Sidewalk Labs, Alphabet’s “urban innovation” unit, planned to build a “smart city” model along a 12-acre stretch of Toronto waterfront known as Quayside.
But they abandoned the project in 2020, MIT notes Technology overview“at the end of years of public debate over a $900 million vision for a data-rich city within a city.”
The main idea of Sidewalk was new bright technologies. This unassuming stretch of Toronto was set to become a hub for a streamlined urban experience, with robot taxis, heated sidewalks, autonomous trash collection, and an extensive digital layer to monitor everything from street crossings to park bench use. If successful, Quayside could become a proof of concept, setting a new development model for cities everywhere. This could demonstrate that the sensor-based smart city model adopted in China and the Persian Gulf has a place in more democratic societies. Instead, Sidewalk Labs’ two-and-a-half-year struggle to create an “Internet-free” neighborhood has failed to see why anyone would want to live there….
The technical approach of the project caused the antagonism of many; his seemingly nonchalant attitude toward the privacy concerns of Torontonians was probably the main cause of his demise. Canada has far less tolerance than the US for private-sector control of public streets and transportation, or for companies to collect data on the routine activities of people as they go about their lives. “In the US, it’s life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” says Alex Ryan, senior vice president of partnership solutions at MaRS Discovery District, a Toronto nonprofit founded by a consortium of public and private funders and named North America’s largest urban innovation hub. “There is peace, order and good government in Canada. Canadians don’t expect the private sector to come in and save us from the government because we trust the government so much.”
With its top-down approach, Sidewalk failed to understand Toronto’s civic culture. Almost every person I spoke to about the project used the word “arrogance” or “arrogance” to describe the company’s attitude. Some people used both.
In February, Toronto announced new plans for the area, the article notes, with “800 affordable apartments, a two-hectare forest, a rooftop farm, a new arts space focused on Indigenous culture and a promise to be carbon-neutral. .. Indeed, the philosophical shift signaled by the new plan, with its emphasis on wind, rain, birds and bees rather than data and more data, appears to be a pragmatic response to the demands of the present and the near future.”
The article calls it “a clear rejection not only of the 2017 proposal, but of the very concept of a smart city.”