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In Toronto, Bianca Wylie challenges Google and its connected city

Yann Legendre

A “Sleight of hand worthy of the best magicians”, a “Heist”, a ” battle “ where technology plays the role of ” Trojan horse “ for “Privatize the city”. Bianca Wylie has a sense of formula when she talks about the futuristic project of the Quayside neighborhood in Toronto. For two years, this 40-year-old activist, mother of two, has been giving nightmares to the leaders of Sidewalk Labs, Google's sister company, who plan to transform this wasteland in Canada's metropolis into an innovative “smart city” laboratory.

On Toronto’s Twitter account, you’ll see a picture of tart candies, those that explode in the mouth and explode in the mouth for a long time. The image nicely illustrates the funny and often acidic stances of one who delights in pinning down the language of the communicants of the American giant. Under the “Dynamic streets”, heated and modular according to the weather or traffic, or behind the wooden panels of ecological buildings, Bianca Wylie mainly tracks the sensors scattered throughout the future district. With a conviction: who holds the data will have the keys to the city.

Citizen consultation

This Tuesday in December, the activist is rather happy. The day before, she participated in a consultation meeting organized by the municipality. The first in a series of meetings open to residents at Toronto's tech square, and the culmination of almost a year of mobilization for the #blocksidewalk collective she founded with other opponents of the project. “Even if the result is not guaranteed, we are finally starting to take the time to think together about what we want to do with technology”, ensures she.

In Toronto, and more broadly in Quebec, she is leading one of the sharpest reflections today on urban governance in the digital age, the role of public authorities and the place of citizen consent. For her, the connected city remains an unthinkable, where it is urgent to breathe democratic debate. With four researchers, the blogger launched a debate website on the future of cities in November. A “Complementary work to the Sidewalk Labs project”, She explains, “So as not to get caught up in a binary vision of our future, as if there was only one way to innovate, as if there were only Google or nothing”.

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