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The Politics of Urban Design: Google is Here to ‘Fix’ Toronto

Sat, September 1, 2:00 to 3:30pm, ICC, C2.1


In October 2017, the Government of Canada and Alphabet, Google’s parent company, announced that the city of Toronto was chosen as the site for a new project, a smart city powered by Google’s technologies. Called Quayside, it won’t be an actual city, but a new neighborhood in the city of Toronto. Conveniently located on the eastern waterfront across downtown Toronto, Quayside promises to offer private residents and office spaces run exclusively by AI and big data algorithms. While it is not the first urban design project to use technology, the Quayside project is special in one respect: being co-invested by the Province of Ontario, Canada, Quayside will be planned in accordance with residents’ needs. In the official documentation recently submitted to the City of Toronto, Google’s Alphabet promises to ‘fix’ some social and infrastructural problems of the city by offering residents of the new neighborhood previously-unknown technical means for work, communication, and recreation. Quayside has received mixed public response, with experts and citizens expressing concerns about Google taking up functions normally performed the government, possible technical breaches, and the infringement of individuals’ privacy. Drawing on social theory and studies of urban design, I examine the social imaginaries invoked by Alphabet and its critics during negotiations in the policy corridors and in the media.