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Alphabet Will Turn Toronto Into a Living Laboratory of Urban Design


An 800-acre strip of the city’s waterfront may show us how cities of the future will be built.

Alphabet’s urban innovation division, Sidewalk Labs, has announced a project that aims to inject modern urban design and new technologies into the city’s quayside. The aim: to “create people-centered neighbourhoods that achieve precedent-setting levels of sustainability, affordability, mobility, and economic opportunity.”

Huh? Picture streets filled with Waymo robo-taxis, slick autonomous underground trash collection, modular buildings that can be easily expanded, sustainable thermal power generation, drone-based package delivery, pervasive computing, and other techno-utopian amenities that should in theory change the way people live.

An initial trial of such technologies in a 12-acre plot will, says Sidewalk Labs, serve as a model for the whole 800-acre site. It’s not clear just yet how much all of this will cost, or who will pay, though Alphabet is fronting $50 million for initial planning and testing.

Still, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau seems excited about the prospect. In a statement delivered in Toronto’s waterfront district yesterday, he said that the project could turn the area into “a thriving hub for innovation” and “create the good well-paying jobs Canadians need.”

The only snag may be the humans themselves: as we’ve reported in the past, people often do dumb things with smart cities. But, hey, maybe Toronto will be different.