Ever wonder what it would look like if you let an internet company like Google design a tech makeover for a whole city? Well we’re about to see pretty soon. Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, just announced they’re packing their bags for Toronto to redevelop the city’s eastern waterfront.
The project will transform 12 acres of relatively barren industrial space into a tech-infused community on a part of the waterfront called Quayside. Eventually, the project will expand to cover all of the waterfront across 800 acres.
“Sidewalk Labs will create a test bed for new technologies in Quayside,” said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during an announcement speech Tuesday. “Technologies to build smarter, greener, more inclusive cities, which we hope to see scaled across Toronto’s eastern waterfront, and eventually in other parts of Canada and around the world.”
In partnership with Waterfront Toronto, Sidewalk Labs plans to spend a lot of time flushing out the details of what this plan will actually look like after some amount of collaborative brainstorming with local citizens and businesses. But a few specific priorities they’ve expressed interest in so far include flood protection plans, affordable housing opportunities, green technologies, and roadwork. And to kick it all off, Google will relocate their Canadian headquarters and its 300 employees to the waterfront to act as an anchor for the upcoming district.
On some levels, the project shares some parallels with other “smart cities” like Songdo International Business District in South Korea, a city built from scratch with sensors added to just about everything. But despite all its promise, this artificial city failed to attract the business attention it needed to come alive. A similar fate befell Brazil’s planned capital, Brasilia, which looks less like a real city and more like “a sort of office campus for a government” said Ricky Burdett, Professor of Urban Studies at the London School of Economics, to the BBC.
Possibly for that very reason, Sidewalk Labs is taking care to tell us they’re only playing consultant for Toronto while the city works on solving the urban development problems it’s deemed most important. According to Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff, their role will be to “create the conditions for people, companies, startups and local organizations to innovate on top of.” We’ve yet to see if the approach is smart enough to draw in the crowds.