Sidewalk Talk

Sidewalk Talk

15 Innovations That Shaped the City

N-1-1: The Rise (and Surprise) of Three-Digit City Services

The evolution of 911, 311, and other local numbers into digital services promises to make cities far more responsive.

12 Dec
15 Innovations That Shaped the City

Street Grids: A City’s Indelible Footprint

Far from a static layout, the grid creates the conditions for new travel modes, adaptable infrastructure, and sustainable growth.

12 Dec
15 Innovations That Shaped the City

GPS: The Technology That Envelops Our Cities—and Brains

Location-based services have transformed much of urban life, from taxis to dating, with far more change to come.

12 Dec
15 Innovations That Shaped the City

Firefighting Advances: Rising from the Ashes to Make a Safer City

A series of innovations — from fire codes to extinguishers to exits — saved lives, protected cities, and transformed building design.

11 Nov
15 Innovations That Shaped the City

Disease Mapping: New Technology Meets an Ancient Discipline

The ability to track — and thus limit — the spread of disease paved the way for modern urban growth.

11 Nov
15 Innovations That Shaped the City

GTFS: The Promise of Data-Driven Public Transit

Standardized transit data is a harbinger of a future where the fastest way to get around doesn’t require a private car.

11 Nov
15 Innovations That Shaped the City

Steam Engines: Giving Cities Industrial Might

Steam power brought industry, electricity, and opportunity into cities, but it also paved the way for fossil fuels to damage the planet.

10 Oct
15 Innovations That Shaped the City

Traction Motor: Putting the Mass in Mass Transit

By giving rise to powerful new streetcar and subway systems, Frank Sprague's electric motor forever changed commuting and urban development.

10 Oct
15 Innovations That Shaped the City

Safety Bicycles: How Pedals Powered Urban Change

The affordable — and, more importantly, rideable — new design provided unprecedented freedom of movement.

10 Oct
15 Innovations That Shaped the City

Electric Lighting: Dawn of Urban Nightlife

Edison's incandescent bulb gave rise to profound new possibilities for work and play in cities.

9 Sep
15 Innovations That Shaped the City

Zoning: The Legal and Social Codes of Urban Planning

What began as a policy innovation to help organize cities has contributed to segregation and severe housing shortages.

9 Sep
15 Innovations That Shaped the City

Shipping Containers: A Big Box Full of Contradictions

Containerization transformed everything from the urban labor force to suburban shopping.

9 Sep
15 Innovations That Shaped the City

Traffic Signals: Catalyst of Car-Driven Cities

Traffic lights did make city intersections safer for cars, but they came at the expense of pedestrian freedom.

9 Sep
15 Innovations That Shaped the City

Sanitation Systems: The Original Clean Tech

The Ancient Romans first tackled sewage systems, but it took a cholera outbreak for 19th-century London to master them.

9 Sep
15 Innovations That Shaped the City

Elevators: How Cities Rose to the Occasion

Elevators proved to be a primary engine of urban density over the last century, boosting economies of scale for big cities and redefining urban life.

9 Sep
Urban history series

15 Innovations That Shaped the City

A Sidewalk Talk series that explores some of the major advances in urban technology, design, and policy across history — from Roman sewers to real-time transit.

Eric Jaffe
9 Sep