"Corporations are beginning to sound a lot like governments" says Bianca Wylie at reSITE conference

Open-government advocate Bianca Wylie discusses her concerns over smart-city project Sidewalk Toronto in the fourth VDF talk in collaboration with reSITE.

Wylie, who has a background in technology and public engagement, earned the moniker "the Jane Jacobs of smart cities" for her resistance to Sidewalk Labs' proposed Sidewalk Toronto, a smart neighbourhood being developed by the subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet.

In her reSITE lecture, given at the REGENERATE conference in September 2019, she said that we need to remember the power, importance and urgency of operating as a collective.

Bianca Wylie at reSITE's REGENERATE conference
Bianca Wylie at reSITE's REGENERATE conference

Wylie tells of her reaction to finding out about the Sidewalk Toronto project, and how looking after the people who need housing, food, infrastructure and transport isn't a profitable undertaking but the role of the state.

"For two years I have been working with others to advocate for this city and for the role of the government because my fear right now is that corporations are beginning to sound a lot like governments," she said.

"And sometimes I can't believe that I have to remind people this: they do not operate on the same basis."

"A moment for cities to rise to protect from the worst instincts of states"

Wylie's concern with Sidewalk Toronto was that the smart-city project was blending the roles of governments and those of corporations too much.

"Design has been an incredible handmaiden to delivering dreams," Wylie said. "That may not be coming from the state, that may be coming from designers and from the private sector, which is beautiful. That can be very very confusing."

Eventually, she argues, increasing privatisation leads to problems with regulations – as seen with Uber and Airbnb.

"People start liking it, people start using it, and then it gets very difficult to untangle in terms of how it is working," she said. "How do we regulate this, what do we do about it. That's not by accident. And so the design of processes in democracy is critical."

Wylie believes the solution is to come together as a collective and look at how we regulate space in our cities.

"My plea to all of you is to participate in these spaces very thoughtfully and to remember that right now there is a moment for cities to rise to protect from the worst instincts of states, which right now can be pretty bad," she said.

"And come together as a collective to work on these issues we have in our cities."

About reSITE

reSITE is a non-profit organisation with a focus on rethinking cities, architecture and urban development. Its aim is to connect leaders and support the synergies across real estate, architecture, urbanism, politics, culture and economics.

reSITE's flagship event is held in Prague, but it has also held events in Lisbon and Berlin. reSITE was founded in 2011 by Martin Barry, a landscape architect originally from New York.

About Virtual Design Festival

Virtual Design Festival, the world's first digital design festival, runs from 15 April to 30 June 2020. It aims to bring the architecture and design world together to celebrate the culture and commerce of our industry, and explore how it can adapt and respond to extraordinary circumstances.

To find out what's coming up at VDF, check out the schedule. For more information or to join the mailing list, email vdf@dezeen.com.