1. Economics
May 7, 2020updated 20 Jul 2021 2:08pm

Sidewalk Labs pulls the plug on Toronto smart city development

By Adam Sneed

The Toronto waterfront won’t be transformed into a Google-affiliated smart city after all.

Sidewalk Labs, the urban innovations unit within Google’s parent company Alphabet, announced Thursday that it is pulling the plug on its plans to redevelop a long-neglected section of Toronto’s Inner Harbour.

“[A]s unprecedented economic uncertainty has set in around the world and in the Toronto real estate market, it has become too difficult to make the 12-acre project financially viable without sacrificing core parts of the plan,” Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff wrote in a statement.

The Quayside plan was conceived as a model smart city, starting with a 12-acre development of mid-rise apartments and neighbourhood amenities that combined cutting-edge technology and data operations with leading ideas in urban design and sustainability.

The project has long drawn scrutiny from privacy advocates, however, who raised concerns over a streetscape laden with sensors – fears that only intensified as the public learned of data breach after data breach in Silicon Valley.

Former BlackBerry CEO Jim Balsillie was among the project’s detractors, telling the Associated Press on Thursday that “Sidewalk Toronto will go down in history as one of the more disturbing planned experiments in surveillance capitalism”.

Doctoroff says Sidewalk Labs will continue its work imagining the future of cities, citing the company’s ongoing projects in mobility, infrastructure, health care, and mass timber construction.

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–Adam Sneed

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