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Google’s efforts to build ‘smart city’ on Toronto waterfront sparks row

A plan by US technology colossus Google to construct a 'smart city' on Toronto's waterfront has sparked row, with many locals expressing their frustration at the lack of transparency in relation to the project. A few months ago, Google's Sidewalk Labs announced intentions to construct a 'smart city' on the Canadian city's famous waterfront.

Months have now passed since the initial announcement and rumors continue to swirl as to what futuristic plans await the city. However, it has now become evident that there is a growing sense of frustration amongst locals as many questions regarding the project remain unanswered.

Consequently, hundreds of Torontonians have organized public meetings with political representatives in an attempt to get clarity on the Google-led initiative. Deputy Mayor of Toronto Denzil Minnan-Wong blasted the way in which the project has been thus far handled and declared that the public had a right to know.

He said, "The public has a right to know the contents of a deal of this significance and this importance. In any deal I get something and you get something. What exactly are we getting from Sidewalk and what are we giving for it?"

The project was commissioned by Waterfront Toronto which is a publicly-funded organization that called on inviting proposals last year to entities interested in revitalizing and overhauling the 12-acre industrial neighborhood of Quayside which is located just alongside Toronto's waterfront.

Canada's Prime Minister flew down to Sidewalk Labs to excitedly rubberstamp the deal. Sidewalk Labs is owned by Google's parent company Alphabet and the project generated international recognition for being one of the first smart cities in the world to be designed from the ground up.

However, five months on from that announcement few people have actually seen the full agreement between Sidewalk and Waterfront Toronto. As council's representative on Waterfront Toronto's board, Mr Minnan-Wong is the only elected official to actually see the legal agreement in full. Not even the mayor knows what the city has signed on for.

He added, "We got very little notice. We were essentially told 'here's the agreement, the prime minister's coming to make the announcement'. So we had very little time to read, very little time to absorb."

Now, the Mayor claims his hands are tied - he is legally not allowed to comment on the contents of the sealed deal, but he has been vocal about his belief it should be made public. "Do I have concerns about the content of that agreement? Yes," he said. What is it that is being hidden, why does it have to be secret?"