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Written by David Gilford, Danny Fuchs, and Ariel Benjamin.

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COVID-19 has underscored communities’ urgent needs for broadband infrastructure and digital equity.

Universal high speed internet access is foundational to addressing American inequality, particularly in education, employment, and healthcare. Nearly every effort to address inequality relies in some way on the internet. Yet more than 18 million American households live without a broadband subscription, 13.9 million of them in metro areas. In urban counties, people of color represent 75% of all unconnected residents.

The private market will not close this digital divide on its own. Nearly 28 million American households have a single choice of broadband provider; millions more live in duopolies. Government primarily serves as a regulator- recently, an anti-city, anti-competition regulator-with a few programs that subsidize internet service providers’ (ISPs) service of low-income residents. …


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Amazon Locker at Baltoro, 345 West 42nd St, Manhattan, NYC. (Wikimedia Commons Photo/Adam Matan)

Digital technologies can augment, rather than replace, neighborhood retail.

Since the first Montgomery Ward catalog arrived in 1872, technology has provided alternatives to going to the local store. Today seemingly anything can be delivered at the press of a button — or via a spoken command to an artificial assistant. Each new innovation appears to disproportionately benefit e-commerce at the expense of neighborhood retail. A closer look, however, shows untapped opportunities for stores to harness their physicality in ways that purely online retail cannot. Cities themselves have an active role to play as technology evolves, ensuring that digital tools and training are available equitably to retailers across neighborhoods.

Online retailers have access to nearly unlimited inventory, yet getting packages into people’s hands remains challenging. Delivery fleets contribute to urban congestion, and package rooms in apartment buildings are overflowing. Technology giants continue investing billions into making deliveries more efficient, from drones and robots to smart locks for in-home delivery. …


David Gilford, Senior Director, Client Strategy, Intersection

The most predictable thing about technology is the pace of its change. From Moore’s Law to the annual release of new iPhones, we expect each year to bring new technologies and cost efficiencies. Yet when it comes to the buildings and infrastructure that make up our cities, too often we expect the opposite: lengthy delays and cost overruns.

During the design and construction of a single project, whole generations of digital evolution may take place. …

About

David Gilford

Helping organizations use urban technology to improve cities at HR&A Advisors.

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