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Sidewalk Labs Is Building Its Own City

The Toronto waterfront (Photo by Alex Shutin)

In May, Bloomberg Technology reported that Downtown Toronto could be getting a “smart city” development from Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet — but details on the project were scarce. On Tuesday, some of those details were unveiled on the city’s eastern waterfront with much fanfare, and a backdrop of high-ranking Canadian officials like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor John Tory.

“Sidewalk Toronto,” as the project is called, will be a “new kind of mixed-use, complete community” on roughly 800 acres of the city’s eastern waterfront, according to a release about the project. It will combine “forward-thinking urban design” and “new digital technology” to create “people-[centered neighborhoods] that achieve precedent-setting levels of sustainability, affordability, mobility and economic opportunity,” the release states. As Next City reported in May, it will be part of Quayside, a 2,000-acre waterfront community that is intended to “serve as a test bed for emerging technologies, materials, approaches and processes that will address these challenges and create a new global benchmark for sustainable, inclusive and accessible urban development,” according to an RFP for the project.

So what, exactly, does that entail? The release offers several clues. Most concretely, to enable the creation of a “global hub of new industry focused on urban innovation,” Alphabet will move Google’s Canadian headquarters to the area. The partnership also promises to explore climate-positive energy systems, self-driving transit and new construction techniques to help lower building costs. A $1.25 billion CAD ($1 billion USD) investment will go toward flood protection and the creation of infrastructure necessary to kick off development. And Sidewalk Labs has committed $50 million to an initial joint planning and pilot testing phase.

“Today’s announcement is about creating a new type of [neighborhood] that puts people first,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, according to the release. “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. This project offers unprecedented opportunities for Canadian innovators and will create thousands of good, middle-class jobs.”

Other Sidewalk Labs projects include a partnership with with Transportation for America on smart streets innovations, a partnership with the U.S. DOT on a traffic data platform, and installing free WiFi hubs across New York City.