Photograph of a construction worker working on a timber building. In the background there are houses and high-rises.
Photograph of a construction worker working on a timber building. In the background there are houses and high-rises.
Crest mass-timber construction site in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Image: James MacDonald/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

A Sidewalk Talk Q&A with mass timber pioneer Susan Jones

In 2011, Seattle-based architect Susan Jones decided to fulfill a longtime dream. She, with the help of her design firm atelierjones, was going to design her own home — but not just any home. “I really wanted to do something experimental,” something sustainable, Jones explained, that could “inspire, potentially, new sustainable lower carbon technologies that will, who knows, maybe even change construction in the US.”

With that “modest goal” in mind, Jones got to work researching, and she soon came across a low-carbon, prefabricated material that would change her practice: mass timber. Since building her home in 2015, one of the first mass timber homes in the country, Jones has gone on to write a book about the material as well as design and build many internationally-recognized mass timber structures. In this Sidewalk Talk Q&A (adapted from our conversation for our City of the Future episode on Factory-based Construction), we speak with Jones to learn more about the benefits of this new kind of timber, the regulatory changes leading to its widespread adoption, and its implications for the larger construction and architecture industry. …

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Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, one of the most digitally enabled places in the world. (Image: Julius Jansson / Unsplash)

Digital transformation advisor Anett Numa explains that Estonia had been “preparing for the crisis for the past 25 years.”

The small Baltic nation of Estonia is one of the most digitally advanced countries in the world. Estonians do everything online — from filing taxes, to launching a business, even voting. This powerful digital infrastructure left the country perfectly positioned for the all-remote lifestyle that Covid-19 demanded.

“We already had 99 percent of the services already available online, and we signed all of our documents online,” says Anett Numa, a digital transformation advisor at the e-Estonia Briefing Centre. “We don’t really use papers here.”

Anett’s job entails helping governments around the world understand how they can achieve a digital transformation on par with Estonia’s. I met her in the summer of 2019 — on a reporting trip to the country — and I called her back once the pandemic struck to see how things were going. The only real difference post-pandemic? …

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Architect Wanda Dalla Costa stands in front of a shade structure that she built for the Gila River Indian Community. (Image: Selina Martinez / Arizona State University)

A Sidewalk Talk Q&A with Phoenix-based architect Wanda Dalla Costa.

For Phoenix-based architect Wanda Dalla Costa, energy efficiency isn’t just a matter of sustainable design — it’s also a matter of climate justice. As a result of rising temperatures, she says, Phoenix has suffered 1,500 heat-related deaths over a 12-year period. Dalla Costa has seen these trends fall hardest on Indigenous communities living near the city.

“We should be looked at as the canary birds,” says Dalla Costa, who is a member of the Saddle Lake Cree Nation, in Canada. “I often use this concept: who senses the climate changes first? And, of course, it’s often the Indigenous people. …

Transmission lines run along towers over a grassy field.
Transmission lines run along towers over a grassy field.
(Image: Unsplash user Alexandru Boicu)

Author and anthropologist Gretchen Bakke explains the 20th century hang-ups preventing a cleaner energy future.

America’s aging energy infrastructure is increasingly fragile, and it almost only ever makes the headlines when things go wrong. That was the case earlier this month, when fear of wildfires caused California’s utility company, PG&E, to shut off its power plants, leaving thousands of households in the dark. And it was the case this summer, when a “flawed connection” between pieces of equipment left the entire west side of Manhattan without electricity for hours.

But electricity infrastructure is also a remarkable example of 20th century innovation, something the anthropologist Gretchen Bakke, author of The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future, learned over the course of the decade she spent researching her book. …

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Pop-up store in Seattle. (Image: Flickr / Trevor Dykstra)

A Q&A with the CEO of Popuphood, which brings cities and developers together to help retailers occupy once vacant spaces.

Cities around the world are grappling with a vacant storefront crisis. The causes are complex — ranging from the rise of online competitors, to the role of private equity firms, to, of course, rising rents.

Sarah Filley is intimately familiar with these challenges. The Oakland-based artist is the co-founder and CEO of Popuphood, a social enterprise and retail incubator (the first in the U.S.) that helps pop-ups to become permanent fixtures in urban communities. …

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Graphic from “North of the Water: A look at life in Toronto’s public realm” (Sidewalk Labs)

A Sidewalk Talk Q&A with Toronto-based experts who have researched how public spaces create a sense of belonging.

“I have an aversion to public spaces that are designed as museum pieces,” says Jake Tobin Garrett, the Manager of Policy and Planning at Park People, Canada’s leading charity devoted to improving public space. “You feel like you’re supposed to look but not touch.”

Having worked with community members to improve scores of public spaces, Garrett knows what makes an inviting public realm. But he and his team, folks who have dedicated their lives to the long-term success of public spaces, also wanted to understand what truly creates a sense of belonging in public space.

Enter Elle Ziegler, the Insights and Design Manager at Doblin, Deloitte’s human-centered design practice. Ziegler is adept at conducting user research — reaching out to diverse populations who, for reasons of geography, awareness, or access are typically missed in the public consultations — and translating those learnings into insights designers can use to guide their work. …

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In this bonus episode, we preview season 2 — and talk Toronto — with Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff.

Today, Sidewalk Labs’ proposal for a neighborhood of the future on Toronto’s waterfront, the Master Innovation and Development Plan (MIDP), was released to the public. For all of us at Sidewalk Labs, it’s a big deal — the culmination of 18 months of intensive work and many public consultations.

While the plan is meant first and foremost as a proposal for Toronto, it is also intended to provide a new urban toolkit for the digital age and to spark the imagination of cities around the world tackling the challenges of diverse, equitable, and inclusive growth. …

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Rendering of Starcity’s proposed San Jose development, which will be the largest co-living development in the world. (Image: Starcity)

A Sidewalk Talk Q&A with Jon Dishotsky, CEO of co-living developer Starcity.

Co-living is emerging as a new housing type across the U.S., and cities—particularly those starved for middle-income housing — are beginning to take notice. At the forefront of this trend is Jon Dishotsky, co-founder and CEO of Starcity, a developer and operator of co-living buildings on the West Coast. Just last week, Starcity announced its latest project: an 800-unit building in San Jose, what would be the largest co-living development in the world.

“If you look at both San Francisco and San Jose’s housing affordability goals over the next 10 to 15 years,” says Dishotsky, “the category that is the most underserved with potential new supply is middle-income housing by a huge margin. These mayors and city staff are saying, ‘Okay, maybe this is the tool that we utilize in order to get us to meet that middle income affordable housing goals.’” …

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Empty shops in Newport, United Kingdom. (Image: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

Author Mark Pilkington explains why retail is struggling in cities — and how landlords and retailers could, together, develop a solution.

Mark Pilkington lives on a busy shopping street in London. Each day, as he walks home past this prime urban real estate, he counts about seven or eight ground-floor vacancies. This experience is all too common in growing cities around the world; as we’ve written and talked about before, retail is in crisis.

But why? After decades in the retail business, Pilkington was driven to find out the answer to this question. …

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“The whole premise of micromobility is saying, ‘Hey, a motor the size of your fist should be enough to carry a person,’ “ says Horace Dediu. (Anthony Quintano / Flickr)

A Sidewalk Talk Q&A with Horace Dediu of Micromobility Industries on resizing city transportation.

It was the summer of 2017, and Horace Dediu was busy researching e-bikes when, suddenly, the scooter phenomenon erupted. He knew something big was happening, but — at the time — he didn’t have a word for it. So Dediu thought back to his old days studying computers and remembered the term “micro-computers.” Soon after, he set up a conference, the world’s first, on “micro-mobility.”

The name stuck.

Today, Dediu is the co-founder of Micromobility Industries, which produces conferences, podcasts, and newsletters on — you guessed it — micromobility. (Horace has an upcoming book on the subject too.) …


Vanessa Quirk

Editorial Manager, @SidewalkLabs. Former @MetropolisMag @ArchDaily @TowCenter @CharlieRose. NYC. Traveler. Singer. Podcast addict.

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