As the automobile conquered the world, its omnipresence has often meant streets that are unsafe for pedestrians and far-flung development that makes any kind of transportation other than a private vehicle unpractical. Among the most insidious of the car's consequences has been the disappearance of many public squares. Around the world, former public meeting places, often graced with important historical monuments, have too often become glorified traffic circles that are impossible to enjoy and dangerous to visit.

In addition to other smart city news, this newsletter takes a look at a project in Paris, Worldcrunch's home, to make historical squares more accessible. We'll also focus on protests in Cairo against plans to transform a public garden into a parking garage entrance.

— Emily Liedel

You'd think that many people living in Santa Monica, the beachfront enclave west of Los Angeles, already enjoy a pretty high quality of life. But the coastal city has launched a new data-gathering initiative, called the Wellbeing Project, to survey the opinions (or “sentiment data”) of the inhabitants. The project, which was funded by a $1 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies' first Mayors Challenge, focuses on six aspects of life: outlook, community, place, learning, health and opportunity, The Guardian reports.
The Wellbeing index was able to verify that life is indeed generally good for Santa Monicans, though a variety of areas the city could improve on were discovered — from five-hour city council meetings to a persistent “urbanophobia” that has kept the city's housing stock artificially low, scarce and expensive.

Oulu, a city of around 200,000 in Finland, is despite its size both a major force in the technology industry and an example to follow in the smart city domain. The mayor boasts that 2.6 billion people worldwide use technology that was developed in Oulu, Le Matin DZ reports (French), but he is humble about the source of all the know-how. "Our work is often based on an ongoing cooperation with other neighboring cities. It becomes indispensable for being sure our exchanges are as rational as possible."

“A smart city is a city inhabited by smart citizens. Without democracy of knowledge, it won't go beyond being a city filled with underused electronic toys,”Fabio Zambrano, a professor of urban studies at the National University of Colombia, writing in El Espectador (Spanish). PARIS'S NEW PUBLIC SQUARES
Seven of Paris's most iconic public squares — some of which are currently used primarily as traffic circles — are poised to get a major makeover, France 3 reports(French). The project is starting with public involvement, as residents are encouraged to make suggestions for how the squares should be changed, keeping the following themes in mind: rethinking our transportation, rediscovering our history, reinventing our usage, and recycling and innovating.

This is an excerpt of our Smart Cities newsletter. To receive the full version each week, go to VIP signup here.