Google Sidewalk Project is Still Too Sketchy and Undemocratic

Sidewalk Labs

New Orleans    Maybe I should shut-up about the Sidewalk development project being proposed by Google in Toronto on 800-acres.  ACORN and some of our allies went after them from the day they won the bid to submit proposals on the issue of the lack of affordable housing in a city that is caught in an affordable housing crisis.  The more than 1000-page proposal they submitted this week actually makes concessions to our demands.  Of the 35,000 housing units now proposed, they claim that 40% would be affordable.  That’s a win, but is that enough to make us stomach the role of Google, the fakery of the consultative process up to this point, and, frankly, the neoliberal corporate control and privatization of public process, regulations, and responsibilities.

I’m not going to pretend that Google isn’t a tech wonder even as it has become a world power.  It’s not as creepy as Facebook, but it’s unaccountable with a business model that pimps out all of us who use their services.  I have a google address for some personal business.  I use Google Maps to navigate my way around the world.  ACORN has a YouTube channel.  When PalmPilot went under, I had to switch to Google calendar.  I’m not a hater.

ACORN Canada even uses Google to host their email system, despite the fact that Google is crystal clear that they never destroy anything.  The depth of their data mining operation is unlimited and unfathomable.  They want to make the Sidewalk project a data motherload for Google as well.  The company’s proposal claims that they will turn everything over to an independent data trust, sanctioned by the government, so that they, and others, can access the data.  Privacy experts are not so easily assuaged.  Neither am I.  Isn’t such citizen experience with public goods something that should remain purely the responsibility of government accountable to citizens, rather than accessible to a private business like Google or other private concerns?  If the city of Toronto or any other city announced that it was collecting data on its citizens and was then going to sell it, people there and anywhere else would be up in arms.

Google, as a private company, simply doesn’t get the fact that there are boundaries.  They are part of the “apologize later, never ask for permission” crowd.  Their proposal ignores existing Toronto zoning laws for example, and I couldn’t read any piece of this without feeling they were usurping the authority of government and the people.  That’s what neoliberalism is, the transfer of public rights and authority to private concerns.  If Google was hired to be a designer and developer, why would they believe that allows them to own the show and run it forever.  A developer, for good or evil, usually sells their “castles in the sky” and then gets their money and runs.  Google seems to think they should own this project forever.  Google needs to taught about limits.

The New York Times quotes Jim Balsille, who was the co-chairmen and co-chief executive of BlackBerry, once the ubiquitous smartphone of the business set, headquartered in Ontario in the Waterloo-Kitchener area, saying,

“I am keen to see the end of this faux consultation charade, an ugly 18-month, psychological public relations game….Google has deliberately weaponized ambiguity, subverted democratic process, obfuscated key elements of concern such as data governance and revealed information to the public only when smoked out by aggressive criticism or through a media leak.”

This just doesn’t seem like it’s going to end well.

ACORN Canada will continue to hold any and all feet to the fire on affordable housing, but perhaps all of us just need to thank Google for whatever good we see in the plan, ignore their attempt to buy support with their own investment masked as infrastructure spending, but recovered through selling data, and retake control of any development and hire contractors to provide whatever services public entities can’t provide.

Public entities have to be able to trust their partners, and Google is not a trustworthy partner at this point.  Google can bid like anyone else, but should not run or own anything.  Haven’t we learned that lesson from Silicon Valley by now?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Hello, Landlords and Your Bankers, Meet ACORN!

New Orleans      Landing in New Orleans at 1:30 AM, the calendar alert said it was ACORN’s anniversary, our 49th birthday.  The real celebration though had already happened the day before in Hamilton, Ontario, as ACORN Canada’s Convention had featured a final day of marches and multiple actions on a gorgeous day in every way.

The crowd shook off their early morning wakeup and packing and rocked the halls of McMaster University as the leaders led the chants before the buses loaded up to take everyone to the rally site at a local park near downtown Hamilton.  This was going to be a day of not one-two punches against landlord renovictions in the city, but almost a one-two-three-four swing of roundhouses for tenant rights and against rapacious gentrification not only in Hamilton but across the country.  As the members were assembling to march, an advance team of several dozen was already at work putting banners on various Malleum properties along the downtown corridor.  Malleum has been a Hamilton-based property owner that has exploited rising rents and evictions on the pretense of renovations to evict tenants.

The first stop on the march of course was the headquarters of Malleum itself which was on lockdown as members streamed up the steps and accessible entry points.  Others hung protest banners over the balcony as members let their voices roar about the “war on the poor.”  The next stop as the march snaked through the streets towards the center of town was yet another Malleum property in development.  A second punch delivered.

Most days this would be a good day’s work by the hundreds of members from around Canada who assembled to make their points heard across the county.  Not today!  The march stretched several blocks in length now and had attracted an extensive police escort as we took the street and left the sidewalk behind.  It should not have been a surprise to bystanders or our escorts once the chants changed to RBC, the Royal Bank of Canada, as a predatory lender, that another upper cut was coming in hard as a haymaker.  When we hit the building, organizers opened the doors and all of the members came streaming into the mall entry at the ground level, then down the stairs and around the bend, as building security grabbed their radios and hit call buttons, the ACORN members marched into the bank itself, filling up the space.  The demand was straightforward:  stop lending to predatory landlords evicting tenants in rent gouging schemes!  There’s no more hiding the hand, while the Malleum’s throw the rocks at tenants the banks are enabling.

Not through yet, the march ended in a rally in front of City Hall demanding more protection from city bylaws for tenants in these ongoing battles.  The previous day members had door knocked in three wards initiating phone calls to city councilors and generating hundreds of signatures on petitions for support of rent limits and tenant protections.  One of the councilors came down from city hall to address the members briefly in response.

ACORN at 49, still kicking and swinging at the enemies of low-and-moderate income families.  That’s the way to celebrate any birthday.  For icing on the cake, the busloads of members from Ottawa detoured through Toronto to the headquarters of Timbercreek, a REIT that has resisted our demands, winning a meeting.

How sweet it is!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail