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Mixed reactions to Toronto’s waterfront becoming a ‘digital city’

Sidewalk Labs sees the redevelopment of the disused waterfront as a model for 21st-Century urbanism, realized as bustling mini metropolis that has the Internet and connected technology at the core. A document released by Sidewalk Labs describes the future model, beginning with the creation of Quayside, as an area of eco-friendly buildings that will have their inner temperatures controlled by a thermal grid, which recycles energy.

Other aspects include bike and walking paths with neighborhood-specific bans on non-emergency vehicles. There will also be autonomous transit shuttles, and several green space. The area could also become a test-bed for driverless cars.

However, the centerpiece is the adding a “digital layer” to Quayside, according to Futurism. This connected service would monitor most aspects within the development, collecting data on everything from inefficient electricity use to foot traffic to popular park benches. The area will be equipped with an array of sensors collecting data — from traffic, noise and air quality — and monitoring the performance of the electric grid and waste collection.

The project will be undertaken in partnership with the city government and Waterfront Toronto. It is part of a larger project called Sidewalk Toronto. This has the goal of using technology to solve urban Toronto’s biggest challenges.

Commenting on the the project, Dan Doctoroff, who is the head of Sidewalk Labs, told the BBC the aim was “about creating healthier, safer, more convenient and more fun lives. We want this to be a model for what urban life can be in the 21st Century.”

The development has proved controversial in some parts of the city. Here there are concerns about the tie-up between a city and a large corporation and about the use and access of data. Sidewalk Labs will have the ability to extract, store and analyze data from anyone using the services within the new development. These concerns have been articulated by Toronto’s deputy mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong.

In addition, the Torontoist has begun a campaign seeking more answers from Sidewalk Labs. This includes questions like “Who will own/control/have access to the data that is captured by the sensors deployed in this project?” and “Under what terms will that data be shared? For whom and for what purposes?”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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