Monday, March 12, 2018

Ooh - Ooh: "Embracing waterfront Google-fication in Toronto" (GOOG; EVIL)

So there I was, contemplating the profit motive in all the "smart-city" chatter (see below) when what pops up in one of the feedreaders?
At least dystopia will be bright and shiny.

From FT Alphaville:
In ' Playtime', the seminal 1967 physical comedy, Jacques Tati envisions a re-imagined Paris built on the principles of design and technology. Of course, not everything goes to plan; cars gyre endlessly in a roundabout with no clear means of exit, doormen labour with befuddling intra-building telecoms and, in an echo of the issues besetting Apple's new headquarters, commuters bounce off impeccably transparent glass walls.

Undeterred by Tati, and a number of realists cynics since, a new wave of technologists hope to again transform our urban spaces to, in the words of Google's Sidewalk Labs, “achieve new standards of sustainability, affordability, mobility, and economic opportunity”.

Yet do we trust Silicon Valley, with their distrust of government and 'move fast and break stuff' mantras, to be the best custodians of our cities? Particularly when these companies do not have the best track records in rolling out public works.

Sidewalk Labs, created by Google to apparently design, test and build urban innovations, have partnered with Waterfront Toronto to help the public discern the answer to this very question.
The project initially involves Sidewalk Labs consulting on the redevelopment of an 800 acre site in Toronto called ' Sidewalk Toronto', a joint effort between Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs to create a new kind of mixed-use, 'complete' community.

As part of the consulting period, Sidewalk Labs have agreed to spending $50m in-kind (internally allocated Google costs) to figure out the best outcomes for the site.

If this seems like another example of local governments outsourcing their responsibilities for the urban environment to the mega-tech sector (hello Amazon's HQ2), you would be correct. It is even explicitly admitted by Waterfront Toronto on page eight of the Request For Proposal (emphasis ours):
The context in which we are operating continues to change rapidly: Toronto is the fastest growing large metropolitan area in North America; the downtown core is adding more jobs and residents at a robust rate, and is expanding towards the waterfront; there is a backlog of critical urban infrastructure; government funding is constrained...
However, the real question is around ownership. Cities are blindingly complex organisms, where the line between public and private ownership shifts from step-to-step. In London, for instance, the public's right to freely occupy a space, such as Hyde Park's Parade Ground, is fluid. It can transform into a restricted commercial space overnight....MUCH MORE
And the profit motive?
From Cision PR, March 6:
Smart Cities Market Size Worth $2.57 Trillion by 2025 | CAGR: 18.4%: Grand View Research, Inc.