Smart Cities - Connected Communities

The Issue

Municipal governments are increasingly turning to data-driven and technology-based solutions as a purported means to increase the quality of both public services and the lives of their residents. These so-called “smart cities” initiatives aim to make pervasive use of data from information and communication technologies to achieve promising changes from  greater efficiency, social equality, public safety, inclusiveness, innovativeness and sustainability. Since the widespread use of technology does not necessarily make a community “smart” and as these initiatives are not exclusive to “cities”, we prefer to use the term “connected communities” in referring to initiatives traditionally labeled as “smart cities.” 

Why It Matters

Championed by large technology companies and embraced, often uncritically, by well-intentioned politicians and government staff, the so-called “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 for those who live, work, or merely pass through the communities, but even more importantly raises questions about the public’s right and ability to decide what data should be collected, how data should be governed, used, and who owns and controls it.

Our Work

The Centre has created the CFE Digital Communities Advisory Panel (DCAP).  The panel’s work is guided by the view that connected communities should be characterized by democratic decision-making, democratic data governance, civic engagement, social justice, and protections of human rights as spelled out in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

DCAP Objectives and Projects:

The objectives of DCAP are to:

  • Promote informed public discussion and engagement with issues related to building and sustaining connected communities;
  • Evaluate existing connected community initiatives;
  • Assist community members and policy makers by providing pertinent information and expert analysis and advice;
  • Offer alternative perspectives and proposals where appropriate;
  • Advocate for necessary legislative and policy reform. 

DCAP’s initial projects include:

  • Speaker’s Bureau on connected communities/smart cities issues
  • Registry of experts to provide advice to communities in relation to smart cities/connected community issues (e.g., facial recognition, privacy, urban development proposals, civil liberties, data governance, democratic control, digital technology guidelines)
  • Public report on lessons to be learned from the Sidewalk Labs Toronto Quayside project 
  • Descriptive inventory of current connected community projects in Canada
  • Report on legislative and policy gaps in relation to connected community projects 

The members of DCAP are listed here.

Resources

Blog Post

What’s Up with Waterfront Toronto? Why The Silence From City Hall And Other Governments?

The news on the coronavirus are dominating our newscasts so much that many other stories are being neglected. That’s natural.

By Mariana Valverde

Blog Post

A public-partnership for secrecy? Waterfront Toronto’s ‘smart city’ ongoing discussions with Sidewalk Labs

The Google-affiliated American company Sidewalk Labs’ 1500-page proposal for a smart city on Toronto’s eastern waterfront has received p

By Mariana Valverde

Blog Post

“Urban Data” & “Civic Data Trusts” in the Smart City

On June 24, Sidewalk Labs, a sister company to Google, released its three-volume, 1,500-page Master Innovation and Development Plan (MIDP) containing its draft proposals for a smart-city project in

By Natasha Tusikov

Blog Post

The Google ‘Smart City’ Plan: Financial Language of Hi-Tech Colonialism

George Orwell’s 1946 essay “Politics and the English language” is my suggested summer reading for Toronto city councillors and anyone interested in the ‘smart city’ plan that Sidewalk Labs/Google h

By Mariana Valverde

Blog Post

Google’s “Urban Data” Plan: Evading Regulation While Promoting the Appearance of Transparency

If you care about corporations monetizing data generated by people’s desire to communicate, you may have read worrying stories featuring some of the Google octopus of companies, including Sidewalk

By Mariana Valverde