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The Fall of Sidewalk Lab’s Smart City 

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The Fall of Sidewalk Lab’s Smart City 


May 11, 2020
Smart city concept
By hin255

A tech-filled utopia has met its match in Toronto. Economic uncertainty was the final blow to Sidewalk Labs’ plans for a megaproject that would transform the city’s waterfront into a green, smart city with its own trash collection system and heated streets, according to Curbed’s reporting. Though some city officials welcomed the possible economic opportunities and revitalization of the waterfront, activists opposed the move as questions of whom this would ultimately benefit at what cost remained unclear. The fall of the Alphabet company’s smart city is not a surprise, however, as similar measures have been halted in New York City and the Bay Area. 

Less than a year ago, the Alphabet company Sidewalk Labs unveiled plans to test fantastical urban innovations across a 12-acre swath of Toronto’s waterfront—high-rise timber towers, a pneumatic trash collection system, and heated streets that melted snow. Now, the most ambitious project from Google’s urban-planning arm has been called off.

Sidewalk Toronto is the latest megaproject spearheaded by a tech giant that’s been quashed by a faltering economy, second thoughts from local officials, or dogged opposition from advocates. In the case of Sidewalk Toronto, it’s likely all of the above. Like Amazon’s failed attempt to woo New York City, cities might extend generous tax breaks to lure the tech companies in, but the people who live in the neighborhoods to be ‘revitalized’ are increasingly uniting to lock tech companies out.

The genesis of Sidewalk Labs goes back at least five years to a time when venture capital-flush CEOs envisioned building self-contained technotopias to showcase their products, or maybe just have a cool place to hang out. Sidewalk Labs, to its credit, approached its “city within a city” with a bit more nuance, opening a community space for events, working through issues in public, and spending 18 months conducting engagement.

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