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Meet the Jane Jacobs of the Smart Cities Age

All eyes are on Sidewalk Labs' futuristic plans for a data-driven neighborhood in Toronto. But no one's watching more closely than Bianca Wylie.
“I reject the technocratic vision of problem solving,” says Bianca Wylie.
“I reject the technocratic vision of problem solving,” says Bianca Wylie.Calvin Thomas

In October 2017, Dan Doctoroff, the CEO of Sidewalk Labs, and Will Fleissig, then the CEO of Waterfront Toronto, took to the Toronto Star to talk about a big plan for the Canadian metropolis. Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Alphabet, would build a digitally wired neighborhood of the future on the edge of Lake Ontario. At “Quayside,” data-gathering sensors knitted together with cutting-edge urban design could make congestion, unaffordable housing, and excess emissions things of the past.

The short op-ed stated repeatedly how important the public’s input would be over the coming year of initial project planning, bolstered by a $50 million investment from Sidewalk. “Sidewalk Toronto is about improving people’s lives, not developing technology for technology’s sake,” the CEOs wrote. It was a sweet-sounding introduction. But it set off alarm bells for Bianca Wylie. Its authors seemed to lean on a confusing presumption.