THE WORLD’S MOST ambitious “smart city,” known as Quayside, in Toronto, has faced fierce public criticism since last fall, when the plans to build a neighborhood “from the internet up” were first revealed. Quaysiderepresents a joint effort by the Canadian government agency Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs, which is owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc., to develop 12 acres of the valuable waterfront just southeast of downtown Toronto.
In keeping with the utopian rhetoric that fuels the development of so much digital infrastructure, Sidewalk Labs has pitched Quayside as the solution to everything from traffic congestion and rising housing prices to environmental pollution. The proposal for Quayside includes a centralized identity management system, through which “each resident accesses public services” such as library cards and health care. An applicant for a position at Sidewalk Labs in Toronto was shocked when he was asked in an interview to imagine how, in a smart city, “voting might be different in the future.”