"Governance is not supposed to be for sale": Sidewalk's Mercenary Utopia
February 11, 2019 6:29 AM Subscribe
As the Canadian Civil Liberties Association declares Sidewalk Labs' activities in Toronto a mercenary end-run around local democracy, Molly Sauter examines the utopian smart-city project through the illustrations that have accompanied its public-facing documents, finding links to historical colonialist projects and the fraught history of interference with local democracy in Toronto.
The richness of detail present in the illustrations and prospectuses of Sidewalk Toronto, and corporate smart cities in general, is fantastic, fantastical, and phantasmatic. Pull on the thread of, say, autonomous subterranean garbage robots, and it unravels a worldview with certain notions about climate, weather, infrastructure construction, trash and waste, the visibility of things rendered undesirable, and the social value of manual and municipal labor. That the details cohere ideologically, that they resonate with each other across the plans and dreams of a given project, that you can crack open any aspect of the dreamland and reveal, fractally, an identifiable worldview in miniature, is what makes Utopia pleasurable. And, conversely, that lack of perfect resonance, of fractal interior replicability is what makes cities in the real world so delightfully, irritatingly messy.See also: Whose Data and Whose City? [video] Nasma Ahmed, Saadia Muzaffar, and Bianca Wylie in conversation at the Ryerson Centre for Free Expression, moderated by Brenda McPhail; Bianca Wylie's Sidewalk Toronto: The Recklessness of Novelty; and how Intelligent "Island": Smart Nation and Its Liquid Futures, by Kenneth Tay, a look at how the deployment of smart city technologies has played out in Singapore.
Despite the nods to Torontonian culture present on the endpapers of the Vision Document, the phantasms of the illustrations produced by Edwards are not Torontonian or Canadian. It would be a deft act of artistic and ideological ventriloquism if they were. Like the majority of the Sidewalk Labs and Sidewalk Toronto staff, Edwards is based in New York and is not Canadian. Moreover, it’s not Edwards’s purpose to artistically interpret the modern Torontonian moment. His work is here to establish a visual rapport with the audience for the Sidewalk Toronto project: engaged Torontonians and Canadians, of course, but also, and perhaps more directly, the global technocratic elite that consider “citybuilding” to be the next step in their career trajectory.