How Sidewalk Labs designs data-driven cities
Larry Page’s “city of the future” is closer to approval in Toronto after two years of controversy threatened to scuttle the project.
Sidewalk Labs LLC, the urban innovation unit of Alphabet Inc. and Waterfront Toronto, the public corporation in charge of the development, are finding common ground on a majority of contentious issues, according to people familiar with the discussions. The parties have been meeting ahead of an Oct. 31 deadline set by Waterfront to reach agreement on topics such as data privacy, land values and geographical boundaries, the people said, asking not to be identified because the matter is private.
Sidewalk had proposed investing $1.3 billion alongside local partners to kick off the development, anchoring Google Canadian headquarters in neighboring Villiers Island.
“These discussions continue and no decisions have been made,” Andrew Tumilty, spokesman for Waterfront Toronto, said in an email. “Both parties are working to ensure that a decision can be reached by the October 31 2019 deadline.” A spokeswoman for Sidewalk Labs declined to comment.
New York-based Sidewalk’s plan for the 12-acre plot along Lake Ontario was launched with great fanfare in 2017. Meant to showcase Alphabet CEO Page’s vision for a modern digital city, ideas included everything from underground garbage disposal to heated bike lanes. But it quickly got overtaken by worries over the data collected to power the neighborhood, financing and just how much control a foreign tech titan should have over public lands.
Sidewalk responded by consulting with more than 20,000 people, proposing to put data collected in the neighborhood -- key to powering amenities -- into an independent civic trust and build thousands of below-market and affordable housing units. Sidewalk CEO Dan Doctoroff, is the former CEO of Bloomberg LP.
If the parties resolve the key issues, Waterfront’s board will decide on Oct. 31 whether to move ahead with an evaluation. If that goes ahead, the board will decide on March 31 whether to pursue implementation agreements with a deadline for finalizing a deal by Dec. 31, 2020. If no agreement is struck, the partnership will terminate and Sidewalk Labs will be left empty handed after investing more than US$50 million to develop its 1,500-plus-page plan.
Sidewalk released its master innovation and development plan in June, which raised many of the controversial issues now being discussed.