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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios
Large smart city projects were getting a lot of attention and investment from city halls before the coronavirus pandemic. Now, those budgets have all but evaporated and priorities have shifted dramatically.
Yes, but: Some smaller-scale innovations could help cities as they fight to recover from the crisis.
Driving the news: Citing "unprecedented economic uncertainty," Google sister company Sidewalk Labs last week abruptly halted its high-profile bid to transform a formerly industrial Toronto neighborhood into a mini city of the future.
The big picture: Local economies have ground to a near-halt due to the pandemic, and cities' precarious financial situations will force tough decisions about what services and products to fund.
Still, some tech tools will likely play a crucial role as cities and companies look to open up offices, shops and public spaces over the next several months.
Be smart: Not unlike what Sidewalk Labs encountered in Toronto, cities need to be careful about technological solutions around reopening that raise privacy concerns.
The bottom line: "People are starting to flex their muscles and use this experience to be thoughtful about what kinds of technologies they do want to bring in, and not just experiment for the sake of experimenting," said Kelsey Finch, senior counsel at the Future of Privacy Forum, during an Internet of Things Consortium webinar on smart cities I moderated last week.
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
Less than a week after dropping out of the presidential race, Mike Bloomberg announced his next major initiative: an online network of mayors and public health experts to help communities deal with the coronavirus.
Why it matters: This allows the billionaire businessman and philanthropist to revisit his most successful political role — longtime New York City mayor — while reestablishing himself as a champion for cities in crisis mode.
For a network of nearly 400 mayors from around the world, the weekly two-hour Zoom calls have become their primary avenue for getting public health updates and sharing successes and hurdles in their own communities.
Bloomberg said the local response initiative is more of a continuation of his foundation's longtime work with cities than a change in direction. In emailed responses to questions from Axios, he said that the effort is about leadership, not politics.
"The insights that come with crisis management experience are useful to every mayor. Partisan politics is a very dangerous thing in a crisis. ... Mayors are leading with facts and data and science."— Mike Bloomberg
What they're saying: "Even though we're all battling the same virus and the same monster, there are so many differences across the country in how it's going and what mayors are being asked — or in some cases, told — to do," said Paul TenHaken, the Republican mayor of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
The other side: Bloomberg received endorsements during his presidential campaign from the mayors of cities his foundation has helped over the years through grants and other strategic support — but also some criticism that he was calling in favors for past assistance.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
House Democrats on Tuesday released a $3 trillion phase 4 coronavirus relief proposal that would provide $500 billion to state governments and $375 to local governments — welcome news to local leaders who've been pushing hard for funds as city coffers run dry.
Where it stands: The fate of the package is uncertain, as it hasn't been negotiated with House Republicans and the Trump administration.
The big picture: Emergency federal aid provided by Congress so far is for expenses directly related to coronavirus response. As of now, funds aren't yet allocated to replace lost revenue, which is what city leaders say they need to avoid large-scale layoffs and cuts to services.
What to watch: Senior living (60%), mass transit (45%) and higher education (43%) are the municipal sectors at highest risk for credit deterioration as a result of the coronavirus, per an April survey of municipal bond analysts by Hilltop Securities.
Urban Institute data shows collections dropping between 20% and more than 50%, depending on the state, senior researcher Lucy Dadayan tells Axios' Stef Kight — and those figures could get worse as new data comes in.
Go deeper: States face economic death spiral
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Big cities have taken the biggest hit from the coronavirus, but they're now ahead of the curve in developing the public health infrastructure to manage the crisis in the future, Axios' Caitlin Owens reports.
Why it matters: Communities that can conduct widespread testing and efficient contact tracing will be better able to keep more of their residents alive and reopen parts of their economies.
New York City, the worst-hit city in America, is now emerging as a national leader in recovery.
San Francisco is testing all essential workers through its partnership with Color, a health tech company, and other Bay Area companies.
The other side: Some smaller areas with fewer cases are also taking important steps. And tech companies say they can help close the gap between wealthy, well-resourced cities and more rural areas.
In San Diego, Ruby Gao and Katherine Ge, both 13 years old and eighth graders at Carmel Valley Middle School, raised money to purchase 5,000 surgical masks for agencies confronting COVID-19, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.