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One reader believes that 'those in favour of Sidewalk Labs have fallen under the spell of the smart cities movement.'

CHRIS HELGREN/Reuters

Rise and fall

Re Our Recovery Depends On The U.S. We’re In Trouble (May 14): After columnist John Ibbitson’s observation that “the United States is self-immolating,” I thought of other empires that have declined slowly: the Romans, for examples, or the Ottomans. Did they self-immolate? I would say yes. All the factors seem in place for the U.S. to do the same.

As an economic vassal state, we’d be wise to consider where we want to be in this process. Two pre-existing conditions are problematic, though: Canada doesn’t think of itself as a vassal, and the U.S. denies it’s an empire.

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John Marion Toronto

The future?

Re Universities Plan To Start Fall Semester With Online Classes (May 12): The days of expensive brick-and-mortar universities seem numbered. The future looks like one of low-cost, universally accessible, accredited online education. But instead of professors talking into a camera, the lectures would be of Hollywood quality, produced by experts and delivered by professional actors who are good on camera and can hold an audience.

Virtual reality would allow students to immerse themselves in a subject. Imagine walking the streets of ancient Rome, interacting with Shakespeare or designing a digital office tower.

Students would choose courses from suppliers around the world and learn at their own pace. Procedures for secure testing and exams would allow for accreditation and certification.

Classes would be rated for quality, with students worldwide flocking to the best and thus driving down costs to just dollars per course. Money and location would no longer be a barrier to higher education.

David Morgan Ottawa

Search for answers

Re Walk Away (Letters, May 13): I am disheartened by the pile-on of negativity on Google’s entrance, and now, exit. One naysayer: “Sidewalk Labs walking away was always a given.” There was enormous promise of boundless success! For me, Sidewalk Labs will be a case study on how, or how not, to tell a story.

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For such a gigantic policy, partnership and advocacy effort, the “city of the future” didn’t have a proportionately innovative storytelling effort; consistently responsive, rather than proactive, the full offering of global and local socioeconomic benefits not quite weaved into the story’s tapestry. We hoped for page-turning chapters of a multi-partner, powerhouse-financed narrative. We squinted to see that the sky’s the limit.

There are lessons to be learned in advocating Toronto as a world-class city. One might be the need for narration in a more persuasive, compelling package. I’ll be ready to read that and cheer on.

Rick Byun Toronto


I believe those in favour of Sidewalk Labs have fallen under the spell of the smart cities movement: techno-futurists who tout disruptive inventions as the route to dramatic improvements in urban living. But truly smart cities shouldn’t need Sidewalk Labs.

Truly smart cities should know that more affordable housing, better transit and more parkland can be best achieved by good urban planning, well-directed public expenditure funded by increased taxes and strong political leadership to build a supporting coalition.

Old-fashioned politics should be the route to more livable cities – not new technology.

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George Fallis Professor emeritus, economics and urban studies, York University; Toronto

Economy on wheels

Re Bike Companies Poised To Benefit As European Countries Encourage Cycling To Work (Report on Business, May 12): It’s great that bikes can be profitable for manufacturers. They can also help shop owners. A 2019 study by University of Toronto researchers examined the financial impact of a pilot bike lane on Toronto’s Bloor Street. Its conclusion: “Monthly customer spending and number of customers served by merchants both increased on Bloor Street during the pilot.”

The research suggests pedestrians and cyclists visited the street more frequently and spent more money than other shoppers. So creating bike lanes could also hasten Canada’s economic recovery.

Gideon Forman Climate change and transportation policy analyst, David Suzuki Foundation; Toronto

Root causes

Re Domestic Violence In Pandemic: Nine Killed In 34 Days (May 13): If you read the comment section online, there is a chorus of (assumed) male voices decrying the perceived bias against men by over-representing the plight of women.

Let’s assume these views are a plea for recognition and validation in the absence of sympathetic and positive portrayals of men. Let’s also assume the bleak fact that a minority of men are responsible for the overwhelming majority of violent acts. To what degree does this lack of affirmation contribute to the alienation of the most-likely demographic to take up violence?

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Are these suppressed voices of legitimate concern, or are they trolls? Should they just suck it up? I believe we ignore this phenomena at our peril, because alienation can have high social costs. It seems wrong to dismiss them as sulking members of a privileged class.

Evidence suggests that men don’t feel heard, while simultaneously being told to talk about their feelings. That sounds unsustainable. Why talk if no one is listening? Where, then, does the frustration go?

Dan Moore Peterborough, Ont.

Do the right thing

Re Peer pressure, public messaging will affect behaviour when rules loosen: experts (May 9): Finally, some sound advice during the pandemic panic.

From the beginning, government and various health authorities have used fear and rules to ensure public compliance with physical distancing and safety procedures. The virus, we were told, was lurking everywhere, and any item from the supermarket was to be treated as if it was bristling with possible infection. Trust no one.

Now Ontario looks to be winning the struggle to flatten the curve and eliminate the virus, but at the cost of a traumatized, fearful and suspicious populace. Psychology professor Frederick Grouzet so accurately acknowledges that “the motivational power [of fear] wanes over time.” Perhaps it’s time to put our trust in people again to do the right thing, rather than rely on fear, threats and punishment.

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Ray Saitz Peterborough, Ont.

Sex-positive

Re Breaking The Silence On Women’s Health (First Person, May 12): It was so easy for me to nod my head a million times reading this brilliant essay. Heck, even when students show genuine interest in learning about sex-specific experiences women have, they are often judged for doing so and told to ignore desires to learn and grow.

I will always, as an educational assistant, remember helping a student look for magazine pictures to make a collage about some other topic. He came to a full-page ad for pads and asked what they were. The teacher freaked, telling him to turn the page. Me being me – a self-accepting woman who won’t hesitate to talk about anything, while still respecting teacher restrictions – I told him they were blankets many women wear on a monthly basis.

Even if being quiet or subversive is necessary, we women shouldn’t have to be silent. Health is health, head to toe.

Amy Soule Hamilton


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