Theses Master's

Changing Roles of Planners in Smart Neighborhood Practice: A Case Study of Sidewalk Toronto Project

Luo, Danting

This paper examines how urban planners' roles change with the development of "smart"/digital technologies within cities. Specifically, the study aims to examine urban planners' roles in Sidewalk Toronto/Quayside project implementation process (in which Google Inc.'s sister company Sidewalk Labs serves a major planning function), including new digital technologies and tools. The study is both empirical and qualitative, scaling in the city of Toronto to compare the current planning process in Quayside project with prior/traditional neighborhood planning methods and decision-making process in Toronto. Qualitative information is generated through interviews with professional urban planners involved with the case study project and/or with neighborhood-level planning projects broadly in Toronto to supplement the analysis of official documentation about Quayside planning process. The result of this research has identified some changes of urban planners’ roles in the early implementation and planning stage of Quayside project, compared with the prior neighborhood planning projects. Sidewalk Toronto planners’ roles as technocrats and information providers, negotiators and mediators, as well as design visualizers are emphasized in the Quayside project, while their roles as specialists and generalists do not change at this early project implementation stage. While in terms of city planners, their new roles as data privacy advisors and governors as well as development coordinators and project advisors are generated in the Quayside project, whose roles as regulators and examiners, however, do not seem to change much at this stage. Future research on smart neighborhood project planning process and urban planners’ roles in such process are needed to further examine whether the development of technologies and application of data would change urban planning process, the roles of urban planners, and people who execute the planning activities and functions. Moreover, further studies on the reasons causing these changes of the physical planning process and urban planners’ roles are necessary, through which we can identify the factors having impacts on urban planning practice and better predict the changes that would happen in the future planning field.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Urban Planning
Thesis Advisors
Meisterlin, Leah M.
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
July 15, 2019