A Google-Powered Development Faces Scrutiny in Toronto

June 26, 2019
toronto shoreline
Photo: Unsplash/Scott Webb

Sidewalk Labs, a smart-city startup and Google’s sister company, is facing criticism for a plan to completely redevelop Toronto’s waterfront with housing, transit, and technology.

Curbed reports that the company released a master “innovation and development plan,” proposing to turn part of Toronto’s Lake Ontario shoreline into “the most innovative district in the entire world.” 

And it would be heavily connected, monitored, and self-regulating: Wifi would be publicly available, and sensors throughout the neighborhood would collect data about energy consumption, building use, and traffic patterns, among other urban fluctuations, which a software platform would analyze and manage. The raw information would be anonymized and held in a third-party “data trust,” and personal parts would never be sold to third-party vendors or disclosed without some form of consent.

Now, the potential for scope creep may be an even bigger sticking point. Sidewalk Labs has said from the start that it hoped to redevelop the entire waterfront, but its original agreement with officials was limited to the small Quayside lot. In February, however, leaked documents obtained by the Toronto Star showed that Sidewalk Labs was devising plans to develop about 350 acres surrounding that parcel, and that it would seek profit through property taxes and development fees that would normally be directed to city coffers. The Star’s report also revealed the company’s plans to advocate and finance a light-rail extension.

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