Council Post: What Does The Next Generation Of Smart Cities Look Like?


Smart cities are an emerging solution to the question at the heart of converging trends in rapid urbanization and technological advances: How do we build a world ready for the future, today?

According to the United Nations, 68% of the world’s population is expected to live in cities by 2050. The UN also says sustainable urbanization is the key to successful development. Cities and countries around the world will, in the years ahead, face serious challenges in meeting the needs of their growing urban populations. As our cities grow and expand, we must improve our collective offerings in housing, transportation, energy systems and infrastructure. We must find new avenues for employment and the provision of education and health care. In preparing our world for the next generation of growth and advancement, the technologies powering the smart city movement are set to play a vital role.

Most people, when they think of smart cities, probably think of science fiction; Big Brother’s telescreens in George Orwell’s 1984, or retinal scanners in convenience stores a la Demolition Man. But the reality of the smart city in the real world is far more benign, with an emphasis on technologies that power the infrastructure of the city itself. Even today, smart infrastructure controls our power grids, our water flows and our traffic patterns.

However, somewhere soon, the smart city as we know it today will begin to take siloed systems and connect them, integrating infrastructure around us with our devices, our online data and ultimately our lives. Even at home, smart devices controlled through the internet of things (IoT) are beginning to integrate into single points of control. Imagine that at the infrastructural level.

Although centralized and multifaceted connections controlled at single points of contact may be rare today, smart cities powered by interconnected IoT are the vision of the near future.

Devices connected to the IoT can autonomously perform pre-set actions and can adjust on the fly based on real-world conditions. With smart lighting, for example, failures are automatically reported to the system, and energy production can be more closely dependent on consumption in real-time. Moreover, in our homes and offices, lights left on can automatically dim when ambient lighting is bright enough — to reduce the use of unneeded electricity.

Cities can become smarter, too, with garbage cans that alert waste management when waste-collection is warranted. With more intelligent and efficient routes, garbage collectors can visit only the waste bins that need it.

Imagine the possibilities that could come with our people-driven and interconnected devices and the self-aware objects around us. Thanks to the ever-expanding communication potential between the two, challenges like finding a parking space may become a worry of the past. Today, certain models of cars can find an open spot using ultrasonic soundwaves and drive you right to that open spot in minutes.

Cities around the world are transforming their digital capabilities to improve the environmental, financial, and social aspects of urban life. However, the changes we’re preparing for today will rely on platforms that connect IoT infrastructure and aid efficiency, help data be shared across systems and further flex IT investments tied to smart missions.

With the right digital platforms, for instance, a city could manage the entirety of its smart city operations from a single portal. It could deploy an army of employees, dispatched each day to perform their jobs by intelligent and informed technologies to drive maximum efficiency. Yet, these capabilities are limited today by a historical approach to data.

Since the advent of the graphic user interface (GUI) over 30 years ago, as made popular by Apple in 1984 and Windows not soon after, computers have remained largely the same, with silos in place between programs and information quarantined within. We have historically put this data in this bucket and that data in that bucket. It’s only today that we’re realizing the need for all our data to live in one great bucket. An interconnected future will require interconnected tools, single-source platforms for management and portability of assets.

Luckily, improvements in the area of flexibility and user-definition of need are on the horizon.

Using machine learning and AI, organizations can begin developing databases that understand the data they contain. They can understand, build and disassemble the relationships within that data in real-time based on need, use and changing requirements.

To be safe and secure, data also needs to understand who owns it, who has access to what parts and what limitations to place on its usage. This functionality allows data access from a multitude of different types of programs — for varying purposes — while reducing the potential for a data breach.

The fundamentals of software development and the concepts of user-interaction must change for end-users to gain the most significant benefit from the aforementioned data model. For our smart cities, our smart homes and our smart devices to connect — for each of us to serve as nodes in a greater digital landscape — we will soon be tasked together to build and adopt platforms for all.

The most powerful thing that you can do to see this bold vision of the future come to bear is simple: Get involved. No one organization can solve a city’s problems. Making our cities better places to live and work requires an ecosystem.  If we want to build smarter cities, we need to do it together. By establishing a governance and operations model that includes everyone’s voices through public and private partnerships, we’re far more likely to accelerate adoption and ensure that, when we build systems, we do so with the intention to invest in our future — and in our best potential.

It will require tremendous product architecture to realize the full potential and power of smart data on a mega scale. But in the end, the vision we should all share for ourselves and for our world should encompass not just smart cities, but smart lives.

Massive Surveillance Research Request by Google . . . in Canada

We’re commissioning new research
about cities!
Are you a faculty member or graduate student at a university or college in Ontario?
Are you interested in the future of cities and how they can be made more livable and
sustainable for everyone?

Sidewalk Labs use of cellphone data in proposed U.S. deal raises concern in Toronto | The Star

Your cellphone knows when you are sleeping. It knows when you’re awake. It knows where you’ve been and it sends all that information to Google.

As Toronto contemplates allowing the American tech behemoth to build one of the world’s first “smart neighbourhoods” on the eastern waterfront, details have emerged of how Google proposes to collect and commodify data collected from millions of cellphones — and sell it to government.


Sidewalk Labs promises not to control data collected in Quayside’s public spaces | The Star

Sidewalk Labs is promising it won’t control data collected in the public spaces of a “smart city” proposed for Toronto’s waterfront — and says it wants to see a public trust created to take charge of such data.

Amid a growing controversy over data collection, control and privacy, Manhattan-based Sidewalk Labs Monday released its 41-page Digital Governance Proposals, a draft report it hopes will quell concerns pertaining to a proposed 12-acre technology-driven neighbourhood on a parcel of land in the Queens Quay and Parliament St. area called Quayside.

Full Story in Link Above

Google’s smart city – dream is turning into a privacy “nightmare” . . .

Sidewalk Labs, an Alphabet division focused on smart cities, is caught in a battle over information privacy. The team has lost its lead expert and consultant, Ann Cavoukian, over a proposed data trust that would approve and manage the collection of information inside Quayside, a conceptual smart neighborhood in Toronto. Cavoukian, the former information and privacy commissioner for Ontario, disagrees with the current plan because it would give the trust power to approve data collection that isn’t anonymized or “de-identified” at the source. “I had a really hard time with that,” she told Engadget. “I just couldn’t… I couldn’t live with that.”


Sidewalk Labs will be a ‘catalyst’ for other innovations in Quayside, CEO says | The Star

Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff says his firm will act as a “catalyst” to help develop and deliver the infrastructure upon which the Quayside neighbourhood will be based.

In a speech Wednesday to a newly formed advisory panel of Canadian executives and urban experts, brought together to provide advice to Sidewalk Labs on proposed plans for a 12-acre technology-driven project on Toronto’s eastern waterfront, Doctoroff said the project will feature shared automated vehicles, streets that melt snow and redirect traffic in real time, an advanced electrical grid and “next-generation” stormwater management.

QUESTION: Toronto Smart City adviser resigns over data concerns . . .

Saadia Muzaffar
Toronto, Ontario
October 04, 2018
Waterfront Toronto, and my fellow Digital Strategy Advisory Panel members,
It is with deep dismay and profound concern that I am resigning from Waterfront Toronto’s
Digital Strategy Advisory Panel, effective today.
When I was asked to join the panel, my hope with this esteemed group of experts and
city-builders was that we would be able to provide Waterfront Toronto with our advice on how to
best engage in this high-potential and complex opportunity, and to help them gauge whether or
not the proposed package of solutions from Sidewalk Labs is a sound and prudent deal in the
short and long term for the City of Toronto and its residents.
In the last eleven months of the (now) approximately fifteen month consultation period,
Waterfront Toronto’s apathy and utter lack of leadership regarding shaky public trust and social
license has been astounding. There is a growing list of squandered opportunities to take
ownership of the narrative that would clarify the boundaries between who is in charge of how
this “partnership” unfolds; bewildering for a public corporation that has historically done such a
thorough job of bridging with the public by truthfully engaging them in co-design and responding
to their concerns and advice regarding the development of Toronto’s waterfront. And while a
“smart city” venture might be new for Waterfront Toronto, we have example after example from
New York, Seattle, and Westminster in the UK, to name but a few, of the lessons learned from
Alphabet/Sidewalk Labs’ foray into selling tech solutions to cities, and the resulting serious
reservations put forth by those standing up to safeguard public interest.
My gravest concern is that while the panel is showing up in good faith, I have yet to see
evidence that Waterfront Toronto shares the urgency and concern that has been raised in
multiple fora – as evident through how the public meetings continue to be run, who is running
them, and what is consistently left unsaid and unaddressed. The most recent public roundtable
in August displayed a blatant disregard for resident concerns about data and digital
infrastructure. Time was spent instead talking about buildings made out of wood and the width
of one-way streets, things no one has contested or expressed material concern for in this entire
Waterfront Toronto’s senior leadership is consistently dodging important questions from
concerned residents and the media. The leadership has yet to comment on recent reports that
Sidewalk Labs is asking potential local consultants to hand over any intellectual property that is
developed to the Alphabet-owned company – and in cases where that’s not possible, to give
Sidewalk Labs an exclusive, royalty-free, worldwide licence to use it – a brazen departure from
Waterfront Toronto’s position on intellectual property as “TBD” in the shared planned

development agreement, and a slap in the face of their professed goal of “encouraging local
Each of the public meetings so far has been a massive lost opportunity to honestly and
meaningfully engage with the public on things that it is rightfully concerned about. Instead of
admitting that this project is much more complex than perhaps Waterfront Toronto realized at
the outset, when it did not widely consult with the public prior to issuing the RFP for Quayside;
and therefore warrants pause, reflection, and decisive courage focused on public safety and
value-creation for innovative Canadian companies first – we find ourselves forced into a
disorienting loop where resident and local, national, and global tech community concerns are
ignored, and willful misdirection has thus far been endorsed through Waterfront Toronto’s
As a panel member who entered this engagement with great enthusiasm and even greater
hope, this resignation is a difficult decision for me to make. As the only person of colour on a
panel that doesn’t even have Indigenous representation to my knowledge, representing public
interest for a city as diverse as Toronto, I do so with a very heavy heart. My intent from day one
of this engagement was to contribute through my experience and expertise as a technologist, a
Toronto resident, and a passionate advocate for public good. In the absence of even a single
public record of any of our panel meetings and the myriad concerns raised within, I cannot in
good conscience continue to participate in this advisory role when this continuation may imply to
the public that I endorse and approve of Waterfront Toronto’s consistent inaction and approach
on both the process and this project. I don’t.
In the last public roundtable meeting in August, a resident shared their serious concern with me
about the fact that official Sidewalk Toronto materials and soundbites thus far do not address
the blast radius of making mistakes on a city-scale. That is, a city’s infrastructure has an
obsolescence of many decades, it is not like a new phone that we can change in a couple of
years if we find it to be problematic. I emphatically agree with their concern. Broad licensing that
does not prioritize digital rights of the public can mean that surveillance infrastructure and
valuable public data can lay latent for long periods of time, and avoid scrutiny easily, tucked in a
foreign-owned company’s proprietary vault. The question we need to be focused on is not how
can we build a better monopoly-tech-company led, surveillance-based city (puzzlingly,
something even some of my fellow panelists are lending their organizational credibility to) but
the fact that we have enough evidence to know that we don’t want to build that at all. There is
nothing innovative about city-building that disenfranchises its residents in insidious ways and
robs valuable earnings out of public budgets, or commits scarce public funds to the ongoing
maintenance of technology that city leadership has not even declared a need for. As a
technologist I know there are other ways to do this and I will be committing my future efforts to

further developing those alternatives with community partners to ensure the City of Toronto
thinks about all of its options, not just this option.
If Waterfront Toronto truly believes that the goal for developing Quayside is to encourage local
innovation and build a livable, affordable city that prioritizes public safety and interest, then no
progress on this venture is possible without its leadership standing accountable to the residents
on whose behalf it has been given the responsibility to act, and do so with humility and courage.
And there is no version of being a good steward for the people of Toronto, where Waterfront
Toronto does not ensure that both the data and the digital infrastructure in all its developments
is controlled by our public institutions.

Saadia Muzaffar
Toronto, Ontario