A project led by Sidewalk Labs is determined to leverage modern technology in the way our cities function. Sidewalk, a subsidiary of Google's parent company Alphabet, has already set plans in motion to transform a Toronto community known as Quayside.
This is a dated commercial area on the shores of Lake Ontario that hasn't changed much in decades. Though still in use, it's faded over time to become little more than a patch of urban blight where industry once thrived.
Sidewalk Labs chose it as the location for testing their ideas. Their goal is to transform this small area from decayed to the smart city of tomorrow with driverless cars, networked sensors, robotics, modular homes, and much more.
Not so long ago building cities based on technology seemed like a noble idea. These communities could minimize waste, reduce pollution, function smoothly and cost-efficiently, and provide a cleaner, safer, more productive lifestyle for residents. Countries such as the United Arab Emirates and China paid out large sums into these projects. However, none lived up to expectations, and the corporate investors and affluent residents never appeared.
Sidewalk Labs was founded in 2015, but Quayside is their first big project devoted to using technology to solve urban challenges. Sidewalk believes the concept can work if the technology is tailored to local needs, and Toronto is a dynamic community willing to cooperate in a technological renovation.
It will take place on a 12-acre parcel owned largely by a development company called Waterfront Toronto which was created by Canada's federal and local government. Waterfront Toronto was seeking a development company and announced its partnership with Sidewalk Labs in October of 2017. Quayside could become the ultra-modern home to 5,000 people, and if successful there is already talk of expanding it to 700 acres. Sidewalk Labs has even promised to spend $50 million of their own money in the first stages of the project.
Sidewalk's vision begins by asking what technologies can play a role in bringing a better quality of life. Self-driving vehicles could mean computerized traffic flows and narrower streets to allow more room for pedestrians and bicycles. Autonomous vehicles could also provide public transportation, meaning a reduction in the number of private vehicles required and consequently the fuel used and money spent.
An important part of the solution is a community-wide array of sensors for gathering information. This data to be gained from resident behavior could be analyzed to bring continuous improvements in efficiency and safety to the streets, while providing the basis for long-term development or the introduction of additional technologies. Local authorities and services along with participating companies could also use shared information to focus and customize their own efforts for optimal results and lower operational costs.
That could be a source of concern for residents who don't want their activities recorded and shared. Sidewalk intends to keep the data centralized for authorized specific uses only. Sidewalk plans to profit by licensing the software it develops, but the actual community data will remain confidential.
The Sidewalk Smartphone Concept
The project's leaders see the new technological implementations as similar in some ways to smartphones. While Sidewalk provides the platform, third parties will be free to contribute their own innovations, not unlike purchasing various apps for your phone.
Third parties could provide flexibility and functionality by integrating apps for parking, delivery services, paying for services, and other needs into Sidewalk's framework. Industry leaders could also play an important part, such as salesforce advantage bringing AI to the customer management of local companies or Quayside utilities.
Despite digital progress, Waterfront Toronto is determined that Quayside should be an open community for average people, not an affluent retreat or industrial/tech silo. If Quayside's technical remodel is successful, other cities across Canada and the world will feel motivated, perhaps even obliged, to follow the Quayside model in developing their own urban centers.