Welcome to Axios Cities, coming to you a day early this week and next. If you're on the road during the holidays, travel safely!
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
Momentum for smart cities projects, which has been fed by big promises from industry and big hopes in government, is slowing down in the face of a wave of public skepticism.
Driving the news: Alphabet-owned Sidewalk Labs, which has proposed a futuristic smart-city development for Toronto's waterfront, this month pledged not to sell personal data collected at the project or use it for advertising to assuage privacy concerns.
Where it stands: "The U.S. has a general optimism that technology can make our lives easier if used in the right way. But that’s countered by mistrust of intentions or capabilities of state and local governments," said Todd Daubert, chair of the communication and technology practice at Dentons, a law firm that works on smart-city developments.
There's also distrust of the tech companies that see cities as a huge market. Sidewalk Labs originally proposed an independent "urban data trust" to manage the data collected in Toronto's Quayside project.
What's happening: Projects in other cities have hit snags.
The big picture: Smart-city developments haven't taken off as fast as predicted, but plenty of data-intensive technologies have been deployed in cities around the world (see below).
Cities have been quite aggressive in adopting restrictions for facial recognition, and some are trying to forge data-governance agreements with the companies operating there.
"Generally speaking, city officials are incredibly cognizant of data privacy and doing what they can to meet the concerns of people, largely because of what they’ve seen in the private sector," said Brooks Rainwater, Director of City Solutions at the National League of Cities.
The bottom line: "This is something that every city globally is going to be dealing with in the next 5 years," Ryan said.
Here's a sampling of the ways city governments have put in place sensors and cameras to monitor human activity, energy use, traffic and emergencies.
Many data collection points start out as discrete projects. But as the amount of data being collected and exchanged increases, so do concerns that it may be compromised.
What to watch: Going forward, city governments must get smarter about sharing the insights from the data collected, not the data itself, said Todd Daubert of Dentons.
"Imagine you have 100,000 collection points in a city. If you took all that data and crunched it together, that's enormously powerful, but it also means you can use that collection of data in ways you never intended to, or it could be quite harmful if it was breached," he said.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
Baltimore will become the first city in the U.S. to pilot aerial surveillance, funded by philanthropists, to understand its impact on crime, per the Baltimore Sun.
Driving the news: Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, who's been skeptical of the effectiveness of surveillance planes, has reversed course and said he supports a pilot program to let three private planes monitor the city from above.
Why it matters: The use of surveillance planes has been a controversial topic in Baltimore since 2016, when Bloomberg reported private surveillance planes had been circling the city in secret.
How it works: The program is run by Ohio-based Persistent Surveillance Systems, which is backed by Texas billionaires Laura and John Arnold.
Worth noting: Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan support the decision.
Go deeper: Baltimore wrestles with aerial surveillance
Tents for the homeless line a sidewalk in Los Angeles last week. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images
Axios' Rebecca Falconer writes: Homelessness in the U.S. has risen for a third consecutive year, driven by a spike in California, the Department of Housing and Urban Development said in a new report.
"Homelessness increased in California by 21,306 people, or 16.4 percent, accounting for more than the entire national increase."— HUD statement
By the numbers: The annual HUD single-night survey, conducted in January and released Friday, found 567,715 people experienced homelessness, an increase of 14,885 people since January 2018.
What they're saying: President Trump has said homelessness is "destroying" cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The bottom line: Per the Washington Post, California's homeless issue is related to soaring housing costs, mental health and substance abuse issues and "legal hurdles to getting people off the streets — all issues that could complicate federal officials’ ideas to stage an intervention."
Go deeper: Supreme Court decision on homeless case is a blow to cities wanting more policing power (LA Times)
This map is a vivid depiction of credit inequality in the United States. The dark areas show counties where a large proportion of the population has no access to credit, while the lighter areas are considered "credit-assured" or "credit-likely," report Axios' Felix Salmon and Danielle Alberti.
Why it matters: Communities with good access to credit can grow faster and prove more resilient to shocks than their less creditworthy counterparts.
The report from the New York Fed creates a credit insecurity index, which is a proxy for the percentage of the population with no access to credit. Mouse over individual counties to see their scores (see the full map here).
Race plays an enormous factor in this map.
Axios' Orion Rummler writes: 46% of U.S. homeowners say they have seriously considered installing solar panels at their homes, a new Pew Research Center poll shows.
Why it matters: It signals that the residential solar market has lots of room for growth. The survey notes that only 6% of homeowners polled have already installed systems — but the Solar Energy Industries Association's (SEIA) current estimate sits at 2.1%.
The intrigue: Pew asked what motivates respondents who said they're considering investments in solar systems. Here's what they found:
The big picture: The residential solar market had a record-setting Q3, SEIA's latest market report shows. But the industry is also facing headwinds.
In Kyiv, Ukraine, the holidays just aren't complete without 'New Year Parade' participants dressed up like the snowman character Olaf from Disney's "Frozen" franchise. Photo: STR/NurPhoto via Getty Image.
The "Home Alone" house at 671 Lincoln Avenue in Winnetka, Illinois. Photo: Ben Schumin via flickr/creative commons license, 2013.
It's been 30 years since the holiday film "Home Alone" hit theaters, and its star Macaulay Culkin is almost 40 years old.
A fun read in the Chicago Tribune recounts residents' fond memories of the filming on Lincoln Avenue.
The five-bedroom house has changed hands several times since the movie debuted and, according to Zillow, its estimated market price is around $1.6 million.
"People all over the world love ‘Home Alone,'" said resident Linda Martin, whose dog developed an allergic reaction to the fake snow used during filming three decades ago. "After they made the movie in our neighborhood, the crowds came, and they’ve never really left.”
We hope you have a great time celebrating the holidays with family and friends. See you next Tuesday.