famous Amazonian pink dolphin coming to land in the evenings to court young women—men wear hats to cover their dolphin spouts and dance in circles around the women like dolphins jumping in and out of the water.

Talia Khan in the foliage
Talia Khan ’20 in the
abandoned city of Velho Airão before she learned that killer ants had
driven its people away. Her friend had an allergic reaction when bitten, but luckily, Khan had an EpiPen.COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR

I was lucky enough to return to Brazil two years later as a Fulbright scholar in Manaus, Amazonas, where I got to study natural rainforest materials such as curauá fibers and Marasmius yanomami fungi in the lab, research their traditional uses in artisanal crafts, and explore their potential as sustainable structural materials. I also volunteered at the Nobre Academia de Robótica, an organization that gives children from impoverished backgrounds, including Indigenous youths from the São Sebastião community, free access to education in coding, science, and technology. They learn to use drones for land surveillance and develop sensors to monitor environmental conditions, honoring their cultural legacy and extending it with technological capabilities.

When I met a local clarinetist named Abner at the Manaus synagogue, he invited me to watch as he recorded music with Eliberto Barroncas, an art professor at a local university who played instruments he crafted from repurposed “found” objects such as cardboard tubes, rubber tires, and marbles. As Abner played the clarinet, Barroncas created a background that immersed the listener in the sounds of Amazonia: croaking frogs, flowing water, shaking leaves. Afterward, we discussed the interconnectedness of

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By: Talia Khan ’20
Title: Learning and listening in Amazonia
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/28/1087639/learning-and-listening-in-amazonia/
Published Date: Wed, 28 Feb 2024 12:00:00 +0000

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MIT Hobby Shop rebuilt

HobbyShop5 MelMusto scaled

When Fine Woodworking magazine printed its first issue in the winter of 1975, a bowl made by Irving Fischman, SM ’72, PhD ’75, was on the cover. Though he had started woodworking in the MIT Hobby Shop only a few years before, he had already become highly skilled at the craft and found a lifelong passion.

“Woodworking is so fascinating that at some point in my grad school career I was thinking of doing it professionally,” says Fischman, a retired real estate developer and business consultant. “I really think working with your hands is part of human nature, and it’s so satisfying.”

Founded by students in 1938, and now used by more than 200 members of the MIT community each semester, the Hobby Shop relocated in fall 2023 when a newly renovated space—the former home of the MIT Museum store—became available in Building N51.

Intended from the start as a place for nonacademic projects, the shop continues to give many a welcome break from other work. “Because you have to concentrate on what you’re doing, you don’t think about the homework problem or the research you’re doing. You let that happen in the back of your mind,” Fischman says.

Tess Smidt ’12, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science, agrees. “It’s a different way of being creative than what I do in my research, which is mostly on the computer,” she says. “It’s nice to be able to use my hands; it’s really a treat.”

The refurbished, fully equipped wood and metal shop offers membership to students, staff, faculty, alumni, and their spouses. (The only requirement for alums is new member orientation and a fee of $200 per term or $500 per year.) Members are particularly enjoying the tall windows of the new shop, which faces Massachusetts Avenue.

“It’s like night and day, literally,” Smidt says of the difference from the old space, which was in the basement of Building W31 for 65 years. “Having the sunlight and the space, you want to hang out there more.”

Entering a new age

Much has changed over the years, Fischman says. “The original shop had a printing press and a darkroom, and people used to make their own electronics. There’s been quite a transformation, especially to the digital-controlled machine age,” he says.

The new shop is equipped with a suite of state-of-the-art machines, including a computer numerical control (CNC) router, 3D printers, a welding station, and a precision water-jet cutter. It has all the staples—planers, jointers, lathes, and hand tools—and it’s got a new, quieter air filtration system. “Incredible resources went into this shop,” Smidt says.

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MIT faculty members Alexander Rakhlin, PhD ’06, (left) and Tess Smidt ’12 work on furniture projects in the new MIT Hobby Shop.

One of Fischman’s favorite tools is the giant belt sander, which allows him to sand a whole tabletop at one time. “You get this wonderful finish on your project,” he says. “Years ago, you’d have a little hand sander, and it would scratch the board and do all sorts of terrible things.”

Smidt says she loves the lathe but is also very fond of a small tool called a French curve scraper, which she used to sand the curves of the desk that was her ambitious first project in the shop. The piece, which Smidt calls her “noodle desk,” consists of a butcher block top that S-curves to the floor

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By: Kathryn M. O’Neill
Title: MIT Hobby Shop rebuilt
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/28/1087648/mit-hobby-shop-rebuilt/
Published Date: Wed, 28 Feb 2024 12:00:00 +0000

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The Download: introducing the Hidden Worlds issue

This is today’s edition of The Download our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

Introducing: the Hidden Worlds issue 

A hidden world is fundamentally different from the undiscovered. We know the hidden world is there. We just can’t see it or reach it.

Hidden worlds exist in the great depths of the ocean and high above us in the planets of the night sky. But they are also all around us in the form of waves and matter and microbes.

Technology has long played the spoiler to these worlds in hiding. We have used ships, airplanes, and rockets to shrink distances. Telescopes, cameras, satellites, drones, and radar help us peer into and map the places we cannot go ourselves. AI increasingly plays a role, too.

If this all fascinates you as much as us, you’ll love the latest issue of MIT Technology Review. It’s all about using technology to explore and expose those hidden worlds, whether they are in the ocean depths, in the far reaches of our galaxy, or swirling all around us, unseen.

Check out these stories from the magazine:

+ Why Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa, is being investigated as a potential host for life.

+ Meet the intrepid divers experimenting with breathing hydrogen as part of an effort to reach depths no diver has ever been before.

+ Inside the hunt for new physics at the Large Hadron Collider, which hasn’t seen any new particles since the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012.

+ As AI develops at breakneck speed, this comic explains what we can all learn from the Luddites.

+ Here’s a job title you perhaps haven’t heard before, but will hear more in future: climate equity specialist.

This is just a small selection of what’s on offer. I urge you to dive in and enjoy the whole thing, when you find the time. Enjoy!

The first-ever mission to pull a dead rocket out of space has just begun

More than 9,000 metric tons of human-made metal and machinery are orbiting Earth, including satellites, shrapnel, and the International Space Station. But a significant bulk of that mass comes from one source: the nearly a thousand dead rockets that have been discarded in space since the space age began.

Now, for the first time, a mission has begun to remove one of those dead rockets. Funded by the Japanese space agency JAXA, it was launched on Sunday, February 18, and is currently on its way to rendezvous with such a rocket in the coming weeks.

It’ll inspect it and then work out how a follow-up mission might be able to pull the dead rocket back into the atmosphere. If it succeeds, it could demonstrate how we could remove large, dangerous, and uncontrolled pieces of space junk from orbit—objects that could cause a monumental disaster if they collided with satellites or spacecraft. Read the full story.

—Jonathan O’Callaghan

Why hydrogen is losing the race to power cleaner cars

Imagine a car that doesn’t emit any planet-warming gases—or any pollution at all, for that matter. Unlike the EVs on the roads today, it doesn’t take an hour or more to charge—just fuel up and go.

It sounds too good to be true, but it’s the reality of vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells. And almost nobody wants one.

Don’t get me wrong: hydrogen vehicles are sold around the world. But they appear to be lurching toward something of a dead end, with fuel prices going up, vehicle sales stagnating, and fueling stations shutting down. Read our story to find out why that is, and what we’d need to get these cars on the road.

—Casey Crownhart

The story above is for subscribers-only. But subscriptions start from just $8 a month to get access to all of MIT Technology Review’s award-winning journalismwhy not try it out

Why Chinese apps chose to film super-short soap operas in Southeast Asia

A handful of Chinese companies are betting that short videos can disrupt the movie and TV industry. These “soap operas for the TikTok age” have found a huge audience in China, creating a market worth $5 billion. Now, they’re betting that these shows, once adapted, can appeal to an American audience.

But rather than just jumping straight into the US, many of these firms are using Southeast Asia as both a testing ground, and a production hub. And they’re treading a well-worn path for using that region as the first frontier for expansion outside China. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

This story is from China Report, our weekly newsletter about China’s tech scene and how it interacts with the world. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology

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By: Charlotte Jee
Title: The Download: introducing the Hidden Worlds issue
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/28/1089166/introducing-hidden-worlds/
Published Date: Wed, 28 Feb 2024 13:02:00 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…
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