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Smart cities: How can We help?

The We Company is expanding into smart cities. Why?

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The We Company has recruited two high-profile figures – designer Dror Benshetrit and Ann Eisnor, formerly of Waze and Google – to head up a new “future cities” venture.

 

The cities initiative follows the recent transition of co-working company WeWork into wider brand The We Company – with the mission to “elevate the world’s consciousness”. Yikes.

 

Under this umbrella, the company is developing a range of initiatives, including WeGrow schools, WeWork, WeLive for co-living and the Rise by We gym.

 

It’s early days so details around the cities push are so far scant, and the We Company told SmartCitiesWorld it was too soon to say too much more but that the team will include engineers, architects, data scientists, biologists, and economists.

 

They will “research and explore solutions to some of the toughest challenges facing cities in the 21st century and deepen The We Company’s partnerships with cities and the communities we serve.”

 

Reimagining space

 

A clue to We’s direction of travel in cities can likely be gleaned from its work in the office space.

 

One thing the We Company has is data, lots of it, along with an ambition to use this data to better utilise office space – to assign ideal office locations, layouts and conference room sizes, for example, or, more neatly summed up, to create a “Google analytics for space". This has raised privacy concerns in some quarters, although the data is aggregated.

 

A clue to We’s direction of travel in cities can likely be gleaned from its work in the office space.

 

Earlier this year We, which is valued at valued at $47 billion, acquired spatial analytics company Euclid which uses Wi-Fi signals to understand how people are using space. And, last year, it acquired Teem, a room booking management software company, which uses data, insights and analytics to help businesses use their space more effectively.

 

The We Company sees its latest hires as an expansion of the work it is already doing with cities. The organisation claims its WeWork initiative has a ‘2x economic multiplier for cities’, meaning one WeWork location in a city with 1,000 members can create an additional 1,000 net new jobs in addition to the 1,000 members.

 

“If a city has 20 WeWork locations that is 20,000 total jobs and billions of dollars injected into the local economy,” the company said in a blog post last year.

 

The We Company’s spokesperson told us: “With Dror, Di-Ann and team, The We Company is building on how we use space in the 21st century, and marking the next step in our journey to reimagine not just the future of work, but of space more broadly — and, in doing so, help our cities thrive and become more liveable, more human and more inclusive.”

 

“With the addition of Di-Ann and her team, we will be able to provide more resources to these partnerships in order to co-create for the future,” they added.

 

“We are a friend”

 

The We Company says it wants to work in partnership with communities and governments and aims to fuse nature, design and technology to improve the lives of citizens.

 

Few would argue with these aims but some will also be wary of another large data-driven tech company with a hazy plan moving in to ‘fix’ cities.

 

The We Company says it wants to work in partnership with communities and governments and aims to fuse nature, design and technology to improve the lives of citizens.

 

Sidewalk Labs (the city-building subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s parent company) has faced ongoing controversy around its Waterfront Toronto smart city development. This has mainly centred on debates about how smart city data will be collected and managed as well as the transparency of the company’s citizen consultation process and the scope of development it is undertaking. This has included a citizen campaign group to block the initiative and threats of legal action.

 

In a WeWork blog last year, the company touched on the potential sensitivities of working with cities and communities, saying: “WeWork is a partner and friend to cities making long-term investments that will grow urban areas from the inside out. WeWork isn’t a corporation that comes to a city for the economic incentives only to close its doors a few years later. We are your neighbour. We are a partner and we are a friend. We are committed to and will invest in the people who live and work in your community because we are better together.”

 

The company has also said it is committed to defending privacy.

 

The devil, of course, will be in the detail. The new push into cities is an interesting move and we’ll certainly be watching to see how things develop from here.

 

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