WiFi in Cities: Soapbox

Maybe I’m just jealous of hearing Adam Curry talk about the entire town of Guildford having Wifi access because of stores and restaurants (like Starbucks) offering it.
It would be nice if Ottawa did that but I doubt it. Ottawa is built like many major cities today with a downtown and then suburbia. This approach works well for those who want to get out of downtown ( some studies said they cause health problems but were easily debunked) but the reality is one more of how towns and communities get built.
Ottawa (and other cities) basically build neighbourhoods and then eventually build a small strip mall where a convenience store goes, along with a pharmacy, or a bank and a pizzeria and so on. The ratio often feels like about 500 homes to one mall area. Well, although some people can walk there, typically the end result of these malls is to have people drive there.
Trish and I were talking about this today. England has it right. Towns are only a few miles apart (Liverpool and Manchester are less than 33 miles apart (according to Expedia). Between the two are about 10 small cities that you can walk through with ease. Almost every two blocks is a pub or a store or a social club. You can always get somewhere because there’s always somewhere to go. And each town has their own distinct character and flair. Yes, they are slowly getting larger with larger supermarkets coming in and I can only hope they don’t change things (I can’t ever see them merging Liverpool and Manchester).
Ottawa recently amalgamated several smaller cities (including my own, Kanata) into one (in a bid to create a bid supercity with at least a million people). We finally got WiFi in our airport (and yes, you have to pay for it). Everyone complains about the sidewalks (it’s winter), the erosion of the downtown core, suburban sprawl,etc, etc. Then the city complains when businesses close down and move out, wondering where all old tech business went. Hey guys! Yes, there are more important things to worry about than WiFi in cities (sidewalks should take priority) but it is kind of ironic when the first city to be completely wifi was done so by a company called Ottawa Wireless.
I’m not trying to suggest that the city take this over – businesses can certainly run it better – but if you want to have the city be a hi-tech capital, they should be doing more to promote Wifi in the city.
But the main point here is that as long as cities continue their concept of suburban sprawl, it will never be enough because the Wifi will be “downtown” only and that doesn’t help deal with the thousands of people who live out miles away from downtown. If cities followed the original English model, it would be easier but sadly, I don’t think that will ever happen in most North American cities, at least in Canada.
The solution? Well, one Wifi network in my home is wide open for any to use, including my neighbours (between four homes, there are currently three WiFi networks) but if cities opened up their suburban neighbourhoods to allow for real corner stores (much like many of us had while growing up), then the cities might actually enjoy the real community that they “say” they want to promote. (updated) Chances are those corner stores (that act as gathering places for many communities) will start to support WiFi as the demand grows.