TIME technology

Google Gives San Francisco Free Wi-Fi in Public Places

San Francisco's Civic Center Plaza, a site of many local gatherings and rallies, is among the locations in the city that have free Wi-Fi as of Wednesday, Oct. 1. Jose Aguirre

Organizations are working hard to promote exactly this kind of public-private partnership in the city

On Wednesday, San Franciscans were able to hook their gadgets up to free Wi-Fi that launched in 32 new public locations. All that connectivity was funded by a $608,000 check from Google, in a move that could be seen as the tech behemoth taking steps to foster goodwill amid complaints of rapid gentrification fueled by the tech boom of Silicon Valley.

The free WiFi now available in San Francisco’s playgrounds, recreation centers, plazas and parks also fits in with the company’s long-standing promotion of Internet access in the U.S. and around the world. But lately politicians have more urgently encouraged big tech companies to show serious generosity, in both talent and funds, hoping to ameliorate the tensions that led to protests around “Google buses” earlier in the year.

In this case, after being approached by Mark Farrell, a member of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, Google agreed to underwrite his plan for complimentary hotspots through a partnership with sf.citi, an organization working hard to promote these feel-good public-private partnerships. Google already gave $6.8 million gift to the city earlier this year, to pay for bus fares of working-class youths.

In an interview conducted last winter, Mayor Ed Lee told TIME that the angst felt toward tech companies bringing an influx of new workers to the city was “perhaps misguided,” partly given the great things that sector is doing for the economy. He added that he had long been working with tech leaders to “be good philanthropic companies” and take part in “the culture of contributing to the society around them.”

On Wednesday, Lee celebrated a victory in bringing San Franciscans of various classes together. “WiFi in our city’s parks is another step toward a larger vision of connectivity for our city as a whole, bridging the digital divide and ensuring that our diverse communities have access to innovation,” he said in a statement.

TIME society

‘Smart Cities’ Should Mean ‘Sharing Cities’

Medellin, Colombia
Medellín, Colombia Christian Heeb—Getty Images

When mayors and developers focus on technology rather than people, smart quickly becomes stupid

These days every city claims to be a “smart” city, or is becoming one, with heavy investments in modern information and computing technology to attract businesses and make the city competitive.

But when mayors and developers focus on technology rather than people, smart quickly becomes stupid, threatening to exacerbate inequality and undermine the social cooperation essential to successful cities. After researching leading cities around the world, we’ve concluded that truly smart cities will be those that deploy modern technology in building a new urban commons to support communal sharing.

In India, Dholera is one of 24 new smart cities planned in order to accommodate the country’s rapidly expanding population. The planned city has cleared most approvals, but is stalled with the coastal zone regulatory commission, probably because of the predicted engineering challenges and expenses of a site on salt flats with a high risk of flooding. Moreover, villagers and small-scale subsistence farmers, who inhabit the proposed site and fear eviction from their land and livelihoods, have been staging peaceful protests with support from a grassroots land rights movement.

In London too, smart-city thinking is socially dumb. Here the problem is epitomized by Tech City in the Shoreditch district. Intended as a hub for tech innovation, it has turned into an annex of the London financial complex, dominated by Google, Cisco, McKinsey, and Intel. The artists, designers, and startups that began the process of regeneration in Shoreditch have been displaced by “commercial gentrification.” Just up the road in Tottenham, the rebranding of warehouses as ‘artistic quarters’ has displaced low-rent communities in favor of bankers and financial speculation.

Demographic, economic and cultural forces are bringing humanity together in large (and growing) urban regions, particularly in the global South. The physical nature of urban space demands—and in some ways, facilitates—sharing: of resources, infrastructures, goods, services, experiences and capabilities. Today, population density and highly networked physical space are converging with new digital technologies to drive sharing in cities—particularly in novel forms online.

Unfortunately, “sharing” is often too narrowly conceived as being primarily about economic transactions. The poster-children of the sharing economy are being co-opted by the interests of venture capital and its insatiable demands for rapid growth and high-value exit-strategies. Taskrabbit, started to make it easier for neighbors to help each other out with errands and chores, is becoming a glorified temping agency leaving its participants in the same precarious boat as those on zero-hours contracts. Uber, in theory a ride-sharing company helping cut congestion, is turning into a luxury taxi company serving the global footloose elite. Lending Club is losing sight of its social purpose in providing peer-to-peer loans for those otherwise excluded, or at risk of predatory money-sharks; instead it seems to be focusing on venture loans for entrepreneurs. Airbnb, the couch-surfing website designed to personalise travel, overlooks the growing use of its platform by landlords buying up property for the purpose, and thus enabling gentrification.

In all too many cities, economic divisions are being widened and social capital destroyed due to the notion that only a competitive, wired city can survive in the cut-throat global market. This is just one of the harmful outcomes of the political ideology of neo-liberalism, the market fundamentalism that has gripped Western politics for the last three decades. The problem is not just a failure of participation — as citizens remain excluded from decision-making — but of imagination, as politicians refuse to intervene in markets except at the behest of corporate capital.

Yet there is a better way of using modern technologies to create more just, inclusive and environmentally efficient economies and societies. Humans are natural sharers. Traditional, old-fashioned face-to-face sharing still happens in communities everywhere, but it has largely broken down in modern cities in the face of commercialization of the public realm, and of rapid, destabilizing economic and technological change. All this has dissolved trust, as we spend more time working and hide from our neighbors behind our security locks and alarm systems.

Even so, new opportunities for collaboration and sharing are arising at the intersection of urban space and cyberspace. Kiva City is providing interest free loans to local social businesses. Freecycle is diverting thousands of tons of functional but unwanted things from landfill. Repair cafes, which bring together people with repair skills and those in need of help, are springing up in hundreds of cities. Garden sharing schemes like Landshare are doing the same for gardeners. Shared public Bus Rapid Transit systems are transforming cities like Medellín in Colombia by providing previously marginalized communities with access to jobs and facilities. Such communally inspired sharing is transforming norms and cultures.

New opportunities for sharing create new opportunities to enhance trust and rebuild social capital. But commercial sharing is also creating new spaces in which commercial interests can force workers into casual contracts, privatize public services and drive up land values and rents through gentrification. In these ways the emerging sharing economy can deepen both social and spatial inequalities and deliver injustice. City leaders need to support and emphasize communal models of sharing that build solidarity and spread trust. Sharing systems designed around equity and justice will naturally shift cultural values and norms towards trust and collaboration. This can deliver a further dividend, as increased trust increases social investment in public goods and the public realm.

Sharing establishes a precondition and motivation for collective political debate. The same measures that enable sharing online, also—if civil liberties are properly protected—enable collective politics online and create venues for healthy debate. In recent years, the intersections of cyberspace and urban space have spawned shared protest movements and efforts at political transformation in countries as diverse as Iceland, Tunisia, Spain, Egypt and the U.S. The Occupy movement and its precursors—such as Spain’s Indignadas—are only harbingers of the coming age of shared politics.

‘Sharing the whole city’ should become the guiding purpose of the future city. This offers a radically different vision compared with a global race to the bottom to attract footloose investment capital. It redefines what ‘smart cities’ of the future might really mean—harnessing smart technology to an agenda of sharing and solidarity, rather than the dumb approaches of competition, enclosure and division.

Julian Agyeman is a professor of urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. He tweets at @julianagyeman. Duncan McLaren is a freelance researcher and consultant, with long experience in the environmental non-profit sector. He tweets at @mclaren_erc. Their book, Sharing Cities, will be published by MIT Press in fall 2015.

This article was originally written for Zócalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME cities

Detroit Pedestrian Bridge Collapses Across Major Highway

The Cathedral Road pedestrian bridge lies collapsed on the south M-39 highway after a truck hit it on Sept. 26, 2014, in Detroit.
The Cathedral Road pedestrian bridge lies collapsed on the south M-39 highway after a truck hit it on Sept. 26, 2014, in Detroit. Robert Allen—AP

Lions quarterback Matt Stafford was on the scene, mingling with others

Updated at 10:30 a.m.

A pedestrian bridge spanning a major freeway in Detroit collapsed Friday morning after it was struck by the bucket of a truck, killing the driver and causing a substantial traffic buildup.

The collapsed bridge on Joy Road spanning the Southfield freeway blocked traffic in both directions. No further injuries have been reported stemming from the incident.

Detroit Lions Quarterback Matthew Stafford was among the last drivers to pass under the bridge before it crashed to the ground. He was seen mingling with other onlookers amid the wreckage.

A spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Transportation, Diane Cross, told CBS Local news “it’s an older bridge” but The Detroit Free Press reports the bridge passed inspection just last May.

[CBS Local]

TIME cities

Boston Finds a 113-Year-Old Time Capsule but Can’t Get It Open

Time Capsule Lion Statue
In this Sept. 14, 2014, photo, a lion statue is removed from atop the Old State House on Washington Street in Boston Dina Rudick—AP

That's because it's housed inside a lion statue on the roof of the Old State House

Boston officials are puzzling over how to retrieve a 113-year-old time capsule from inside a lion statue on Boston’s Old State House.

The time capsule, mentioned in a 1901 Boston Daily Globe article, is a copper box containing contributions from local elected officials of the time, plus buttons from the presidential campaigns of William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, Reuters reports.

“The work of the coppersmith is completed, and one of the last things he did was to seal a copper box, which is placed in the head of the lion, and which contains contributions from state and city officials, the Boston daily newspapers, the name of the maker of the lion and unicorn, and others, which will prove interesting when the box is opened many years hence,” reads the Feb. 1901 article.

But the catch is the statue: an iconic, golden lion that has, for 113 years, graced the roof of the 301-year-old Old State House, a red-brick building in Boston’s downtown.

“We are determining the best way to retrieve the time capsule without damaging the lion,” Heather Leet, director of development for the Bostonian Society, which maintains the building, told Reuters.

Boston’s Old State House, where the Declaration of Independence was read to cheering crowds from the building’s east balcony in 1776, was the first seat of the Massachusetts government, and is these days a popular stop for tourists walking the Freedom Trail.

The lion statue and its rooftop neighbor, a silver unicorn — both are symbols of the British monarchy — were taken off the building for maintenance earlier this month, Boston.com says.

Leet told Reuters that the group has known about the hidden box for several years, because a descendant of one of the statue’s sculptors sent them a letter about it. A fiber-optic camera, threaded into a hole in the statue, confirms the box’s existence.

Under the hashtag #LionAndUnicorn, the Bostonian Society has been crowd-sourcing ideas from locals on Twitter, asking them for suggestions on what to add to the capsule. Current ideas include “fossilized cannoli,” Dunkin Donuts styrofoam cups, and “Boston Strong” gear inspired by the city’s pulling together after the bombing of the Boston Marathon in 2013.

There was also the suggestion of a One Direction album. Sound the alarm; the British are coming. Again.

[Reuters]

TIME Crime

NYPD Confrontation With Pregnant Woman is Latest Police Video to Go Viral

The recording of an NYPD officer shoving a pregnant woman to the ground belly first is part of a shift in the relationship between the public and police

It was another disturbing video of a heated police encounter: As New York Police Department officers attempted to arrest a suspect, a pregnant woman is taken down by one of them, her swollen stomach hitting the pavement. And like an increasing number of police incidents, it was recorded by bystanders and widely shared on social media.

This one began early in the morning on Sept. 20 in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn, when police tried to arrest 17-year-old Jhohan Lemos for carrying a knife. The footage shows his mother, Sandra Amezquita, trying to intervene, then getting shoved to the ground belly first by an NYPD officer and later given a summons for disorderly conduct.

“The first thing I thought was they killed my baby and they’re going to kill my wife,” Ronel Lemos, Amezquita’s husband, told The New York Daily News.

Amezquita filed an excessive force complaint, prompting an investigation by the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau. Her lawyer, Sanford Rubenstein, said in a news conference Wednesday that Amezquita was suffering from vaginal bleeding.

The significance of the footage goes far beyond the borders of this Brooklyn neighborhood. The video from Sunset Park is the latest in a string of recorded confrontations between the police and the public that have fundamentally changed the relationship between the two.

Since a bystander captured Los Angeles Police Department officers assaulting Rodney King on a camcorder in 1991, ever-more-accessible recording devices have added layers of eyes and evidence to encounters with law enforcement that were once unthinkable. The fatal shooting of Oscar Grant by Oakland police in 2009 was documented by commuters at the train station where it happened. The death of Eric Garner during an arrest on Staten Island, N.Y. launched a national debate on the use of force by police after cell phone video of the confrontation went viral. And in the tense aftermath of Michael Brown’s shooting death in Ferguson, Mo., an organization called We Copwatch has provided citizens with cameras to document the actions of local police.

“The police are often the only people at a scene without cameras,” says John DeCarlo, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

That, too, is changing. Dozens of police departments are now testing or considering adopting body-worn cameras for officers. Police in Ferguson are now using cameras and the NYPD is testing two types of officer recording devices. Law enforcement agencies in Miami Beach, Washington, D.C., and Colorado Springs all plan to start wearing cameras by October.

The effect of all this surveillance can make it seem like the police are increasingly heavy-handed, but the numbers say otherwise. “There may be fewer incidents of abuse of force nowadays than there had been during the 1960s and ‘70s and earlier than that, but because we see them more commonly now because of the advent of cameras, people think they’re going up,” says DeCarlo.

Earlier this month, New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton released statistics showing that only 2% of the 400,000 arrests last year involved use of force by officers, a decrease of 8.5% from 20 years ago. The figures have been challenged by city council members who questioned the way the police department defined use of force, but the drop mirrors a similar decline in departments around the nation. In 2008, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 1.4% of people who had contact with police reported that an officer had used force or threatened to do so, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, down from 1.5% in 2002 and 1.6% in 2005.

But there is no doubt that recordings can elevate local incidents into national issues. And for many of the people behind the cameras, that’s just the point. The video of Amezquita was released by El Grito de Sunset Park, a community watch group. Its leader, Dennis Flores, has his own history with the NYPD: After filming police arresting a teenager in the neighborhood in 2002, Flores says the cops destroyed his camera, assaulted and arrested him. He says he later received a six-figure settlement that allowed him to form the group and buy dozens of cameras for neighborhood citizens to record officer incidents. One of those cameras, he says, was used to film Saturday’s altercation.

“We don’t interfere or obstruct,” Flores says. “We’re just trying to help prevent abuse. Citizens now with their cell phones are able to document and upload these videos for all the world to see. They’re balancing power.”

TIME cities

Ferguson Protests Erupt Again After Fire at Michael Brown Memorial

Looting resumes in Ferguson
A Missouri Highway Patrol trooper looks inside the vandalized Beauty Town store on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson late Tuesday, Sept. 23. Robert Cohen—AP

Gunshots reported at gathering that formed after memorial was destroyed in blaze

At least two protesters were arrested Tuesday night after protests returned to Ferguson, Mo. following a fire at a memorial to the unarmed teenager shot by police there in August.

The unrest harked back to sometimes violent demonstrations that took place amid days of protests over the summer in the St. Louis suburb after a police officer shot 19-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9. Police Tuesday responded to a reported break-in of a beauty supply store in the area, and witnesses reported hearing gunshots, USA Today reports.

About 200 people had gathered in the area where regular demonstrations were held in the wake of the shooting, and some said they were in the streets to protest the burning of the memorial, which they said they believe was intentional.

The fire started around 6:45 a.m. on Tuesday on the street where Brown was shot. Firefighters investigating how the fire started found candles used at the memorial in the debris.

[USA Today]

TIME cities

NYC’s Top Cop Sees Highest Terror Risk Since 9/11

NBC News
New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton

"One of the most significant dangerous periods ever seen since 9/11"

The top cop in the nation’s biggest city said that because of ISIS and other terror threats, the U.S. has entered one of the most dangerous periods since 9/11 terror—and the risk will only increase.

“Since 9/11, the NYPD has always been at a very high level of concern and focus on the counterterrorism issues and the issue of dealing with terrorism,” said New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton in an interview with NBC News. “Those that have been involved in it for a number of years in New York City and the NYPD believe that this period of time is one of the most significant dangerous periods ever seen since 9/11 13 years ago…”

TIME deals

Wynn Gets a Boston-Area Casino License

Massachusetts Gambling Boston
This file artist's rendering released March 27, 2013 by Wynn Resorts shows a proposed resort casino on the banks of the Mystic River in Everett, Mass. AP

But opponents have won the right to hold a statewide referendum on gaming in the fall

Wynn Resorts has won a license to bring a $1.6 billion casino to Everett, Mass., a Boston-area town with a polluted waterfront and a big bet on gaming to raise its middling fortunes.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted 3 to 1 on Tuesday afternoon to award the sole license available near Boston to the Las Vegas–based gaming giant Wynn Resorts — and not to Mohegan Sun, the Connecticut-based developer that had pitched to build a $1.1 million casino in Revere, another Boston-area town that is seeing tough times.

Both towns had, over the past several months, staged public relations campaigns in which each claimed to be harder-up and less attractive than the other and thus more in need of a casino’s heady injection of jobs and cash.

Meanwhile, the two gaming juggernauts had each wagered that their stimulus package was richer than the others and would lift not just the fortunes of a single town but also plug holes in Massachusetts’ hemorrhaging coffers.

“You won’t recognize the city of Everett, hopefully, in 10 years,” Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria told the Boston Globe.

“We will no longer be the butt end of the city of Boston,” he said. “We will be the entrance to the city of Everett.’’

This is the second of three casino licenses to be awarded in the state, after a 2011 law legalized gambling and created three casino licenses, plus one slots-parlor license, which has also been awarded. Contentious battles have flared among big-name casino developers vying over the licenses, as well as between the gaming giants and those in Massachusetts who oppose the state’s use of gaming as a fix for its budget woes.

Casino foes have won the right to hold a statewide referendum on the gaming law in November. Critics say casinos do more harm than good to their municipal hosts, breeding crime and tanking property values, while others worry that the Northeastern market is too saturated and competitive for Massachusetts’ proposed casinos to generate the tax bounties they are touting.

MGM Resorts International, which won the first casino license, in Springfield, is holding off on building its complex until voters go to the polls, but the winner of the slots license, Penn National Gaming, is going ahead. Early polls on the referendum have been divided.

Wynn claims its casino will create more than 4,000 permanent jobs, plus about 3,000 construction jobs, and it has pledged Everett about $30 million in local enhancement projects and $45 million in traffic improvements. It has projected that its casino would haul in annual revenue of $800 million a year, more than $200 million of which would go to the state as gaming tax.

TIME poverty

Parking Meters Aren’t Going to Fix Homelessness

Real Change Movement
An example of one of the Real Change Movement's meters Real Change Movement

The converted parking meters have mixed results around the U.S.

It’s an eye-catching way to raise money and awareness about homelessness: 14 parking meters around Pasadena, Calif., all converted to collect change for those living on the streets.

In the last few weeks, Pasadena has joined several large cities around the U.S. that have set up what are essentially “homelessness meters.” They’re retrofitted parking meters that allow passersby to donate money by depositing coins or even swipe debit or credit cards. That money then goes to homelessness charities and organizations rather than directly to the homeless themselves.

“This is a clear alternative where people contributing know that all the money will go to effective services,” Bill Huang, the Pasadena housing director, told The Los Angeles Times.

Supporters say the money goes to organizations like the United Way or local homeless groups that know how to effectively use the funds for food, support and shelter and get around the possibility of that money going to drugs or alcohol. Two of Pasadena’s meters, painted bright orange and affixed with smiley faces, have reportedly raised $270 in their first three weeks. But elsewhere around the U.S., the meters have decidedly mixed results. In Orlando, for example, 15 homelessness meters have brought in just $2,027 in three years, and that was after the city spent $2,000 getting them up and running.

“I don’t know that these meters have been very effective anywhere, certainly not in Orlando,” says Jim Wright, a University of Central Florida professor who studies homelessness. “The concept was, I believe, oversold by the advocates and too rapidly embraced by politicos trying to create the impression that they were doing something significant about the homeless problem.”

Andrae Bailey, chief executive officer of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, which collects the money from Orlando’s meters, says they were installed in 2011 without a comprehensive homeless strategy focusing primarily on housing those in need.

“We tried to do meters without having a plan to house veterans and those with mental illness and disabilities,” Bailey says. “Anything other than a housing solution for the chronic homeless is a recipe for disaster.”

In Denver, 50 homeless meters bring in around $3,000 to $6,500 total each year, according to Denver’s Road Home, which launched the Donation Meter Program in 2007. The money goes to support services like housing, shelter, mental health and support services, says Denver’s Road Home executive director Bennie Milliner.

But some housing advocates criticize the meters as merely an attempt to reduce panhandling. Paul Boden, director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, a collective of various West Coast homeless organizations, says that the installation of meters is often in conjunction with either increased enforcement of panhandling laws or additional legislation. Both Denver and Atlanta, which installed meters several years ago, have also worked to crack down on panhandlers.

“It’s a way to possibly reduce panhandling,” says Dennis Culhane, a University of Pennsylvania psychiatry professor who studies homelessness, adding that he doesn’t see much substantive impact from the meters on truly solving the problem of homelessness in those cities.

TIME Crime

George Zimmerman Threats Investigated by Police

George Zimmerman Appears Before Judge On Recent Aggravated Assault Charges
George Zimmerman, the acquitted shooter in the death of Trayvon Martin, faces a Seminole circuit judge during a first-appearance hearing on charges including aggravated assault stemming from a fight with his girlfriend, Nov. 19, 2013 in Sanford, Florida. Getty Images

Zimmerman allegedly threatened to kill another driver

Florida police are investigating a report that George Zimmerman stalked a Florida man and threatened to kill him this week after a road altercation, according to police reports.

Records suggest that the first exchange occurred Tuesday when Zimmerman, who was cleared of murder charges in the 2013 shooting of Trayvon Martin, pulled alongside a driver in Lake Mary, Fla. and tried to get his attention.

“What’s your problem? Why are you shaking your finger?” Zimmerman reportedly asked the other driver. Eventually, Zimmerman allegedly threatened to shoot and kill the other driver, prompting him to call the police.

The driver claims Zimmerman waited nearby the driver’s work place the following day, leading to another 911 call.

“It seems this guy is just waiting on me,” the other driver told a 911 dispatcher.

Zimmerman has grabbed media attention on several occasions since his trial last year, including several run-ins with the law. Police arrested Zimmerman after a fight with his girlfriend in November, but dropped the assault and battery charges after his girlfriend decided not to pursue the matter. In another instance, he was pulled over for speeding.

During his trial, Zimmerman raised more than $200,000 from the public to mount his legal defense. He has found various ways to continue to raise funds since his acquittal. He sold a painting of an American flag for more than $100,000 on eBay in January, and signed up to fight Rapper DMX in a celebrity boxing match the following month.

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