Home / Gadgets / Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs is scrapping its ambitious Toronto project

Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs is scrapping its ambitious Toronto project



At Google siblings Sidewalk Labs announced a $ 50 million investment in 2017 to renovate part of the Toronto waterfront. It almost seemed too good to be true. One day, Sidewalk Labs promised, the Torontonians would live and work in a 12-hectare former industrial site in wooden skyscrapers – a cheaper and more sustainable building material. Roads paved with a new type of illuminated pavement changed the design in a matter of seconds, and housed families on foot and self-driving cars. Garbage would go through underground slides. Sidewalks would heat up. Forty percent of the thousands of planned apartments would be reserved for low and middle income families. And the Google sister company, which was founded on the digitization and technology of urban planning, collected data about it in order to perfect life in the city.

Thursday the dream died. In one medium Dan Doctoroff, CEO of Sidewalk Labs, said the company will stop following developments. Doctoroff, a former mayor of New York City, pointed a finger at the Covid-1

9 pandemic. “With unprecedented economic uncertainty around the world and on the Toronto real estate market, it has become too difficult to make the … project financially viable without compromising the core elements of the plan,” he wrote.

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But Sidewalk Labs’ vision was in trouble long before the pandemic. Since its inception, the project has been criticized by progressive activists who are concerned about how the company would collect and protect data and who would own it. Meanwhile, Conservative Ontario Prime Minister Doug Ford wondered if taxpayers would get enough money for the project. New York-based Sidewalk Labs struggled with their local partner, the water remediation agency, for ownership of the project’s intellectual property and, above all, funding. At times, operators seemed confused by the vagaries of Toronto politics. The project missed deadline by deadline.

The partnership had greater success last summer when Sidewalk Labs released a lively and more ambitious 1,524-page lottery master plan that went well beyond what the government expected and the company had promised to complete, up to 1 To spend $ 3 billion. The recovery group wondered if some of Sidewalk Labs’ suggestions regarding data collection and management “actually comply with applicable laws”. Contradicting the proposal that the government allocate millions to expand local public transport into the region, an obligation, the group reminded the company, which it could not take on its own.

“The next time this is done by a large technology company that wants to redefine the future of neighborhoods, it will be in close communication with the communities.”

Daniel O’Brien, School of Public Policy at Northeastern University

This clunky master plan could remain helpful, Doctoroff said in his blog post. Sidewalk Labs has given serious thought to managing citizen information over the course of the two and a half year project. Back in March, Sidewalk Labs executives discussed with WIRED how the company worked could address the issue with complete transparency. (Critics said even this effort didn’t go far enough.) Doctoroff says the work – and the work of Sidewalk Labs’ portfolio companies that want to address various urban mobility and infrastructure issues – is continuing.

However, the end of the project raises questions about the “Smart Cities” movement, which tries to integrate the latest technical instruments into democratic governance. The buzzword, the latest craze, when the proverb “data is the new oil” generated fewer eye rolls, suffered during the techlash. Cities and their residents became more suspicious of what Silicon Valley companies could do with their data. In theory, one way to fix this type of project is to actually start at the base. “The next time this is done by Sidewalk Labs or a large technology company that wants to redefine the future of neighborhoods, it will be in close communication with the communities,” said Daniel O’Brien, who explains the impact of “Big” on research and politics examines data ”at the School of Public Policy at Northeastern University.

Paradoxically, the Toronto project is declining as data collection and monitoring are seen as key tools to slow the spread of the novel corona virus. Google and Apple have developed smartphones that automatically track infected patients’ encounters with others. Companies say the data is recorded anonymously and the contact tracking regime may free most Americans from on-site placement. The world is on the brink of a big experiment about what can and should be done with data. An abandoned splinter from Toronto will not be part of it for the time being.


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