Coronavirus: Google ends plans for smart city in Toronto

Aerial shot of Toronto with land on the waterfront opposite

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Waterfront Toronto

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The former Toronto port and industrial area that Sidewalk Labs planned to develop is located on the edge of Lake Ontario

Google’s sister company, Sidewalk Labs, demolished a plan to build a smart city in Canada, citing the complications caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

For several years he had pursued ambitions to build a first digital city in Toronto “from the Internet”.

CEO Dan Doctoroff accused “unprecedented economic uncertainty” of abandoning the plan.

The project had proved controversial and Sidewalk Labs had already been forced to downsize its ambitions.

In a blog post, Doctoroff said: “As unprecedented economic uncertainty has spread worldwide and in the Toronto real estate market, it has become too difficult to make the 12-acre project financially viable without sacrificing the key parts of the slowly we developed together with Waterfront Toronto to build a truly inclusive and sustainable community.

“I believe that the ideas we have developed over the past two and a half years will represent a significant contribution to the work to tackle major urban problems, particularly in the areas of convenience and sustainability.”

The vision was to have a city full of technology, from autonomous cars to innovative ways of collecting waste, and hundreds of sensors that collect data on air quality and people’s movements. The buildings would be sustainable and built in radically new ways and the cycle paths would be heated.

But some have wondered how Sidewalk Labs won the contract. When it emerged that he planned to develop a site much larger than originally stated, a group of citizens emerged who opposed the plans, asking why they would want to be “lab rats” in a digital experiment.

An independent panel was set up to review his plans and a report was published which suggested that some of his ideas were “technology for the sake of technology” and potentially useless.

The Sidewalk Labs eventually received a temporary green light to continue their plan, but it was heavily scaled down from the 190-acre site with which they wanted to work on a 12-acre piece of land.

It has also been said that all the data collected by its sensors should become a public good.

Stephen Diamond is the president of Waterfront Toronto, the body set up to oversee the development of the site.

Reacting to Sidewalk’s announcement, he said: “Although this is not the expected result, Waterfront Toronto offers thanks and appreciation to Sidewalk Labs for its vision, commitment and numerous commitments that the company and its employees have made for the future of Toronto.

“Quayside remains an excellent opportunity to explore innovative solutions for affordable housing, improved mobility, climate change and many other urban challenges that Toronto – and cities around the world – face to continue growing and being successful.”

Dan Doctoroff said in his blog that the company continued to invest in start-ups “working on everything from robotic furniture to digital electricity.”

“We continue to work internally on the factory-built mass wood construction that can improve the economic accessibility of homes”

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