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Once officially confirmed, Sidewalk Labs, sister company of Google, will construct the neighbourhood on the east downtown waterfront.
Google’s urban innovation offshoot looked at hundreds of international cities before choosing Toronto’s east waterfront as the best site to use technology to try to radically remake the modern city.
“We looked all over the world for the perfect place to bring this vision to life and we found it here in Toronto,” Dan Doctoroff, chief executive of New York-based Sidewalk Labs, told a crowd Tuesday at Corus Quay that included Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet.
In an interview Doctoroff said his two-year-old company looked across North America, western Europe and Australia for the best place to try new ideas including self-driving buses and mass-production modular homes to solve major problems of urban living such as high housing costs, commute times, social inequality, climate change and even cold weather keeping people indoors.
Sidewalk Labs settled on Toronto for reasons including “unequalled diversity and spirit of openness,” a booming tech sector, and three levels of government committed to Waterfront Toronto’s unfolding redevelopment plans for 800 acres of east downtown land.
Tuesday’s announcement made official recently leaked news that Sidewalk Labs won a Waterfront Toronto competition to at least start a conversation about building Quayside, a 12-acre site at Queens Quay E. and Parliament St. into a bustling neighbourhood with homes — one fifth of them for low-income Torontonians — as well as offices, stores, cultural spaces and more, underpinned by sensors and other cutting-edge technology.
Doctoroff said his company will spend $50 million on a yearlong discussion, starting at a Nov. 1 public meeting, with citizens, governments, universities and others, about what the project dubbed “Sidewalk Toronto” should be.
At the end of the year, they hope to have a blueprint that Waterfront Toronto, a partnership of the federal, provincial and Toronto governments, and Sidewalk Labs will find worthy to continue a partnership that both sides say could spill into the rest of the largely undeveloped 800 acres.
“A lot of the things I think we might want to do, while you can pilot them at the Quayside level, they really achieve their real benefit at a larger scale,” Doctoroff said.
Google Canada would move its Richmond St. headquarters to the area. Sidewalk Labs says it would have an “insatiable” appetite for partnerships with other companies, including local tech startups, as well as universities and others on the buildout.
Officials stressed all plans are tentative until the end of consultations but the Sidewalk Labs winning submission paints a futuristic picture.
Transportation would be provided by small self-driving “taxi-bots” controlled by app services, with self-driving buses to follow. An already planned waterfront light-rail line would link new communities with surrounding areas including the West Don Lands and Canary District. The flow of people would be monitored and maximized by computer sensors constantly analyzing data.
Instead of city garbage trucks rumbling through streets, robot vehicles would move waste and other goods through underground tunnels.
Weather “mitigation” features including wind shields and possibly heated surfaces could double the time people spend outside and encourage cycling and walking.
And “radically mixed use” wood-composite modular buildings, able to be quickly modified for a variety of uses, could be fabricated in the area using new materials.
“We could create a whole new industry that could help the Canadian model, the timber model, if we develop the model here and export,” said Will Fleissig, Waterfront Toronto’s chief executive, in an interview.
“No one has really yet figured out modular housing at scale,” Doctoroff added, to which Fleissig said construction of 15,000 to 25,000 units would allow the prototype of new materials with the costs spread across the major development.
Doctoroff, a former New York City deputy mayor, hastened to add that Sidewalk Toronto will not be a test bed for new gimmicks.
“The objective here is about finding ways to address our biggest urban challenges, it is about for the average person every person, improving quality of life . . .,” he said. “Innovation mixed with really thoughtful design. If their cost of living goes down by $10,000 to $15,000 per year — we think that’s possible here.
“If a time-starved parent can save an hour or so per day, we think that’s possible. People getting to many more places without a private automobile, that’s possible. This becoming the most climate-friendly place of anywhere in the world, that’s possible.”
There are big questions and challenges. Some worry that Google, which makes money with data about people’s lives, could use the new project in a way that jeopardizes privacy. Sidewalk Labs documents released Tuesday don’t dispute such data will be collected but try to blunt such concerns with assurances security and privacy protection will be baked into the new infrastructure.
Nor is it clear how the company will profit from the project. Developers are keen to build on the east waterfront. Doctoroff says “it is about, for the average person every person, improving quality of life. If you can find ways to do that, you know, business models and other things can follow.”
Also unclear is whether regular rules around development will be changed or suspended for the new zone. Doctoroff said the new type of construction and neighbourhood might require different kinds of “zoning and building codes,” something that could raise objections at city hall and elsewhere.
But Tuesday the talk was of opportunities, not problems.
Trudeau heralded “technologies that will help us 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.”
Schmidt described the choice of Toronto as the result of years of discussions with Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and a visit with Trudeau where the Prime Minister pitched his vision of Canada as a “Silicon Valley, plus everything else Canada is.”
The Virginia-born Alphabet executive chair took a veiled shot at U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
“You guys are home for immigrants — excellent,” he told the crowd which included Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor John Tory.
“Try to remember that technology is powered by immigrants,” and “some people” in America need to know that, he said. “So please continue to let (immigrants) in and they’re going to be the basis of extraordinary business and personal success for your country.”
This is a big week for Toronto and technology. On Wednesday morning, the Ontario government is expected to reveal some details of the “bid book” it is submitting to Amazon as part of a competition that has cities across North America trying to land the tech giant’s second headquarters.
Doctoroff told the Star that he is happy to sing Toronto’s virtues to a tech rival.
“If Amazon sees what we see in Toronto, they should be coming here,” he said.
Written by: David Rider
Original Article: torontostar.com