Tomorrow's cities: Google's Toronto city built 'from the internet up'

Toronto’s Eastern waterfront has been the object of several revitalization attempts by Waterfront Toronto so far.

Toronto, May. 28, 2018: Waterfront Toronto is, put simply, an organization whose aim is to revitalize Toronto’s harbor and the area surrounding it. But this time, what Waterfront Toronto is trying to do is to partner with Sidewalk Labs, a firm created by Google and owned by Alphabet (Google’s parent) in order to build an innovative digital city.

The vision behind the project is impressive. It aims at creating a city that is smarter, greener, safer, healthier, and in which life can be enjoyable for every citizen. The purpose of the project is to create a model city.

Courtesy: BBC News

However, the initiative has not been welcomed on all sides. Indeed, a partnership between a city and a large U.S. Corporation that is one of the world’s most established technology firms can create controversy.

 

By collecting data through various sensors, Sidewalk hopes to gather information related to the traffic, noise, garbage collection, air quality, and electric grid performance.

People in that new Utopian city would prefer walking and cycling to other transportation means. If needed, they would have the possibility to use self-drive taxis (controlled by an app) to move around.

Other key objectives include the transformation of buildings into lofts (strong wood structures with flexible interiors, allowing for the usage to be easily changed in accordance with the needs); weather control systems such as canopies protecting the citizens from the rain and heated paths to melt the snow especially on pedestrians and bike paths; the setting up of underground robots in charge of collecting waste or delivering parcels; the unification of health care and social care institutions; etc.

Denzil Minnan-Wong, Toronto’s deputy mayor has some serious concerns about the project, even though Sidewalk says that it is only going through the consultation process  with local leaders, policymakers and the community at the moment.

What Minnan-Wong is worried about is the lack of transparency. In fact, very little information is being communicated and shared by Sidewalk. The community, until now, has not been able to know exactly what sort of data will be collected. Moreover, the agreement made between Sidewalk and Waterfront Toronto has not been made public. No information had been provided, either, on the land concerned. The initial project will cover 12 acres, but it is said that the project may cover the whole waterfront area at a later stage (about 325 acres). It is thus unclear whether this project is a tech initiative or a real estate deal resembling a land grab.

“Urban law researcher Mariana Valverde also expressed the same mixed feelings, pointing out the fact that Sidewalk did not approach or negotiate with the city but with Waterfront only, which is not at all what the rules, laws and policies require for in such circumstances.”

Comments: The next few months shall reveal more about the project. Time and patience will allow us to know if concerns raised from all the parties involved are being addressed by Sidewalk and if its seemingly amazing project can prove to meet the promises made.

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