Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Alphabet, plans to make Toronto the most innovative “smart city” in the world. High speed ferries, robot-operated garbage trucks, modular housing … Google will have 50 acres in which to test the smart city of the future.
For the first time, a city is assigning a vast urban redevelopment project to a digital giant. On October 17, Toronto gave the keys of part of its city to Google. Following a public consultation, Ontario’s capital chose Sidewalk Labs (a subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s parent company) to revitalise an under-exploited portion of its city centre. Sidewalk Labs will be given free rein (or almost) to redesign this industrial area of 325 hectares – one of the largest brownfields in downtown North America – and establish new communities: housing, offices, shops, parks. It will invest 50 million dollars in the project.
Initially, a “pilot district” will be built in an area of just under 5 hectares, called Quayside. Google has already planned to move its Canadian headquarters there. It will be able to implement its urban development vision there – on a small scale to begin with – by stuffing the area with thousands of noise, air quality, waste, water management sensors … A very high-tech vision, therefore, which aims to make Toronto “the world centre of a new industry focused on urban innovation“. But the US giant promises at the same time to involve residents and users in the design and governance of the place at every stage.
New ways of building
Energy efficiency, social mix, waste recycling … Sidewalk Labs has its own convictions about how a city should be designed. It wants to reduce the space available for the private car, to the benefit of the pedestrian, cyclists, public transport (including shuttles and autonomous delivery vehicles). It aims to promote “new ways of building” more “modular” buildings (with shared spaces) to reduce the cost of housing. A kind of hi-tech utopia, Quayside hopes to prove that the proliferation of new technologies in the urban space can improve quality of life and reduce cities’ environmental impact.