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Toronto's city of tomorrow was reduced amid privacy concerns


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It was supposed to be an expanding “smart city” of tomorrow, with sensors that track the speed of people crossing the streets and robots that could function as garbage collectors.

 

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But the Toronto East Coast review planned by a sister company of Google, a plan that raised a chorus of privacy concerns, was severely reduced on Thursday. Waterfront Toronto, the government agency responsible for the area's development, voted unanimously to limit the company's ambitions, Sidewalk Labs, from its original plan of 190 acres to 12 acres.

 

Plans have included neighborhoods made entirely of wood, automatic awnings that protect pedestrians from rain and sidewalks that melt snow. The development has been praised for innovations that could help expand the global profile of the largest city in Canada.

 

Writing in The Toronto Star, Richard Florida, a professor at the Faculty of Cities at the University of Toronto, recently argued that development would be a blessing to the city, which he claimed was lagging behind “behind major high-tech cities like San Francisco , New York, London and Shanghai. "

 

But the plans for Quayside, as the development is known, have also asked for sensors and cameras to track people who live, work or pass through the area. The resulting data, the company said, would be used to shape the new community.

 

That has stimulated protests from local residents and privacy advocates. One group characterized the project as a "Google affiliate,quot; that tried to turn cities into "corporate surveillance states, following the model of Disney-style developments and sold to law enforcement and corporate partners."

 

Waterfront Toronto moved on Thursday to gain greater control of any data, requiring Sidewalk Labs to treat the information collected in the development as a public asset. The agreement reached with Sidewalk Labs also requires the company to join forces with other real estate developers.

 

For a critic, that may not be enough.

 

"The best way out of this disaster would be for Waterfront Toronto to end any deal with Sidewalk as soon as possible." Julie Beddoes, a local resident and a member of the BlockSidewalk group, said in a statement after the vote.

 

The debate over whether Toronto had given a technology company too much power has exposed the challenges cities face in trying to pursue technological innovation with private partners while ensuring the privacy of their residents.

 

Keerthana Rang, A spokeswoman for Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Google's parent company, Alphabet, said the company was still confident that it could pursue its ambitions, albeit on a smaller scale.

 

Underlining that the project would help rejuvenate the area and create jobs, Rang said the company had planned, together with its partners, to invest 1.3 billion Canadian dollars in the development originally conceived. Now he would reassess his overall investment, he said.

 

Daniel L. Doctoroff, the head of Sidewalk, had launched the original plan as a manifesto for tomorrow's city. "It is a guide for a completely new approach to urban planning," he said.

 

Waterfront Toronto said it will consult the public more and conduct a formal evaluation of the plan, which will determine if the project can move forward.

 

 

 

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