Google city sparks fresh controversy

Toronto Waterfront Image copyright Sidewalk Labs
Image caption An image from Sidewalk Labs’s plans for Toronto

Sidewalk Labs, a sister company of Google, has published its plans to build a smart city in Toronto, sparking fresh controversy.

In a 1,500-word document, the company laid out its ambitions to “improve the urban environment” with a variety of high-tech innovations.

Toronto Waterfront, the body that will decide if the bid is successful, has questioned the proposals.

Meanwhile, some citizens want the plans to be scrapped entirely.

‘Lab rats’

The partnership between Sidewalk Labs and Toronto Waterfront was announced in 2017 and the plans to revitalise a disused part of the city was intended to be a model for future urban development.

But citizens expressed concerns about becoming “lab rats” and questioned Sidewalk Labs’s motivations in building a city “from the internet up”.

A group called simply Block Sidewalk held meetings to express growing concern about having a huge technology company making decisions about city life.

The group has called a meeting on 3 July to discuss the plans.

Sidewalk Labs chief executive Dan Doctoroff remained upbeat about its intentions, saying it wanted to create “something extraordinary” on Toronto’s eastern waterfront.

“The proposal aims to create the neighbourhood of the future in the right kind of way with people at its centre and with cutting edge technology and forward-thinking urban design,” he said.

Image copyright Sidewalk Labs
Image caption Sidewalk Labs’s plan for the waterfront

‘Different perspective’

The Master Innovation and Development Plan outlines a range of innovations – from thermal and advanced energy grids, to factory-based construction of timber buildings, to a dynamic mobility network with heated bike lanes and adaptive traffic lights.

But in an open letter, Toronto Waterside chairman Stephen Diamond’s response seemed lukewarm, saying there were key areas where the two organisations had “very different perspectives”.

This included the scale of the plan, which he said was “much larger” than the original 12-acre (48,500-sq-m) site, and its proposals to collect and store data, which he said required extra information to ensure they complied with applicable laws.

Image copyright Sidewalk Labs

Sidewalk Labs said it had spent 18 months consulting more than 20,000 Toronto citizens.


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