Sidewalk Toronto: A Google Smart City
Sidewalk Labs plans to revitalize Toronto’s unused land and create an urban area with digital infrastructure. Learn about the potential problems that arise.

Some decades ago, people thought technology like self-driving cars and smartphones wouldn’t be possible in their near future. Going into the second decade of the 21st century, that technology plus much more is planned for Toronto’s eastern waterfront. Sidewalk Labs, a Google sister company, has committed $1.3 billion to realize their plan for Sidewalk Toronto. This smart city would have state of the art digital infrastructure for a more sustainable, affordable, mobile, and economical society.

The Potential of Quayside

Sidewalk Labs envisions a people-centered, urban design that uses data sharing to improve quality of life in these ways:

  • Sustainability: In a world that is in dire need of large-scale, eco-friendly methods, the city will have a proper waste disposal system implemented in the neighborhood’s design. Through this method, the city’s district can potentially cut up to 89% of greenhouse gases.
  • Affordability: With urbanization comes urban sprawl and as housing prices increase more and more as the city grows, there is inequality amongst who can afford to live and work in the city. The Quayside will have a functioning, mixed-use neighborhood with more options catered to the lower to middle class as well as below-market affordability plans.
  • Mobility: One of the major problems in Toronto is the longer, expensive commute for those who live outside the city center. Self-driving cars incorporated with digital navigation will provide a safer, efficient transit method alongside other eco-friendly choices like walking, cycling, taking the bus or train.
  • Economic Opportunities: Investing into this smart city will provide an estimated 44 000 jobs and a $14.2 billion impact by 2040.

Using technology to run this Toronto smart city has the potential to create an urban area that functions in all areas more efficiently than areas without it. With the proper functions handled, the community has more social opportunity to create a close-knit community.

Governance and Privacy

Problems arise from this idyllic proposal since Sidewalk Labs, but also in large part Google, wants more control over the city that Toronto wants to give them. In return for their investment, the company wanted a share of property taxes, development fees, and other benefits the city will bring.

In the same vein, the amount of personal data the Big Tech company will collect. Sidewalk Labs wanted to create an independent, government-sanctioned party oversee the data collection, which the city rejected. And although the company claims that it will not sell data or use it for advertising, there are many other ways to go around its claim.

A giant, private corporation requesting partial governance treads on dangerous waters due to the potential of the amount of control the company will have over the city. As much as the company claims that the project is for the people, being a private company, it wants to claim many of the benefits from the smart city for their own bottom line.

The proposal is making its way to reality, but Toronto is looking for more transparency from Sidewalk Labs in its future endeavors to ensure the project benefits the people.