30 Jun Toronto Plans on Stopping the Construction of Smart Cities Following Concerns of Privacy
Toronto Plans on Stopping the Construction of Smart Cities Following Concerns of Privacy
As more smart cities make their way across the globe, whether it being in countries of the Far East, Latin America, or the Middle East, Toronto is stepping back from the smart city bandwagon, and reassessing its substantial contribution to the community. The Canadian city, which ranked 15th on Global Finance‘s ranking of the world’s best cities to live in for the year 2022, plans on “killing the smart city forever“, especially after Quayside’s controversial cancellation reasons, questioning its lack of privacy, necessity on an urban scale, and whether people truly want to live in a tech-driven environment.
In 2019, Sidewalk Labs released renderings of the Quayside neighborhood development in Toronto, designed by Snøhetta and Heatherwick Studio. Plans for Quayside were designed to be interconnected smart neighborhood for the city, combining offices, shops and residences, along with a mix of programs. The program was set to integrate physical, digital, and policy innovations to take on affordability, sustainability, and quality of life, and generate economic opportunity across 12 timber towers. The high-rise wooden structures were to be created with repeating frames, built from modular kit of parts that could be adapted throughout the neighborhood.
However, in May 2020, CEO Daniel L. Doctoroff announced in a Medium post that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has made the prototype no longer viable. Sidewalk Labs aimed to “unlock the potential” of the city’s Eastern Waterfront, but the government agency responsible for development of the area, Waterfront Toronto, voted unanimously to limit the team’s original 190-acre plan to 12 acres, and local residents and advocates spoke out against the project amid privacy concerns as the company planned to collect data as part of its smart city initiatives.
As explained in MIT’s Technology Review article by Karrie Jacobs, the citizens’ opposition to Sidewalk’s vision for Toronto had to do with the lack of privacy, and not the architectural or urban aspect of it, especially in a nation like Canada where there is little tolerance for private-sector data collection of public streets, transportation, and daily activities.
Taking into account that the future of the built environment should improve the daily life of its people, the future of smart cities and its global widespread seems to be uncertain. With the rise of 15-minute cities, where everyone has access to work, school, commercial facilities, and recreation within a 15-minute walk or bike ride, as planned in Utah, or pro-pedestrian urban interventions as seen in Paris and Milan, technology does not seem to be the answer for the future of improving cities, but can instead heighten the already-existing inequity present in a place if structural urban issues are not addressed.
Instead of the Quayside project, a consortium comprising developers Dream Unlimited and Great Gulf together with lead architects Alison Brooks Architects, Adjaye Associates, Henning Larsen and landscape design practice SLA were selected to develop the area into a new neighborhood, containing affordable housing, robust public spaces and new business opportunities. The design for the 4.9 hectares site on Toronto’s waterfront proposed over 800 affordable housing units, together with an 8,000 square-meters forested green space and an urban farm, accompanied by arts venues and flexible educational spaces.