Geodesign in the News Today

Greetings everyone. Things worldwide have really changed in some striking, even drastic, ways lately. At least that has been what I have witnessed. With that in mind, I hope everyone out in the geodesignhub community is doing well and thriving in the new world that seems to be emerging.

As many sudden and contrasting events and patterns have been happening in cultural, social, political and other spheres, I am trying to take a ‘long view’ on things. From this perspective, I noticed some news reports that I think are related to what we do. However, I don’t know anyone better to discuss them with than fellow geodesign professionals or those passionate about the same.

For this reason, I started this topic: to have a place to talk and think about the generalized landscape of geodesign practice. Not knowing if this is even a good idea or not, I just wanted to kick it off with a question: has anyone in our community been following the recent events regarding the Toronto Quayside project? I find it to be a fascinating case study of the promise and pitfalls of smart city development. Much of what has been recounted to me about the history and the development of that project seems to contain important lessons. Maybe someone else in the geodesignhub community does too. I am also a bit far from Canada; if you’re closer to the city than I am, geographically or otherwise, I’d be particularly interested in your opinions.

If you don’t know about this project there is a Globe and Mail article with some information about it here.

Hi @azm28, great to hear from you, yes a bit sad re the Quayside project. “Smart cities” are not about technology as many would like to believe, they are about the people. It really is not a technology / analysis problem, it is a social / political problem.

I wish efforts were more people centric, they always seemed more technology / sensor focused.

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I totally agree, Hrishi. Projects should be people-centric, but the trend seems to be obsessively tech-focused.

On the other hand, from the geodesign framework’s perspective, it could be that this whole Quayside project was a qualified success. The invited parties proceeded through the first five models of the GF, landed on the decision model and decided not to proceed; a valid outcome.
However, the actual Quayside project result seems to have lacked a spirit of concord. The question to me is “why not?”.

Looked at that way, the outcome is a bit sad as you note.

Why not analyze what happened in Toronto forensically? Through the lens of the geodesign framework we might figure out what went wrong.

The ‘Representation’ stage was completed in a satisfactory way. In the ‘Change Model’ stage, ideas, diagrams if you will, were presented in volume. Somehow, they could not coalesce these diagrams into an design acceptable to the stakeholders and the whole thing got hung up somewhere in the ‘Impact Model’ stage, leading to a terminated ‘Decision’. Finally, the primary author of diagrams pulled out of the process before it was complete.

The origin of this collapse seems to have originated in the ‘Process Model’ stage. For this, I think the responsiblity of not accounting for the values of stakeholder groups must be placed at the feet of the Waterfront Toronto, the public development agency that commissioned the project and contracted the primary vendor, Sidewalk Labs. Among the main concerns that could have been addressed early on is the defense of personal privacy, a concern that ultimately seems to have hamstrung any progress in the development of Sidewalk’s concept.

For the ‘megaprojects’ file: the government of Saudi Arabia is proposing a 170 km-long ‘linear city’ it dubs “The Line” as part of its NEOM smart city project. The half-trillion US dollar proposal is part of a larger scheme to link the Arabian peninsula with Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt. This will yield a second crossing from Africa to the Asian continent via a bridge crossing the Gulf of Aqaba. Whether this concept is bold or foolhardy is up to opinion.

To me, the comparisons to other linear urban plans as executed at Magnitogorsk or, less orthogonally, Brasilia are possible precedents. More so is the Italian paper-architecture firm Superstudio’s 1969 “Continuous Monument”.

This video considers the project, and sheds light on criticisms lodged by its detractors. What do you think of “The Line”?