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?
The greatest long-term benefit for equity seekers, racialized residents and historically disadvantaged groups is most often only realized in finding a sustainable long-term job. Infrastructure improvements often coincide with a temporary disruption to our lives. The community benefits movement, led by Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN), aims to directly improve the lives of those impacted and reduce the negative impacts of large infrastructure projects in our communities.
We may be experiencing something of a renaissance in community engagement. Communities are finding their voices and we have the technology to both express and hear those voices. The status quo is no longer accepted without scrutiny. Eyes are being opened to blind-spots.
The community benefits movement has been in the vanguard of this sea change. Ten years ago, the movement was in its infancy, many still believing in the “trickle down” theory; it was believed that without any community participation, benefits would automatically be distributed meaningfully and fairly throughout communities impacted by large infrastructure projects. We now know better and communities are organizing themselves around Community Benefits Agreements (CBA’s) that offer guarantees in terms of what was previously only promised.
The proposed redevelopment at Woodbine Racetrack is a massive project that the community has been engaged in for more than 10 years. Woodbine is an excellent example of how a community coming together around a single issue can engender real change. TCBN, standing in solidarity with Community Organizing for Responsible Development (CORD), is seeking to start negotiations with Great Canadian Gaming for a comprehensive agreement for community benefits from the huge expansion of this Toronto entertainment complex. Rosemarie Powell, Executive Director of TCBN says of the negotiations, “The decision to bring a casino into their neighbourhood was not made by the residents of Rexdale. Yet, they will forever be impacted by its legacy, whether it be positive or negative. The community simply wants to make sure they have some control over their shared destiny.”
TCBN learned a lot from the Eglinton Crosstown project; it showed that with a commitment from the three levels of government along with a string of vibrant communities, we can achieve a type of city building that not only improves our surroundings but also works to build the public trust. Improving on the Eglinton model in other projects with real targets for jobs, apprenticeships and social procurement is a step in the right direction.
There was a time when it seemed as if we were all progressing towards truly harnessing human potential to its fullest. Yet, outside of North America and Western Europe, only the fortunate few make meaningful progress. When we look closer to home and in our own local communities, we see many caught in cyclical patterns where successive generations are barely making ends meet. Will the children get the opportunity to truly achieve their potential? If not, what are we losing when that potential is not realized?
The Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN) is doing as much as possible to see that everyone in Toronto reaches their full potential. TCBN helps equity seeking groups, diverse individuals and organizations gain access to opportunities to grow and thrive in their communities. TCBN has already been successful in achieving Community Benefits with the Eglinton Crosstown project. This massive project will realize the dream of improved public transit for tens of thousands of Toronto residents across Eglinton Ave and beyond. Thanks to TCBN, we are now starting to see residual benefits with real jobs for residents living along the Eglinton Crosstown LRT building site.
Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) are successful because everyone wants to work – human dignity is found in work. TCBN is currently considering several projects across Metropolitan Toronto to support and put communities front and centre in CBAs. When TCBN member organizations tap into previously hidden local talent in a community, everyone wins. Improved infrastructure and local jobs mean communities benefit through shared prosperity.
TCBN envisions Toronto as an inclusive, thriving city in which all residents have equitable opportunities to contribute to healthy communities and a prospering economy. Through formal and informal arrangements, TCBN is engaged in setting the conditions for economic growth and intensification of urban areas around a network of mobility hubs and other infrastructure projects. TCBN believes that all Torontonians should have access to the opportunities stemming from infrastructure investments. TCBN is a coalition of organizations and individuals working in direct partnership with other grassroots, community, labour and anti-poverty organizations to build a strong community benefits movement in Toronto.