Smart Cities

The Issue

Municipal governments are increasingly turning to comprehensive electronic data collection as a purported means to increase the quality of both public services and the lives of their residents. So-called “smart cities” aim to make pervasive use of data from information and communication technologies to shape every aspect of urban life. The smart city concept is predicated on ubiquitous wireless broadband and the embedding of computerised sensors widely in as many aspects as possible of our public and private spheres.

Why It Matters

Championed by large technology companies and embraced, often uncritically, by well-intentioned politicians and government staff, the “smart cities” approach is dependent on a vast network of sensors -- millions of electronic ears, eyes and noses – that make possible widespread and permanent surveillance by whomever has access to the data.  This raises questions of privacy but even more importantly questions of the public’s right and ability to govern what data are collected, how they are used, and who owns and controls them.

Our Work

The Centre has helped create and is hosting the Toronto Open Smart Cities Forum. Its role is to provide information and analysis, undertake public education, and foster public discussion, openness and transparency with respect to Toronto’s new “smart city” initiative – Sidewalk Toronto – a joint initiative of Google’s Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto – the federal/provincial/municipal body responsible for overseeing the development of Toronto’s waterfront.

Click here for information about the Forum – its work and how you can be involved.

Click on the related resources below to filter.

Blog Post: What Is a Data Trust and Why Are We Even Talking About It? Sidewalk Labs’ Magic Tricks

Sidewalk Labs,a unit of Google’s parent company, with a big assist from Waterfront Toronto, started their career in magic over a year ago.

By Mariana Valverde

Upcoming Event: Whose Data and Whose City?

The deal between Google-affiliate Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto for a ‘smart city’ district on waterfront lands raises serious public issues about who will govern the massive amount of data

Commentary: The waterfront toronto crisis: what are the options?

By Nabeel Ahmed and Mariana Valverde - December 7, 2018 - On Wednesday, Ontario’s Auditor General (AG) released her annual report in which she highlighted a series of serious internal governance issues facing Waterfront Toronto (WT). Most crucially for the future of the Quayside smart city development, the report concluded that WT entered into an agreement with Sidewalk Labs “without sufficient due diligence and provincial involvement”.

Commentary: Questions to Consider Heading Into Sidewalk Toronto’s Fourth Public Meeting Tomorrow

By Bianca Wylie and Melissa Goldstein - December 7, 2018 - Since the start of the Sidewalk Toronto project, community members have been creating a running list of questions for the Sidewalk Toronto project team.  Many of them remain unanswered. 

Blog Post: Public Lands, Private Control, and Housing Needs in the "Smart City" Quayside Development

For over a year, Google’s Sidewalk Labs has flooded the Internet with watercolour images of bits of a future ‘smart city’ neighbourhood in Toronto’s Quay

By Mariana Valverde