Sidewalk Labs’ smart city includes two new neighborhoods, newly designed streets, and data collecting sensors. The image is Sidewalk Labs’ concept for their smart city. (Image credit: Sidewalk Labs)


Sidewalk Labs, part of Google’s Alphabet focused on cities and urban development, has finally revealed its Master Innovation and Development Plan (MIDIP) for their proposed smart neighborhood on Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront. Even though it’s a draft, it’s the first official pitch document that lays out the company’s vision for a futuristic city.


The company is proposing two smart neighborhoods -- Quayside and Villiers West -- that will be a part of a larger area called the Innovative Development and Economic Acceleration (IDEA) district. Quayside would be the first part of the project and house 4,200 residents. Villiers West, meanwhile, would house a 1.5 million square foot innovation campus where Google would build a new headquarters. It would also house 2,700 residents and offer 7,400 jobs.


So what exactly makes this a smart neighborhood? Their plan proposes an extension of the city’s light-rail system to serve the new area, redesigning streets to reduce car use and promote biking and walking instead, installing public Wi-Fi along with other sensors to collect “urban data” to better inform housing and traffic decisions, and a plan to reduce greenhouse gases by up to 89 percent.


Sidewalk Labs says it will spend $1.3 billion on the project in the hopes of encouraging $38 billion in private sector investment by 2040. According to a third-party research firm, the project could help create 44,000 jobs and generate $4.3 billion in annual tax revenue.


Now that the draft is out there, it will be examined by Waterfront Toronto, a publicly funded organization. It will then be voted on by its board and the Toronto city council in later 2019 and early 2020. If they decide to move forward with the plan, Sidewalk hopes to start construction on Quayside before 2021.


It’s an ambitious project that could potentially change the way we think of neighborhoods, but not everyone is a fan. A protest movement called Block Sidewalk has called out the company for calling its MIDP a draft.  "Sidewalk Labs has succeeded in pressuring Waterfront Toronto to consider this plan as a 'draft,' even though they had already bought months and months of extra time by saying they needed it to 'get it right,'" the protest group said in a statement prior to the MIDP's release. "They used that time to lobby politicians and cut side deals, and now they're doing it again. Waterfront Toronto needs to tell Sidewalk Labs that they've had more than enough time to 'get it right' and this will be considered the final version of the plan."


In response to the backlash, Alphabet’s CEO Dan Doctoroff said, “People will form their own conclusions, but we do believe this can be a model for inclusive growth.” He hopes the document can become a “New urban toolkit for the digital age” that other cities can use to create their own smart communities.


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