Sidewalk Labs releases controversial Toronto smart town plan

Details have been released for a controversial project hoped to be created on Toronto’s waterfront which involves a high-tech redevelopment scheme.

The project is being planned in a collaboration with Google’s sister company, Sidewalk Labs, an urban innovation company dreamt up by Alphabet Inc.

It was revealed on Monday that Sidewalk Labs plan on spending around $1.3bn on the project that will use the latest high-tech features along the waterfront. This will include heated and lit-up sidewalks along with “raincoats for buildings”, making it user-friendly throughput the whole year. The plan even includes an underground pneumatic garbage removal system.

An accessible scheme for all

The 1,500-page plan lays out how it’s hoped the project will be accessible for everyone. It aims to build affordable housing as part of the development.

The designers have also considered the environmental impact and have put a strategy in place to ensure it supports sustainability and environmentalism, including building structures from timber.

The creators of the project also want to encourage users to focus on more environmentally friendly modes of transport in the area, dismissing the use of personal vehicles.

Along with all of this, it’s hoped that the development will generate 44,000 jobs, create $4.3bn in annual tax and $14.2bn in domestic gross for Canada. Income from real estate will also add to the profit made.

The scheme is planned to stretch over 77 hectors of land. The first 10 hectors of space will be for Quayside and Villiers West and will be developed by Sidewalk Labs and partners. If these pilots are successful, then the government will then have permission to expand these plans to a surrounding 64.2 hectors of land.

The controversy behind the project

Controversy has already set in as stakeholders in the project say there are still unanswered questions regarding both the scale of the plan and details involving data collection.

Stephan Diamond, Waterfront Toronto’s board chair spoke of his underlying doubt behind the project.

“The scale and size of the project does raise some serious issues for us… We should be looking for support first on Quayside.”

Further criticisms arose from those in tech, with Jim Balsillie, a former CEO of Blackberry, discussing his dismay for the project. Last year, he described the project as “a colonizing experiment in surveillance capitalism attempting to bulldoze important urban, civic and political issues”.

Data regulations

The highest level of criticism arose when it was questioned what would be done with the data and surveillance used in the area.

However, the plan details of data regulations that would be put in place by an independent data trust. The trust would also make sure that Sidewalk Labs would not be able to gain special access to data.

Sidewalk Labs say that any data collected by sensors and cameras in general would be used to build new technology, making life easier for residents.

The CEO of Sidewalk Labs, Dan Doctoroff told The Guardian, “My expectation is that we will be able to work through the issues,” he said. “If I didn’t think that then I certainly wouldn’t waste our time moving forward.”

Because of the plan needing three levels of government approval, the project will most likely not start until 2022.