A Google-born urban innovation unit aims to step in and fix urban ails – from problems of congestion to housing and energy, among others – troubling communities in busy cities like Toronto. Anonymous sources told Bloomberg that Alphabet’s urban innovation unit Sidewalk Labs has proposed to turn 12 acres of downtown Toronto into a connected high-tech city, in response to a recent Request for Proposals from the city agency.
“The people who do planning in cities don’t really understand technology, and technologists actually really don’t understand cities,” argues Sidewalk Labs’ CEO, Dan Doctoroff, who’s leading a team of people trying to close the gap between traditional urban policy and the latest technology.
Sidewalk Labs has yet to make its Toronto high-tech city official news, and all information about the project so far has relied on anonymous sources.
Due to the city’s rapid growth in terms of population and surging prices, Toronto’s downtown is a promising home for Sidewalk Labs’ aspirations, and the Canadian coastal city is eager to embrace new technology and adopt a smarter lifestyle. Toronto would be the second city after New York to be eyed by Sidewalk Labs, and the first to be considered outside of U.S. borders.
Sidewalk Labs previously partnered with Transport for America (T4A) to develop and refine new solutions for local transportation issues. The partnership focuses on the development of what they term “connected streets,” and aims to create connected roadways and other transportation hubs that can lead to more efficient, multimodal transportation and data-driven decision making. “Too often there’s a disconnect between tech interventions and transportation outcomes. We’ve seen cities embrace a more holistic approach in our collaboration with the U.S. DOT Smart City Challenge, but it’s important to broaden that discussion to all the other cities looking for better tools to improve mobility,” said Anand Babu, COO of Sidewalk Labs.
In New York, Sidewalk Labs’ portfolio company Intersection is executing LinkNYC, which is basically a series of big smart kiosks deployed on sidewalks to provide WiFi and collect intelligence on things like traffic patterns, noise levels, and air quality in the city. The LinkNYC agreement prohibits the commercial use of data that can identify individuals.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that Sidewalk Labs is executing LinkNYC. It is Sidewalk Labs’ portfolio company Intersection that is executing the project.