Canada's Condominium Magazine
Toronto’s futuristic, waterfront metropolis is coming this year, and the city is bursting with anticipation… and, in some cases, fear.
Quayside was designed as a place where technology meets urbanism. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that the project would create technology that will help “build smarter, greener, more inclusive” communities. Sensors and cameras will track everyone who lives, works, or merely passes through the area. The data collected will be used to further develop the new city. However, many are concerned that surveillance and data-drive decision-making will result in an Orwellian future.
“There’s an enormous amount of interest and also quite a bit of concern,” said University of Toronto Director Shauna Brail. “It will be a political issue no matter what.”
Sensors and cameras will track noise levels, air pollution, movement, traffic, and a plethora of other aspects of day-to-day life in the city. Additional data analysis is being applied within specific objects and features. For instance, toilets and sinks will report their water use, while robots will be programmed to report on trash collection.
The goal in implementing these features is to use gathered data for the purposes of long-term planning and development. “We looked at literally about 150 different attempts to create urban innovation districts, cities of the future, smart cities,” said former New York City deputy mayor Daniel L. Doctoroff. The majority of these failed, however, due to an inability to bridge the gap between technology and traditional urban planning.
Although the data collection serves its purpose in urban planning and development, many have shown concern over the possible implications of these practices. Invasion of privacy is a key concern amongst critics.
Pamela Robinson, associate professor at the school of urban planning at Ryerson University in Toronto, expressed concern over the magnitude with which these fixtures are being implemented. “We’ve never seen anything like this at this scale before,” she said. Furthermore, Robinson asserts that Sidewalk’s data may not reflect the city as a whole. Although Quayside has announced plans to provide adequate housing options for all income levels, only one company has come forward with a commitment to moving to the area. If Google Canada remains the sole company, Quayside will see an influx of young, affluent workers.
Another concern is seemingly excessive monitoring of public spaces. Software will be implemented to grant residents and workers access to public services, leaving open the possibility that the data provided may limit or even discourage the use of public spaces by homeless people, teenagers, or other groups. “We don’t want to create what’s effectively a gated community,” said Robinson.
Others have outright denied Sidewalk’s claims that such data provided superior planning capabilities. “Democracy and the rights of citizens is inherently political,” said Renee Sieber, professor of geography and environment at McGill University in Montreal. “It’s not something you should shy away from.”
Sidewalk is holding several public meetings in which the company is addressing concerns and criticisms. Doctoroff discussed the project’s “enormous potential,” while also recognizing the need for “intense community conversation.”
Doctoroff remains adamant that Sidewalk’s vision, methods, and reasoning are solid, though it will take time to win over the crowd. Meanwhile, they are willing to put their money where their collective mouths are. “We’re prepared to commit the money to do the planning over the course of the next year and leave it to the people of Toronto as to whether or not they are excited by the vision.”