Delaying the future

February 20, 2020, 10:58 AM UTC

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Good morning.

Can Alphabet build the city of the future? That’s what its Sidewalk Labs subsidiary proposed to do. Three years ago, it won the bid to build Toronto’s Quayside as a tech-centric model for urban reinvention. It was going to be a mini-city, driven by data and built of eco-friendly laminated timber, with solar arrays, rainwater-draining “blue roofs”, an underground thermal heating system, and pneumatic tubes for recycling.

Then came the “techlash”, and Quayside project became mired in controversy, with local outcry over data mining and objections to the encroachment of a powerful corporation into the city’s life. While polling found only 17% of residents opposed the project, that minority made itself very well heard—with former co-CEO of Research in Motion Jim Balsillie a prominent voice.

The project has become an early case study in how far people are willing to go to let data technology change their lives. In retrospect, says Sidewalk CEO Dan Doctoroff, “we should have listened sooner and better and carved it back to what we knew would be politically acceptable.” Meanwhile, the future has been delayed.

You can read Robert Hackett’s fine story on Quayside here, which is part of our package on Rethinking the City in the March edition of Fortune magazine.

More news below.

Alan Murray



Sergio Ermotti is stepping down as CEO of the Swiss bank UBS, after a nine-year tenure. He will be replaced by current ING Group CEO Ralph Hamers, who wraps up that job on June 30 (Hamers' replacement is yet to be revealed.) Ermotti on his timing: "UBS is in great shape, enjoys maximum strategic flexibility and is well positioned for sustainable growth." Wall Street Journal

Coronavirus warnings

Maersk, Foxconn, Air France-KLM and Qantas are the latest companies to warn of Covid-19's impact on their bottom line. The shipping giant issued its warning as it reported Q4 results that were already below expectations. And Foxconn mentioned its glum outlook as it said it was "cautiously" resuming production at its Chinese factories. The airlines say they will take a hit from flight cancellations. Meanwhile, the first coronavirus deaths have been reported in the Middle East, specifically Iran—cases have also been reported in Egypt and the UAE. Chinese researchers now think the virus may be spread through fecal particles. Fortune

Forever 21

Forever 21 has been rescued from bankruptcy by Authentic Brands, Simon Property and Brookfield Property, which say they want to keep most of its 448 U.S. stores open while expanding the chain internationally. Forever 21 is now hunting for a new CEO to steer its course. BBC

Bloomberg hammered

Michael Bloomberg's Democratic debate debut went really badly, with rivals such as Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden tearing chunks out of him over his stop-and-frisk policies as New York mayor and his track record of sexist statements and non-disclosure agreements. Warren: "Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another." Bloomberg on those "very few" NDAs: "None of them accuse me of anything…Maybe they didn't like the jokes I told." France24


Hate speech

Angela Merkel's cabinet has approved a draft law—likely to be passed by the German parliament—that will force the likes of Facebook and Twitter to proactively tell the police about illegal posts on their networks. That means hate speech (which is prohibited in Germany) as well as posts that indicate preparations for terrorist attacks, and those that feature child sexual abuse material. Washington Post

Far-right attacks

Germany's terrorist problem is far from theoretical. Police arrested a group of people last week who were allegedly planning large-scale attacks on mosques, and last night a gunman with suspected far-right leanings (he left a letter and a video) killed at least nine people at two shisha bars in Hanau, before returning home and killing himself. Al Jazeera

Negative interest

The Financial Times has an interesting piece on Sweden's five-year trial of negative interest rates, which has just come to a close. Central banks around the world are watching closely, to see whether the experience had an impact on inflation and economic growth. Some say it's too soon to tell; others are already calling it a success or a failure. Financial Times

Larry Tesler

Raise a latte to computer scientist Larry Tesler, a computer scientist who passed away a few days ago. Tesler was a giant of user-interface design, working at Apple for 17 years, and also for Amazon and Yahoo. Every time you use cut-and-paste, that's Tesler's innovation you're using. He's also the guy who coined the term "browser". BBC

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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