Thursday, September 21, 2023

Toronto wants to kill the smart city forever

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Shreya Christina
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Most Quayside watchers find it hard to believe that covid was the real reason for ending the project. Sidewalk Labs never really painted a convincing picture of the place it hoped to build.

Quay 2.0

The new Waterfront Toronto project has clearly learned from the past. Renders of the new plans for Quayside — call it Quayside 2.0 — released earlier this year show trees and greenery sprouting from every possible balcony and overhang, with not a single autonomous vehicle or drone on site. The project’s highly experienced design team – led by Alison Brooks, a Canadian architect based in London; the renowned Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye; Matthew Hickey, a Mohawk architect of the Six Nations First Nation; and the Danish firm Henning Larsen – all speak of this new corner of Canada’s largest city not as a techno utopia, but as a rural retreat.

In every way, Quayside 2.0 promotes the idea that an urban neighborhood can be a hybrid of the natural and the man-made. The project boldly suggests that we now want our cities to be green, both metaphorically and literally – the views are so full of trees that they suggest foliage is a new form of architectural ornament. In the promotional video for the project, Adjaye, known for his design of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History, mentions the “importance of human life, plant life and the natural world.” The pendulum has swung back towards Howard’s garden city: Quayside 2022 is a striking rejection of not only the 2017 proposal, but the smart city concept itself.

To some extent, this retreat to nature reflects changing times, as society has moved from a place of techno-optimism (think: Steve Jobs introducing the iPhone) to a place of skepticism, scarred by data collection scandals, wrong information, online harassment, and outright tech fraud. Sure, the tech industry has made life more productive over the past two decades, but has it gotten any better? Sidewalk never had an answer to this.

“For me, it’s a wonderful ending because we didn’t end up with a big mistake,” said Jennifer Keesmaat, former chief planner for Toronto, who advised the Department of Infrastructure on how to make this next iteration successful. She is enthusiastic about the revised plan for the area: “If you look at what we’re doing there now, it’s a classic city building with a 21st-century touch, meaning it’s a climate-neutral community. It is a fully electrified community. It is a community that prioritizes affordable housing as we have an affordable housing crisis in our city. It is a community that places a strong emphasis on green and urban farming and urban farming. Are those things derived from Sidewalk’s proposal? Not really.”

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