The Toronto Region Board of Trade says headlines about a ‘techlash’ against the Sidewalks project may not accurately represent public sentiment. Grassroots campaigners disagree.
Sidewalk Labs’ Waterfront Toronto smart city development has rarely been out of the headlines lately – mainly centring on debates about how smart city data will be collected and managed as well as the transparency of the company’s citizen consultation process and the scope of development it is undertaking.
However, a new Environics Research survey commissioned by the Toronto Region Board of Trade has found that 55 per cent support the Quayside project, while just 11 per cent oppose it.
The survey found that 76 per cent believe the partnership between Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs should proceed "if the public interest can be safeguarded as the process unfolds".
"Our support isn’t unconditional. There’s a process for Sidewalk Labs to confirm approval for their ideas with Waterfront Toronto and no less than three different levels of government."
“The Board of Trade is glad that Sidewalk Labs is here, and glad the company has a shot at bringing innovative development ideas to Quayside alongside our growing smart cities sector in Toronto,” said Jan De Silva, President & CEO, Toronto Region Board of Trade. “But our support isn’t unconditional. There’s a process for Sidewalk Labs to confirm approval for their ideas with Waterfront Toronto and no less than three different levels of government. Public policy issues like data governance must be resolved as that process unfolds."
Of the 600 residents surveyed, just 50 per cent were aware of the project with Sidewalk Labs at all.
Of the 600 residents surveyed, just 50 per cent said they were aware of the project with Sidewalk Labs at all. The survey report says the demographic of those aware of the project and most likely to support it is typically male and earning more than $150,000 a year.
Earlier this month, a group of around 30 concerned Toronto citizens launched a public campaign to stop Sidewalk Labs from going ahead with its proposal for the downtown Toronto development.
The Block Sidewalk campaign is inviting residents to sign a petition to stop the project, assess the lessons learned, address the policy issues and then consider a fresh start for the deal.
The group is especially concerned about leaked documents which suggested that Sidewalk Labs also plans to move into areas beyond the 12-acre Quayside lands. In addition, the documents implied that Sidewalk Labs may seek to take a cut of property taxes and development fees in exchange for financing infrastructure.
Block Sidewalk says it believes “Sidewalk Labs has orchestrated a misleading, undemocratic engagement process that harms the public interest.”
Following the survey publication, Block Sidewalk maintained that Sidewalk Labs “will be sent packing”. “’Surveillance city’ will not be built in Toronto,” a statement said.
"If people are going to say the public endorses "this", they need to ensure the public knows what "this" is!"
"If people are going to say the public endorses "this", they need to ensure the public knows what "this" is! We need to shake this endless corporate marketing campaign off of our city; it’s steamrolling actual discourse. We need to press the reset button on this process.” said Jennifer Evans, serial entrepreneur and member of the campaign.
Melissa Goldstein, a supporter of #BlockSidewalk and local Toronto resident, added: "This poll was commissioned before leaked information revealed the scope and scale of Google’s land-grabbing attempt, which had clear impact on public sentiment"
The Environics survey was completed between February 6 and 11, just before the release of the leaked documents mentioned above.
Brian Kelcey, Toronto Region Board of Trade’s President of Public Affairs, said: “Even if opposition somehow doubled in the short time since the poll was completed, that still leaves only a fraction of Torontonians who are strongly opposed to this project.
“While the survey was clear there is public support to resolve specific policy issues, these numbers do not suggest Torontoans are in any rush to just tear up the Quayside deal and start again.”
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