Alphabet's Sidewalk Labs to turn Toronto area into a model smart city

Darrell Etherington
Alphabet-owned Sidewalk Labs, the Google parent's company focused on smart city technologies, will build a "mix-use, complete community in Toronto on its eastern waterfront, with the aim of building a livable space from the ground up using innovations in construction techniques, self-driving, climate friendly energy systems and more to build a community that's affordable and accessible with a focus on connected tech.

Alphabet-owned Sidewalk Labs, the Google parent's company focused on smart city technologies, will build a "mix-use, complete community in Toronto on its eastern waterfront, with the aim of building a livable space from the ground up using innovations in construction techniques, self-driving, climate friendly energy systems and more to build a community that's affordable and accessible with a focus on connected tech.

That's obviously an ambitious project, but some of the groundwork is already being laid: Alphabet's Google will be the flagship tenant for the new neighbourhood, anchoring the easter waterfront, to be called "Quayside," and Sidewalk Labs has committed $50 million to kick off pilot testing and planning in partnership with the City of Toronto.

Sidewalk Labs won the contract through its response to a Request for Proposals issues by Waterfront Toronto, and organization created by the Canadian federal government, the Ontario provincial government and the City of Toronto together to foster development of Toronto's lakefront areas in ways that address urban sprawl while respecting the realities of climate change and taking into account the ability of the city's residents to get around efficiently.

The area involved in the RFP that Sidewalk Labs will work with the government coalition to develop spans around 800 acres (though 12 acres are specified for the initial project), and is one of the largest underdeveloped urban areas in any North American city, making it a good target for Sidewalk's ambitious vision, which involves building smart cities holistically from the very start. Ultimately, the partners hope to turn the area into a "place for tens of thousands of people to live, work, learn and play – and to create and advance new ideas that improve city life," according to a release from Sidewalk.

Google will kick things off by relocating around 300 employees to its new anchor office in the district, and infrastructure to prevent flooding and other necessary structural elements to the region, including roadwork, will be funded by $1.25 billion in committed funds from city, province and federal sources.

A community town hall event will start things off in terms of involving city residents and stakeholders in the process, with that planned for November 1st. Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt, along with Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (yes the dreamy one) and Ontario Premiere Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor John Tory announced the news at a live press conference on Tuesday near the anchor development site.

We'll probably hear more about specific plans for the region as the town halls proceed and Sidewalk takes into account local feedback, but the Alphabet subsidiary says its aim is to build a place "that encourages innovation around energy, waste, and other environmental challenges to protect the planet; a place that provides a range of transportation options that are more affordable, safe, and convenient than the private car; a place that embraces adaptable buildings and new construction methods to reduce the cost of housing and retail space; a place where public spaces welcome families to enjoy the outdoors day and night, and in all seasons; a place that is enhanced by digital technology and data without giving up the privacy and security that everyone deserves."

It'll definitely be a boost to Toronto's technology and startup scene, which is already among the more vibrant and active in the world outside of Silicon Valley. That's likely a big reason why the city wanted to work with Sidewalk Labs to begin with, as it seems eager in general to increase Google's investment and presence in the area.

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