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 created the Toronto Open Smart Cities Forum. Our 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.



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.