The citizens of Toronto got a comprehensive look this week at what Google’s urban innovation wing, Sidewalk Labs, has in store for their Lake Ontario waterfront and it among the promising renderings of sustainable skyscrapers and passive heating technology, there remained doubts over how a municipality, a community, would work with a corporation-as-city planner. Sidewalk unveiled a detailed presentation to local residents Tuesday and Wednesday, promising skyscrapers constructed with sustainable buildings materials, including tall-timber scaffolding and organic mycelium insulation; power derived from renewable sources (rooftop and wall-mounted solar); and passive heating and cooling from nearby geothermal sources and lakes.

Some of this has been slowly teased out over the course of the past year — including a few conceptual sketches and the original 200-page proposal, which Sidewalk Labs posted in October of last year — but this week’s presentation was the first to delve into the specifics of the company’s plan. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has proudly declared that Quayside, part of Toronto’s East Bayfront area, will become a “a testbed for new technologies” thanks to the partnership.

The trouble is plenty of the people of Toronto don’t want to be part of that experiment. “This is a story about governance, not urban innovation,” according to Toronto resident Bianca Wylie — a Senior Fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation — speaking to the Washington Post this week.

“There is nothing innovative about partnering with a monopoly.” Wylie, whose resume includes plenty of work in IT and local government consulting (including a stint on Toronto’s City Hall Task Force) sees Sidewalk Labs’ proposal for a sensor-laden, 12-acre “live-work-shop” smart city in the Quayside area of East Bayfront as a near-future dystopia for Canadians’ data privacy. Think of it as public infrastructure built to be like Siri, Alexa, or Google Home: a queasy expansion of all the commercial data-mining that’s sort of begrudgingly concomitant with life online, thrust into the publicly owned physical spaces of civic life.

If conflict over this plan were a prestige cable drama, you could imagine it as an episode of Black Mirror helmed by David Simon. While reporters and activists have tried, throughout the nine months since the $50 million Quayside project was first proposed, no one yet knows who will own or have access to all the information culled from Google’s ‘smart city’ experiment. Read more from…

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