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Called “Quayside”, Google is spending $50 Million in Toronto that could become a $1 Billion project called “Sidewalk Toronto”

A rendering of Sidewalk Labs' Quayside neighborhood in Toronto. Sidewalk Toronto

Google's parent company is spending $50 million to build a high-tech neighborhood in Toronto

Sidewalk Labs — the urban innovation unit of Google parent company Alphabet — will design a high-tech neighborhood on Toronto's waterfront, the company announced at a press conference. Called Quayside, the neighborhood's plan will prioritize "environmental sustainability, affordability, mobility, and economic opportunity," according to Sidewalk Labs. The city of Toronto and Sidewalk Labs call the larger project "Sidewalk 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 CEO Dan Doctoroff said.

Sidewalk Labs has committed $50 million to the project's first phase, though the 12-acre development is expected to cost at least $1 billion. Quayside will be located in a primarily publicly-owned 800-acre area called Port Lands — one of North America’s largest areas of underdeveloped urban land. Waterfront Toronto will build infrastructure that helps protect against flooding with help from a recent $996 million investment from local and national government.

In March 2017, Sidewalk Labs responded to Toronto's request for proposals to redevelop the waterfront parcel.  The planning process will kick off with a community town hall on November 1, 2017.

From the renderings, it looks like Sidewalk Labs wants Quayside to be a mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood. The preliminary illustrations include bike shares, apartment housing, bus lines, and parks.

Though details of the plan are still unclear, Doctoroff, a former New York City deputy mayor, has hinted at what the company would like to see in a city. He has spoken about how self-driving cars, embedded sensors that track energy usage, machine learning, and high-speed internet could improve urban environments.

"I like to describe it that we’re in the very early stages of what I call the fourth revolution of urban technology," Doctoroff previously told Business Insider.

"The first three were the steam engine, which brought through trains and factories that industrialized cities. The second was the electric grid, which made cities 24 hours, made them more vertical, made them easier to get around in with subways and streetcars. The third was the automobile, which forced us to really re-think the use of public space in order to protect people from the danger of the automobile. We’re now in the fourth one. We’ve had an urban technology revolution … We’re seeing a real change in the physical nature of our cities."

Sidewalk, founded in 2015 by Doctoroff and Alphabet CEO Larry Page, has been looking for over a year for a fitting place to build a large-scale district. One of its earliest and most visible smart-city efforts was replacing phone booths with public Wi-Fi kiosks in Manhattan.

Like Doctoroff, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at the conference that he expects Quayside to be a model for other cities around the world.

"Today's announcement is about creating a new type of neighbourhood that puts people first. Sidewalk Toronto will transform Quayside into a thriving hub for innovation and a community for tens of thousands of people to live, work, and play," he said. "I have no doubt Quayside will become a model for cities around the world and make all of our communities even better places to call home.

The 12-acre project is expected to cost at least $1 billion and will prioritize smart city technologies, according to The Wall Street Journal. Approval from the city of Toronto could happen as early as this month.

If plans move forward, the neighborhood would serve as a huge testing ground for Sidewalk Labs’ urban planning experiments ideas.

Though details of the plan are still unclear, Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff, a former New York City deputy mayor, has hinted at what the company would like to see in a city. He has often spoken about how self-driving cars, embedded sensors that track energy usage, machine learning, and high-speed internet could improve urban environments.

Sidewalk, founded in 2015 by Doctoroff and Alphabet CEO Larry Page, has been looking for over a year for a fitting place to build a large-scale district. One of its earliest and most visible smart-city efforts was replacing phone booths with public Wi-Fi kiosks in Manhattan. 

In October 2016, the company announced that it would partner with national advocacy group Transportation for America to help 16 cities, including Austin, Texas, Washington, DC, integrate technologies into their public spaces. Earlier that year, The Information reported Sidewalk Labs was moving ahead with "Project Sidewalk," a plan to create a district to trial its urban technologies — which now sounds a lot like the Toronto plan.

The deal would come a little over a month after e-commerce giant Amazon said it will spend $5 billion to build a second headquarters in a North American city. Toronto is a contender, along with over 50 other cities. In September, Toronto Mayor John Tory said he plans to submit a bid to Amazon.


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