Toronto will be the home of Google’s latest project. Sidewalk Labs, which is owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is designing a model for urban life in the 21st century. Toronto’s waterfront area will be the site of this project.
Google has built a technology empire. It dominates internet search engines, produces android technology for smartphones and impacts on many aspects of daily life. It has used data measurements to innovate and improve its products. Using every bit of information at its disposal, it creates applications and software to improve the user experience.
The venture by Sidewalk Labs will prove a litmus test for the future of smart cities. Using sensors and other forms of data collection, the company will analyse every facet of this community. They will measure rainfall, shade, air quality and transit times. Data will fuel the construction of this project. Just as it utilises data to tailor its online properties, so will it use data to create the utopian-style community.
The site is on Toronto’s waterfront, in a 3.3 million square feet area. Sidewalk Labs will invest an initial $50 million in conjunction with a government agency, Waterfront Toronto. The space will be home to Google’s new Canadian headquarters along with commercial, residential and office space.
Dan Doctoroff is the CEO of Sidewalk Labs. He is also a former Deputy Mayor of New York City. He said the project was a chance to tackle some of the growing problems caused by urbanism.
“Successful cities around the world are wrestling with the same challenges of growth, from rising costs of living that price out the middle class to congestion and ever-longer commutes, to the challenges of climate change. Sidewalk Labs scoured the globe for the perfect place to create a district focused on solutions to these pressing challenges, and we found it on Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront—along with the perfect public-sector partner, Waterfront Toronto. This will not be a place where we deploy technology for its own sake, but rather one where we use emerging digital tools and the latest in urban design to solve big urban challenges in ways that we hope will inspire cities around the world.”
Sidewalk Labs or Google are not the first to dream of a utopian urban environment. Ever since humans began to congregate in large numbers, and creating towns and cities, people have idealized the best means of living. This became even more pertinent following the industrial revolution as people flocked to urban centres in search of work. In the 1930s, Henry Ford, the American industrialist, attempted to create the perfect city in the Brazilian jungle. However, poor planning and a lack of understanding of the climate led to the ruin of the city. Fordlandia was left to become rubble in the jungle. In more recent times, Songdo in South Korea was hailed as the future smart city. Using the best of available technology, the city was created to leave a tiny carbon footprint. However, the city is well behind schedule and it reportedly has had trouble attracting business into the area.
Sidewalk Labs will be keen to avoid the mistakes that others have made in the past when constructing this model neighbourhood. The advantage that Google has compared to previous projects others have embarked on is the massive amounts of data at its disposal. Everything that it has created so far has been with the aim usability. No doubt it will invest massive resources into urban projects to achieve success.
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