Safe and Smart

The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of the Smart City is passive surveillance. I come by my paranoia honestly. I was born in apartheid-era South Africa and because of Pass Laws my parents had to carry a special ID book on them at all times. If they were caught without what was more colloquially known as their ‘Book of Life’, they could be imprisoned without cause.

A headline told me recently that the modern smart city is just as likely to help us deal with inclement weather and wouldn’t that be great! Imagine never having to shovel your sidewalk again because the sensors in the sidewalk are melting the snow as it falls. Imagine traffic bottlenecks as a thing of the past as vehicle GPS systems, working in tandem with traffic lights, resolve issues before they happen.

Then of course there are the ongoing issues of safety. ‘Safety,’ the word that for so many racialized men in Downsview is just as likely to mean ‘danger’. Think about the promise of Waterfront Toronto’s redevelopment taking place on the city’s eastern waterfront in partnership with Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Google. The redevelopment will have technology built into every corner to make our lives better. What if our racialized person from Downsview decided to visit this smart development with a smart phone in their pocket? If they were carded at some point in their life, they may trip a sensor requiring their movements to be redlined. Remember, when Toronto put restrictions on carding, the police were not forced to destroy all the unlawfully gained data already in the system. Could this level of scrutiny go to the next level in the name of ‘safety’; every physical space they walk into alerted to their presence. Young racialized men who have been subjected to carding programs have a challenging enough time walking around feeling free, will they self-sensor and never visit this new and special corner of the city?

Will we be guaranteed that we will remain free of potential abuses of these smart spaces? Waterfront Toronto has already been asked to be more transparent in how the development deal was originally struck. What else will Waterfront Toronto, an arms-length agency of the city, try to keep from us to enhance the specialness of this place?


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