Alphabet's Sidewalk Labs to Create 'Smart' Neighborhood in Toronto -- Update

Sidewalk Labs LLC, the city-building unit of Google's parent company Alphabet Inc., will partner with the city of Toronto on a high-tech waterfront development, the first major foray of the search-engine giant into creating urban space, city and company officials said Tuesday.

The partnership offers technology experts and urban planners a blank canvas to create a blueprint for how cities of the future should be built, incorporating technology at every step of the way, according to a proposal submitted to the city by Sidewalk Labs.

"On Toronto's eastern waterfront, we are making a bold bet that innovative technology and forward-thinking urban design can make fundamental improvements in city life," Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said in a statement ahead of a press conference near the site of the development Tuesday.

The site, dubbed Quayside, was initially designed to rebuild a 12-acre section of Toronto's eastern waterfront but the project will serve as a model for nearly 800 more acres of underdeveloped urban land that Sidewalk envisions can be the home for driverless cars, modular buildings and sustainable thermal power generation, among other innovative features, said Sidewalk in its proposal to Toronto.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at the Toronto event that Sidewalk Labs "said the one where bold, innovative thinking is the norm, where our complexes challenges are solved through innovation and partnership."

The plan unveiled will transform Quayside "into a thriving hub for innovation and create the good well-paying jobs Canadians need," Mr. Trudeau added.

Will Fleissig, chief executive of Waterfront Toronto, the agency tasked to develop Toronto's lakeshore waterfront, said in an interview Tuesday that Sidewalk's proposal stood out from more than a half-dozen submissions by demonstrating a plan that can take high-level conceptual ideas, piloting them and scaling them across a city.

The partnership between Toronto and Sidewalk was first reported by The Wall Street Journal earlier this month.

The Quayside project represents Alphabet's bigger bet to showcase how modern tech and internet-connected infrastructure and buildings could improve urban life -- an approach often termed the "smart-cities" development model.

It will also serve as a testing ground for Alphabet's broad push away from ads and software into a physical environment, one that can further incorporate some early ideas the firm gleaned from developing things like connected thermostats and security cameras for homes.

While the cost of the project wasn't immediately clear Tuesday, it is likely to run over $1 billion, based on construction costs of similar projects. Sidewalk said it has committed $50 million in initial funding for joint planning and pilot project testing purposes.

Sidewalk's CEO Dan Doctoroff said in an interview Tuesday that once Sidewalk builds out some of its conceptual projects in Quayside, it would be able to license and sell that technology to other cities. The company still needs to consult with Canadian municipal, provincial and federal government partners to determine a breakdown of how the site's intellectual property will be shared, he added.

"There is an expectation is that we're creating products here that will be exportable to other cities," Mr. Doctoroff said.

In the proposal, Sidewalk offered an idea of what it envisions for the neighborhood.

"When people look around Quayside, they might see a retail shop turning into artist housing as part of a flexible building pilot. Or a self-driving shuttle dropping off passengers during a test ride. Or a community group using a digital kiosk to provide feedback on a local planning discussion. Or a new urban innovation institute, home to a campus of entrepreneurs itching to solve the toughest problems facing cities," Sidewalk said.

To quell concerns that Google will misuse any of the data gathered within the Quayside neighborhood's so-called "digital layer," Mr. Doctoroff said Tuesday that Sidewalk will be issuing a privacy statement and will continue to consult with local residents to ensure greater clarity and transparency when it comes to the collection and use of personal information.

Write to David George-Cosh at

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 17, 2017 16:06 ET (20:06 GMT)