‘Building raincoats’ and heated paving stones: Smart city technology on display at Sidewalk Labs open house

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‘Building raincoats’ and heated paving stones: Smart city technology on display at Sidewalk Labs open house


Among the dozens of people who gathered at Sidewalk Labs’ open house Saturday, most said they appreciate the company is releasing more information about its plans for a Toronto waterfront district, though privacy concerns remain.

“I like the fact that they’re willing to be transparent — they’re putting more and more ideas out there, knowing fairly well they will be criticized,” said Mohsin Bin Latheef, an engineer who lives in the waterfront neighbourhood where Sidewalk Labs’ offices are located.

Jesse Shapins of Sidewalk Labs displays a paving system that features lighting, selective heating and porous slabs designed to soak up water into a storm water management system.
Jesse Shapins of Sidewalk Labs displays a paving system that features lighting, selective heating and porous slabs designed to soak up water into a storm water management system.  (Tijana Martin / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Sidewalk, backed by Google parent company Alphabet Inc., was showing off projects for the planned Quayside district, a test zone for urban tech on a 12-acre piece of land where Queens Quay E. meets Lake Shore Blvd.

The projects included a “building raincoat” — described as an adjustable plastic film awning attached to a building that can extend to protect the sidewalk from the elements. Another is a hexagonal paving system, including heated slabs to melt the snow and reduce the need for plowing and salting.

The open house came as the company faces criticism over its hopes to lay claim to a cut of the city’s developer fees and property taxes in exchange for funding a light-rail transit line and underground infrastructure in a larger swath of the Port Lands.

Sidewalk Labs’ plans for smart city technologies have also raised questions about how the personal data of those who use the new district would be collected and managed, sparking privacy concerns.

“I love it, which must mean something is wrong,” said Jacinte Armstrong, a master’s student visiting from Halifax, adding she’d like more explanations on what would be done with data.

“To be perfectly honest, I’m not a big fan of cameras,” said Dan Beresh, who said he was particularly interested in Sidewalk Labs’ ideas on public transit. “As a citizen, I no longer trust the public and private entities to keep the data de-identified.”

Bin Latheef said he understands the need for a big urban development project to collect data, but that is has to be done in a responsible way, ensuring personal information doesn’t end up with third parties.

“I’d be willing to part with my data if I knew what they were doing with it,” he said.

Cris Hurtado said he loved what he saw on Saturday, and how the projects emphasized sustainable development.

“I think it comes from a distrust of the man,” he said of some of the privacy concerns. “I think Sidewalk is trying to be pretty transparent and keeping people up to speed.”

With files from Star staff and The Canadian Press

Jacques Gallant is a Toronto-based reporter covering legal affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @JacquesGallant





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