Google sister company moves forward with smart neighbourhood project

Toronto’s smart city project with Google sister company Sidewalk Labs is set to move forward after signing a new agreement with Waterfront Toronto.

Waterfront Toronto announced Tuesday that its board voted to move forward with the current development agreement, which will replace the previous framework penned last fall, though little has changed between the two.

“We are excited to take this next step with Sidewalk Labs to set the stage for delivering a truly transformational project on the waterfront that addresses many critical urban issues faced by our city and other cities,” said Helen Burstyn, board of directors chair of Waterfront Toronto, in a July 31 release.

The Plan Development Agreement (PDA) sets out the planning and funding responsibilities that Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto will play as the Quayside project moves forward.

The plan outlines the 12 main pillars on which the community will be built, including an enhanced public realm, safer mobility systems and sustainability.

“The PDA is based on months of successful collaboration with Waterfront Toronto,” said Sidewalk Labs head of development Josh Sirefman, “This agreement defines goals, roles and responsibilities and will guide all of our work together as we develop a groundbreaking plan that aims to achieve new levels of sustainability, affordability, mobility, and economic opportunity.”

However, not everyone agrees that the project will create positive change: Bianca Wylie, for example, an open-government advocate who she sits on the city’s executive committee for Sidewalk Toronto, has spoken out against the plan for being lax on data, surveillance, and privacy.

“Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto like to talk about how this data driven neighbourhood will improve quality of life and drive urban innovation to help solve the urgent problems faced by cities around the world,” she wrote in a column on Vice. “But they don’t like to talk about trade offs that need to be considered in the context of innovation as they relate to surveillance, power, and governance. They also don’t mention that the problems cities face are much more about the politics of urban change than a lack of data or technology.”

Wylie argued the finalized agreement’s statements regarding privacy and data are too vague, calling them “a grab bag of words without any clarity” and that it remains unclear how Waterfront and Sidewalk Labs will treat these issues as the project develops.

The urban, 21st-century neighbourhood project was first announced on March 17, with Sidewalk Labs revealing its initial plans for the Quayside community last fall.

Since then, Sidewalk Labs has slowly revealed more details about the project, including, as previously reported, an emphasis on responsible data use and privacy. Tuesday’s agreement reveals the most detailed plans as Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs prepare to move forward in the project.

In a release the Toronto Region Board of Trade congratulated the two groups on the agreement, noting the importance this project plays for the future of the city.

“Toronto is a leading city in the global technology economy and Sidewalk Labs’ bid on the Quayside project was one important confirmation of our evolution as a smart city,” said Jan De Silva, president and CEO of Toronto Region Board of Trade.

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Meagan Simpson
Meagan Simpson
Meagan Simpson is a staff writer for IT World Canada. A graduate of Carleton University’s journalism program, she loves sports, travelling, reading and photography, and when not covering tech news she can be found cuddled up on the couch with her cat and a good book.

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