Sidewalk Labs, a unit of Alphabet, has partnered with a government agency to modernize part of the waterfront area in Toronto.
Heated streets, driverless shuttles, pavements with sensors, and robotic waste-sorting systems are part of this “city of the future.” Although the project promises to improve people’s quality of life, concerns about data ownership and privacy protection have yet to be addressed.
Video Spotlight: Introducing Sidewalk Toronto
This post is based on the Chicago Tribune article, Google’s proposed first urban development raises data concerns, by R. Gillies, October 3, 2018; the Digital Journal post, Mixed Reactions to Toronto’s waterfront becoming a “digital city”, by T. Sandle, May 28, 2018; and the YouTube video, Introducing Sidewalk Toronto, by Sidewalk Toronto, October 17, 2017. Image source: Shutterstock / Markus Mainka.
1. What are the potential benefits of this project to the city of Toronto?
Guidance: Discussion topics could include gentrification of a rundown area, prestige and economic potential of being an innovator and a model city for future urban developments, offering residents state-of-the art technology in many aspects of everyday life, and capitalizing financially on innovations derived from this project.
2. In which stage of the project life cycle is the waterfront development? Can and should all concerns about data privacy and ownership be addressed at this stage?
Guidance: The article mentions that the project is at the embryonic stage, which would be the initiating phase in project management parlance. This is the time when both risks and benefits are discussed, major goals are set, and a project manager is selected. Most of the data security concerns should be addressed at this stage. Given the novelty of the project and the prospects for ongoing innovations, it is practically impossible to envision all threats to security at that stage, and therefore not all issues may be addressed. Yet, the fact that data ownership, security, and potential commercial benefits are to be discussed later implies that the government agency has underestimated the criticality of these issues.
3. What special set of skills does this project require?
Guidance: Besides the typical skills required in all urban development projects (e.g., architecture, engineering, construction, waste disposal), certain members of the project team will have to be experts in skills such as networking, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, wireless and smart technologies, and forward thinking.