Sidewalk Labs, the smart city subsidiary of Alphabet with the stated goal of “reimagining cities from the Internet up,” now has a very big sandbox in which to conduct its high-tech experiments. The Google spinoff announced a deal with the city of Toronto to develop 800 acres of waterfront property into its own digital utopia.
Waterfront Toronto, a city agency tasked with overseeing the development along the shore of Lake Ontario, is teaming up with Sidewalk Labs to create a new venture called Sidewalk Toronto. On Tuesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined top executives from Alphabet, including executive chairman Eric Schmidt, to announce the deal, which includes a $50 million commitment from Sidewalk Labs for the installation and testing of the company’s smart city technology. The cost of the project, currently dubbed Quayside, is likely to run over $1 billion, according to an earlier report by The Wall Street Journal.
“Today’s announcement is about creating a new type of neighbourhood that puts people first,” Trudeau said in a statement. “Sidewalk Toronto will transform Quayside into a thriving hub for innovation and a community for tens of thousands of people to live, work, and play.”
The company said it would convene a town hall on November 1st to kick off a year-long community outreach process, in an effort to head off any NIMBY blowback that could result from a project like this. Or as Sidewalk Labs puts it, because “[k]nowing that great neighbourhoods aren’t planned from the top down…”
The announcement is the culmination of months of teasing hints by Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff about a deal to build a city-within-a-city to trial self-driving cars, public Wi-Fi, new health care delivery solutions, and other city planning advances that modern technology makes possible. Indeed, the rumor mill has been churning about a mythical “Google Island” since even before the company spun off Sidewalk Labs as its smart city incubator.
To be sure, Sidewalk Labs (and by extension Alphabet) is not purchasing land along Toronto’s waterfront, nor would it be the landlord to any residents that eventually live there. The company responded to a request for proposals from the city looking for “an innovation partner” in the development plan, and won after a “rigorous procurement process involving a number of local and international firms,” Sidewalk Labs says.
So what would a city designed by Google look like? It would likely include features such as LinkNYC, the public Wi-Fi hubs installed around New York City. Dedicated lanes for self-driving cars also seem like a pretty sure bet. In March, Sidewalk Labs rolled out a new product called Flow, which it described as a “transportation platform” that uses aggregated, anonymous traffic data to help city managers identify bottlenecks or redirect trains and buses to transit-starved neighborhoods, as well as drivers get real-time parking information during their commutes.
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