Toronto’s Scrapped Smart City Reflects Distrust in Tech


An ill-fated proposal by Google-affiliate Sidewalk Labs to build a data-driven smart city in Toronto raised privacy concerns among locals. The city now plans to reimagine the site into a foliage-filled urban oasis.

Quayside may have been doomed from the outset. A high-tech neighborhood that was slated to rise along Toronto’s waterfront, Quayside was the brainchild of Sidewalk Labs, the urban innovation arm of Google parent company Alphabet. Projected to create 44,000 jobs and $14.2 billion annually in GDP for Canada, the interconnected smart city would’ve housed residents in 12 timber high-rises designed by Snøhetta and Heatherwick Studio and with amenities such as robo-taxis, heated sidewalks, and autonomous garbage collection. But locals quickly raised concerns about the project’s privacy implications and painted a grim picture of a company galvanizing economic development for the benefit of Silicon Valley rather than Canada. How much data would Sidewalk Labs mine, and how would it be used?

A new proposal for the site, fittingly called Quayside 2.0, seems to spell the demise of the smart city in Toronto altogether. Prioritizing sustainable living and affordable housing instead of ubiquitous tech and automated perks, the refreshed concept features five foliage-filled towers that form an all-electric, zero-carbon community. It’s the vision of firms Alison Brooks Architects, Adjaye Associates, Henning Larsen, and landscape designers SLA, which Waterfront Toronto selected as the winners of a competition to reimagine the site in line with the needs of locals. The pendulum swing from data-driven to an urban Eden not only reflects a more human-centric community, but how attitudes have changed toward technology, from late-oughts optimism to skepticism fueled by rampant misinformation, online harassment, and privacy scandals.

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