'Surveillance City' among concerns about ambitious project

'Surveillance City' among concerns about ambitious project

In spending $1.3 billion over the next two decades on developing Quayside, Sidewalks Lab yesterday released a 1,500 page blueprint—and it’s already ruffling feathers.

The company is owned by Alphabet Inc., but its proposal to develop Quayside is still subject to approval from Waterfront Toronto, a front agency for all three levels of government, and it’s becoming clear that they’re quite apart on what the development on Toronto’s eastern waterfront should look like.

The sprawling smart city has been controversial for some time now as privacy advocates fear Quayside will become a “surveillance city.”

Here are the key sticking points.

More lands could be assimilated
Stephen Diamond, Waterfront Toronto’s agency board chair, is circumspect about Sidewalk Labs’ vision to create a 77-hectare Innovative Development and Economic Acceleration (IDEA) District that would require nearby land that isn’t part of the agreement. Before that could happen, Diamond says he first wants to see Quayside successfully executed. For its part, Sidewalk envisions Quayside as the first phase of a larger project and stated that it would create an abundance of jobs.

Sidewalk’s show
Waterfront Toronto is none too chuffed about Sidewalk Labs’ desire to run the show as Quayside’s lead developer—a new, if unexpected, proposal put forth by the Google-affiliated company. The government agency countered that it wants a democratic “competitive, public procurement process” instead. Sidewalk Labs says it will work in tandem with locals.

A big gamble
Complicating Sidewalk Labs’ vision is that it will involve government approval for future facets of the development—like public transit reaching Quayside before development takes place—regulatory changes and government investment. However, Sidewalk Labs is pledging more than $2.9b and promising tax revenue for the government.

Surveillance City
Quayside has been plagued by privacy concerns and it has already sparked several resignations, with some referring to it as “Surveillance City.” In its development plan, Sidewalk Labs claimed it had no intentions of selling personal data or to use it for advertising, but Diamond is calling for more details because it isn’t yet clear there’s compliance with privacy laws.

New jobs
Sidewalk Labs claims its proposal, if approved, will generate about 93,000 jobs. Still, any economic benefits won’t be seen for over 20 years away.