In Toronto, Google’s Attempt to Privatize Government Fails—For Now
Sidewalk Labs would have turned a large plot of Toronto’s public land into a private lab for data collection. Cities need better digital governance to protect against such attempts.
When it was announced in fall 2017, Sidewalk Toronto promised to be a new high-tech development, set on Toronto’s waterfront, that would prioritize sustainability and affordability. The product of a partnership between Sidewalk Labs, a Google sister company, and Waterfront Toronto, a Canadian public land development corporation, the neighborhood would also pilot new technologies and add a Google office lakeside. Last week, after roughly two and a half years of pursuing approval for the project, Sidewalk Labs walked away, citing economic uncertainty due to COVID-19.
While the failure is certainly in part due to a changed world, this explanation brushes under the rug years of sustained public involvement in the project, from supporters and critics alike. From its inception, the project failed to appreciate the extent to which cities remain strongholds of democracy and democratic process.