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Sidewalk Labs Releases Master Plan and Pledges $1.3B for Toronto Smart City Project

Sidewalk Labs LLC, Google’s sister company under parent company Alphabet Inc., has announced a $1.3 billion investment in the development of their “smart city” on Toronto’s eastern waterfront.

On June 24 Sidewalk released a master plan containing over 1,500 pages detailing their plans to build, fund and sustain their urban creation. The new neighbourhood, called Quayside, will be residential and built on 5 hectares of land currently sitting undeveloped along Lake Ontario.

By integrated technology into its very structures, Sidewalk plans to create a neighbourhood where the environment responds to the needs of its citizens. For instance, it will include heated bike lanes for winter riding, adjustable curbs, and fan shelters for open spaces.

What will they offer Toronto?

One major draw of this urban project is that Sidewalk Labs say this land is where they will house Google’s Canadian headquarters. They also want to work with local partners to fund and build the neighbourhood.

In the end, Sidewalk says that Quayside’s creation will boost the Canadian economy. According to them, 44,000 permanent jobs will be created, the neighbourhood will bring in $4.3 billion in annual tax revenue, and it will add another $14.2 billion to the Canadian GDP.

It would also be the first neighbourhood in Ontario to be built entirely of mass timber, which Sidewalk Labs say will come from a new Ontario factory. This will boost jobs in the industry and the timber will be used to create a building material that is more economical and environmentally friendly than current solutions.

What’s everyone concerned about?

Privacy. Part of what makes the neighbourhood so “smart” is that it will be collecting data on its residents and those who visit. The goal is for the structures to make predictions on peoples’ needs before they arise and increase the efficiency with which people move about their day.

People are concerned about how the data will be collected, stored, and used, and if it will be given to any third parties. In response, Sidewalk Labs says they will not sell personal data or use it for advertising. They also proposed an individual, government-sanctioned trust that will oversee all data collection operations and keep Sidewalk Labs in check.

What Now?

Although this master plan is a big step forward in the company’s plans, Sidewalk Labs still has a long way to go. They have also not been given a complete okay by the government just yet, and they need approval from waterfront Toronto.

However, the chairman of Waterfront Toronto, Stephen Diamond, remains skeptical of Sidewalk Labs and their intentions. He was surprised by their new master plan, saying it was larger in scope than had originally been discussed.

Diamond says there are parts of the plan that are out of his control, like running a light-rail system through the new neighbourhood. In addition, CEO of Sidewalk Labs, Dan Doctoroff, says that the neighbourhood needs more of the port lands to be able to function sustainably and create affordable housing, although this is something that Diamond says they did not agree to.