Sidewalk Labs scraps Smart City project over economic uncertainty

Coronavirus-fueled economic uncertainty spells the end of the line for the Smart City

Sidewalk Labs, a division of Google's parent company, Alphabet, announced on it’ll drop plans to build a high-tech urban hub along Toronto's waterfront.

Billed as the city of the future, the controversial project was detailed in a 1,500-page master plan last year. CEO of Sidewalk Labs, Dan Doctoroff, cites the current economic crisis spurred by the coronavirus pandemic as the reason for nixing the project.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Originally announced in 2017, the Smart City project would have included building a high-tech urban hub in Toronto’s Quayside district. Previous plans for the project envisioned buildings crafted from environmentally sustainable timber and flexible, movable wall panels.

Doctoroff shared on Medium, “For the last two-and-a-half years, we have been passionate about making Quayside happen — indeed, we have invested time, people, and resources in Toronto, including opening a 30-person office on the waterfront.

"But as 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 we had developed together with Waterfront Toronto to build a truly inclusive, sustainable community.

"And so, after a great deal of deliberation, we concluded that it no longer made sense to proceed with the Quayside project, and let Waterfront Toronto know yesterday.”

Advertisement - Article continues below
Advertisement - Article continues below

The project, which was initially applauded by Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has faced concerns from Toronto residents and privacy advocates alike.

These critics worried data collection related to the project could result in mass surveillance. A handful of Sidewalk Lab’s advisors, including Ann Cavoukian, a former information and privacy commissioner for Ontario, resigned over the same privacy concerns.

On Thursday, Block Sidewalk, a group that vehemently opposed the project, applauded the decision to pull the plug. 

"This is huge, we are sending a message to Silicon Valley on behalf of all those around the world who are fighting big tech in their cities," wrote one of the group’s organizer’s, Julie Beddoes.

"The Quayside project got mangled down from an 800-acres vision of a surveillance state to a bid for an office building on a 12-acre site. We knew all along that Sidewalk can't realize its tech dreams on 12-acres alone, so this has been coming for a while."

Advertisement - Article continues below

Doctoroff shared that while Toronto’s Smart City hub may be no more, Sidewalk Labs has not stopped its other efforts.

He noted: “We’ve already started innovative companies addressing urban mobility, next-generation infrastructure, and community-based healthcare, and invested in startups working on everything from robotic furniture to digital electricity.

"We continue to work internally on factory-made mass timber construction that can improve housing affordability and sustainability, a digital master-planning tool that can improve quality of life outcomes and project economics, and a new approach to all-electric neighborhoods.”

Featured Resources

The case for a marketing content hub

Transform your digital marketing to deliver customer expectations

Download now

Fast, flexible and compliant e-signatures for global businesses

Be at the forefront of digital transformation with electronic signatures

Download now

Why CEOS should care about the move to SAP S/4HANA

And how they can accelerate business value

Download now

IT faces new security challenges in the wake of COVID-19

Beat the crisis by learning how to secure your network

Download now

Most Popular

Microsoft Windows

Microsoft warns users not to install Windows 10's May update

28 May 2020
data breaches

EasyJet faces class-action lawsuit over data breach

26 May 2020
cyber security

Microsoft bans Trend Micro driver from Windows 10 for "cheating" hardware tests

27 May 2020