Google Reveals New Plan For Smart City


Wood you believe it? Toronto’s smart-city waterfront development could be built from Canadian timber.Sidewalk Labs

Googles urban-innovation lab has unveiled new, people-first plans for the redevelopment of Torontos Quayside. Sidewalk Labs, a unit of Alphabet Inc., owner of Google, is aiming to build a future-cities concept that majors on the public realm, ditching cars.

“Torontonians want more affordable housing, faster ways to get around the city, safer streets for pedestrians and cyclists, [and] a cleaner and healthier environment,” says a statement from Jesse Shapins, Sidewalk Labs’s director of public realm.

She adds: What we’re planning here is neither cheerful science fiction — like The Jetsons — nor dark and dystopian — like Black Mirror.

The smart-city plan for Torontos waterfront was first unveiled last fall, but the built-from-the-internet-up development has been rocked by privacy issues. The new plan proposes an independent Civic Data Trust for all captured data, guaranteeing that “no one has a right to own information collected from Quayside including Sidewalk Labs.”

Downtown city view of Toronto Canada from Queens Quay and Lake OntarioGetty

Full technical details have yet to be released but Quaysides digital streets could be curbless, able to expand and contract the area open to motorists. The new plan shows cyclists, pedestrians and the transit system will get their own bridges.

“Growing cities face many challenges,” says the Sidewalk Labs website. So we’re creating a new type of place to accelerate urban innovation and serve as a beacon for cities around the world.

And Google is very much imagining the cities of the future operating with almost no privately-owned cars. Instead, there will be a mobility system that is safer and more convenient than the private car at much lower cost. Quayside come become a testbed for autonomous taxibots likely to be supplied by fellow Alphabet unit Waymo.

Quayside will be a people-first development, promises Sidewalk Labs.Sidewalk Labs

Sidewalk Labs CEO Daniel Doctoroff says that by leveraging technology and combining it with really smart, people-centric urban planning, we could have really dramatic impacts on quality of life.

Doctoroff was formerly New York Citys deputy mayor under Mike Bloomberg, the billionaire who brought in cyclist-friendly urban planner Janette Sadiq-Khan.

On the Sidewalk blog historian and author Eric Jaffe – who is the companys editorial director – muses over the 15 innovations that shaped the city. Alongside electric motors and other technologies, Jaffe chooses the bicycle, the 19th-century technology that evolved alongside motor-cars.

After bursting onto the scene in the late 19th century as a great new form of personal transportation, the bike gave rise to the Good Roads Movement, which by urging better road creation ironically made it easier for cars to conquer city streets. Only today, as cities prioritize bike infrastructure and embrace bike-share technology, has cycling started to fulfil its initial hopes of mobility freedom.

Sidewalks “Master Innovation and Development Plan” will be reviewed by Waterfront Toronto, the municipality, other levels of government, Alphabet, and the public at an event in the city on December 8th.

To date, the public and civic reception to the project has been lukewarm, but Sidewalk plans to pluck heartstrings by promising to construct much of the development from Canadian timber.

No, it’s not The Jetsons, but something much better, enthuses Shapins.

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