US technology colossus Google is courting controversy in Toronto over its plans to construct a new digital city in Toronto's Eastern waterfront, in a regeneration project described as being a model of 21st century urbanism.
The new digital city is being built by Sidewalk Labs, which is a firm owned by Google's parent company Alphabet. Sidewalk Labs has vowed to transform to disused waterfront into a bustling and vibrant metropolis that will give a much needed facelift to the Eastern side of the Canadian city.
Despite the efforts of Sidewalk Labs to highlight the undoubted benefits of the deal, it remains controversial as it represents one of the biggest ever partnership agreements between a city and a large corporation. Add in the fact the corporation in question happens to be one of the largest technology firms in the world, then it's easy to see why some are expressing their unease in relation to the project.
The Head of Sidewalk Labs and former deputy mayor of New York City, Dan Doctoroff said that the project represented an unprecedented opportunity to improve the lives of residents in Toronto.
He told the BBC, "This project is about creating healthier, safer and more convenient and fun lives. We want this to be a model for what urban life can be in the 21st Century."
It has been disclosed that the technology deployed will consist of a number of sensors that will collect huge volumes of data - data from traffic, noise and air quality will be generated and data will also be used to monitor the performance of the electric grid and waste collection.
However, Toronto's deputy mayor, Denzil Minnan-Wong has been consistent in his skepticism on the innovative digital city project, and has questioned what exactly the primary objectives of Sidewalk Labs are in relation to this initiative.
The mayor said, "What data will be gathered and what is it going to be used for? These are real and prescient issues for the city of Toronto. Sidewalk talks about open data, but from the very start the one thing that they are not making public is their agreement with Waterfront Toronto."
Sidewalk Labs have declared that the sensors they will deploy will not be utilized to monitor and collect information on citizens - rather it will be used to allow governments to be flexible about how neighborhoods are used.
Waterfront Toronto is the organization charged with revitalizing the area around the city's harbour. Initially Sidewalk's deal with the organisation will cover a 12-acre site but it is believed it wishes to expand this to the whole area - which at 325 acres will represent a huge land-grab.
"Even the idea of what land we are talking about, even something as fundamental as that is unclear. Is this a real-estate play or is it a technology project? We just don't know."