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.



At the intersection of democracy, transit and Sidewalk Toronto

By Milan Gokhale - March 4, 2019 - To solve Toronto transit cuts, we urgently require more democracy. Sidewalk Toronto is taking us in the opposite direction.


We’re not done talking about Privacy in the Smart City

By Brenda McPhail and Nabeel Ahmed - January 24, 2019 - Since Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto announced their agreement to develop a plan for a Quayside smart city project, privacy concerns have been a big part of the conversation.


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”.


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. 


Untangling Quayside & Sidewalk Toronto – Updates and Narratives

By Nabeel Ahmed - December 3, 2018 - As 2018 comes to a close, there has been a tremendous amount of activity in Toronto on the smart city front. This post provides a recap of some of this activity (including updates to the timing and process), identifies four narratives about the smart city that need to be examined closely, and looks ahead to what is coming up and how Torontonians are talking about alternative urban futures.