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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

How MESH is changing cities


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EDITOR’S NOTE: Long-time supporter of Spacing, Robert Ouellette, wants residents of Canadian cities to take part in his new project called MESH Cities.

Whether they knew it or not, anyone who followed Toronto’s Port Land debacle over the last few weeks got a first-hand introduction to the power MESH Cities have to shape our communities.

Let me explain.

We’ve been hearing a lot about so-called “smart” cities in the news recently as the major computing and infrastructure players like IBM, Cisco, GE, and Siemens look at the next frontier in the trend towards ubiquitous computing. That new frontier is our cities.

Whatever you might think about a computer-driven modernity, MESH Cities are not just smart cities. MESH Cities go beyond the management of infrastructure to the heart of what makes cities worthwhile—their livability. Metaphorically, MESH Cities are the offspring of an improbable marriage between Jane Jacobs’ ideals and ubiquitous city computing.

Their kids, in this context, are named MESH: M=Mobile, E=Efficient, S=Subtle, H=Heuristics

This is how the website introduces the concept.

Cities are now home to more than fifty percent of the world’s people. To accommodate increasing urban populations designers are inventing new ways for cities to do more with less—less energy and less waste, but also more personalization. Fortunately, new, Internet-based technologies allow for real-time management of city systems in ways never before possible. The technological foundations today’s “MESH” cities are built on improve their efficiency. At the same time wireless feedback and information management systems make big cities as responsive to real-time, individual needs as the towns our grandparents grew up in.

Back to the Port Lands. An early manifestation of that wired city responsiveness played itself out across the Toronto body politic last week. Before our new MESH City resilience, what Doug Ford proposed might just have had wings. Show some slick eye-candy, add a Ferris wheel, and you are more than half way to building out the next Jamestown even if the public senses it is not in their long-term interest.

What the forces behind the plan did not understand is that in today’s modern, wired cities there is a bottom-up feedback loop that cannot be ignored. Informed people are connected, and they want to be listened to. When they’re not, well, I would not want to be the mayor or councillor who ignored them come the next election cycle.

Contribute your encounters with MESH Cities. Please go to and select “Report.”