Welcome to our weekly reading list! As always, we’ve selected the hottest reads from the realm of civic tech.

This week we’re talking about smart cities, digital authoritarianism, geriatric selfies, urban experiments and childless metropolises. Missed last week’s selection? Check it out on the blog.

1. “I’m an Engineer, and I’m Not Buying Into ‘Smart’ Cities” by The New York Times

In this opinion piece, engineer Shoshanna Saxe explains why she’s less than impressed by the premise of smart cities. Cities around the world are actively trying to better themselves (and outdo each other) by using data, cameras, sensors, and other tech innovations to become ‘smarter’, greener, safer and/or more efficient.

Of course, this evolution can have a positive impact. But in this article, Saxe remarks that technology has a short life span, and smart cities might become more complex to manage than we anticipate.

Rather than chasing the newest shiny smart-city technology, we should redirect some of that energy toward building excellent dumb cities — cities planned and built with best-in-class, durable approaches to infrastructure and the public realm. For many of our challenges, we don’t need new technologies or new ideas; we need the will, foresight and courage to use the best of the old ideas.

Shoshanna Saxe

A must-read for cities looking to be smarter – or for an excuse to stick with the old school.

2. “Perspectives | Civic tech activism vs. digital authoritarianism” by Eurasia Net

In many post-Soviet regions, digitally-minded activists are taking to the internet and social media as a response to their repressive regimes. Governments like Russia and Kazakhstan are implementing restrictive laws and policies and stepping up internet surveillance in an attempt to take away some of the internet’s unifying power. But these attempts aren’t quite as successful as they would like.

“To authorities’ frustration, the sledgehammer approach to suppressing civic activism is not working for the internet,” says the article. The online world is in the hands of young activists who are continuously looking for creative ways to evade state control. A must-read for everyone who believes that the internet is a free space for all.

3. “Ministry of cities RIP: the sad story of Brazil’s great urban experiment” by The Guardian

Over the last few years, Brazil has invested massive amounts of money to build homes and increase the living situation of thousands of people across the country. But what seemed like a success story (and was announced with lots of bells and whistles), didn’t have a happy ending. The ministry of housing found itself overwhelmed by the amounts of money that poured into housing and struggled to keep up quality control.

In January of this year, the ministry and the housing project were shut down by the new president. This brought an end to a first-of-its-kind innovation in public policy. A must-read for cities looking for ways to tackle housing questions, or everyone interested in urban experiments.

4. “The Future of the City Is Childless” by The Atlantic

Cities are becoming cleaner, safer and greener. But as they attract more wealth, housing prices soar, and families with young children find it increasingly harder to raise their kids in the city. This is what’s currently happening in New York. As the poster child of the urban renaissance, the city is suddenly confronted with a new kind of problem:

Since 2011, the number of babies born in New York has declined 9 percent in the five boroughs and 15 percent in Manhattan. (At this rate, Manhattan’s infant population will halve in 30 years.) In that same period, the net number of New York residents leaving the city has more than doubled. There are many reasons New York might be shrinking, but most of them come down to the same unavoidable fact: Raising a family in the city is just too hard.

The future of big cities could be childless, and this article explores why that is a problem. A must-read for anyone raising families in urban areas, or cities looking to diversify their populations.

5. “FaceApp is back and so are privacy concerns” by The Verge

You’ve probably seen them floating around on social media: selfies with filters that age the selfie-taker with a generous 40 years. Those grey-haired and wrinkled peeks into the (possible) future may be hilarious, but they also raise questions and concerns about the viral Russian-owned application. What happens with our data if we use the application?

Whether the application is actually fishy (or worse than other apps) is up for debate, but it’s definitely a conversation worth having. As the article states:

FaceApp might not be a major privacy concern, but as with any app, there are always trade-offs. If you want to see what you could look like at 80 years old, you have to forfeit your photo, which includes your face.

A must-read for everyone who enjoys a good geriatric filter, or wonders about their face being saved in a Russian database.

That was it for today! If you’re looking for more, download our comprehensive e-guides on participatory budgeting or inclusion in e-democracy, or contact our experts to get started with digital participation in your city!

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