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March 24, 2021  

How People-Centered Is Toronto’s “People-Centered” Vision?

March 24, 2021

Are you a Strong Towns member? If so, don’t miss the announcement inside the podcast for a fun, free event with games, a live recording of Upzoned, and, apparently, chocolate milk and Diet Mountain Dew.

Last May, we devoted an episode of the Upzoned podcast to talk about the decision of Sidewalk Labs (a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet) to pull out of Toronto’s Quayside development. The project, first announced in 2017, had intended to transform 12 acres of industrial land on Toronto’s waterfront into a “high-tech utopia,” complete with “mass timber housing, heated and illuminated sidewalks, public Wi-Fi, and, of course, a host of cameras and other sensors to monitor traffic and street life.” The project was controversial from the start—not least because of privacy concerns. Then last spring the CEO of Sidewalk Labs announced the company was no longer pursuing the Quayside project due to “unprecedented economic uncertainty.”

Earlier this month, the City of Toronto released a new RFP for the 12-acre site. The new vision is not for a neighborhood reimagined “from the internet up”, but rather, according to a recent article in The Guardian, a “people-centred vision” in which “affordability, sustainability and environmentally friendly design are prioritized over the trappings of new and often untested technologies.”

Upzoned host Abby Kinney, an urban planner in Kansas City, and regular co-host Chuck Marohn, the president of Strong Towns, return to talk about Toronto’s new plans for Quayside. How “people-centered” is the new vision? In fact, how different is the vision, really? The wooden skyscrapers and heated sidewalks may be gone, but what remains—the underlying chassis—appears the same: building all at once and to a finished state. Abby and Chuck talk about why Toronto seems stuck in the big planning mindset and what happens when mega-projects get new marketing brochures. They also discuss a truly people-centered approach: a city shaped by many hands, and projects that can be adapted, re-used, and are good for more than just one thing.

Then in the Downzone, Chuck talks about an audiobook he’s listening to on the story of human language. And Abby recommends the podcast miniseries Nice White Parents.

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