Cities / Newsletter of 1 Mars 2019

In Toronto, the “Google city” project sparks division

Alphabet is decidedly playing on all fronts. In October 2017, Google’s parent company officially launched “Quayside”, the futuristic project of a smart city managed using mass digital data collection and an artificial intelligence system which we introduced in Open Up.

The neighbourhood is located near lake Ontario, in the South-East of Toronto, and spans over nearly 5 hectares. It will host housing units, offices, green spaces, and the Google head office in Canada. Access to various public services, such as healthcare and libraries, will be fully digital. The future residents will be able to ride in driverless vehicles and live in modular homes heated by non-polluting energy production systems. Finally, sensors spread throughout the city will measure outdoor data (air quality, temperature, etc.)

The project, jointly led by the Canadian government agency Waterfront Toronto and Alphabet subsidiary Sidewalk Labs, has not met with unanimous support. Some researchers and activists underline the risks of letting a whole city be managed by a company, especially a giant such as Alphabet. As a sign of mistrust, the newly-elected government of Ontario pulled its three representatives from the Waterfront Toronto board of directors.

To ease people’s minds, a group of experts and residents retaliated by launching the “Toronto Open Smart Cities Forum” last autumn. This space for debate and information open to all should perhaps have been created from the start. In concrete terms, this independent organisation calls on residents and experts to express their worries about the smart city; for example, regarding the project of a unique digital identity for each resident, which may be likened to a surveillance tool.

Smart cities increasingly appeal to communities, just as we see the number of city dwellers skyrocket: in 2050, 65% of the world’s population will live in cities. By harnessing digital tools for improved smart communities, the smart city 2.0 emerges as a solution to the problems of overpopulation in urban areas and their environmental impact.

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