Consulting in the Smart City: Lessons from Sidewalk Toronto
Smart city projects are rapidly becoming a dominant part of the worldwide urban agenda, including in Toronto, where Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto have launched Sidewalk Toronto, an initiative to develop the waterfront Quayside neighbourhood as a smart city. Smart city projects like Sidewalk Toronto promise to improve order, efficiency, safety, sustainability, and inclusivity in urban life through data-driven decision-making and the integration of new technologies with infrastructure and services. They also often see cities as “living labs” where information can be gathered on how people operate in urban environments and where new solutions can be tested.
At the same time, these projects can often be complex and hard for the general public to understand. Sidewalk Toronto in particular has brought up questions about how best to incorporate civic engagement and public consultation into the development of smart cities.
Using findings from media and policy analysis, participant observation, and interviews, this presentation explores the Sidewalk Toronto consultation processes. The presentation focuses on a number of key questions, including: How has the Sidewalk Toronto consultation approach differed from processes followed by Waterfront Toronto and the City of Toronto? How are other smart cities and broader international trends – including the growth of the platform economy, globalization, and the privatization of public space and services – informing the Sidewalk Toronto process? What is necessary to engage the public meaningfully in smart city projects? These questions are contextualized within the development history of Waterfront Toronto.