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

Podcast

CFE Virtual Forum Series: Challenges facing “smart city” projects in Canada: A conversation with Sheldon Levy

Google-affiliate Sidewalk Labs proposals for a “smart city” community on Toronto’s waterfront has sparked utopian dreams and dystopian fears.

Podcast

CFE Virtual Forum Series: The Smart City in a Digital World

Many claims have been made about both the wondrous future smart cities can provide and the serious threats they pose. Watch our expert panel in a lively discussion of vital questions.

Podcast

Is Privacy Possible in the proposed Sidewalk Toronto or any “Smart City”?

Google-affiliate Sidewalk Labs is selling a vision of a “smart city” future for a section of Toronto’s port lands.

Podcast

On Toronto’s Waterfront: Whose Money, Land and Power?

Who determines what happens on Toronto's waterfront? How can waterfront development be inclusive and democratic?

Podcast

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