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Sidewalk Labs Holds First Town Hall Meeting On Toronto Smart City

Quayside Sidewalk Labs Sidewalk Toronto
The first public meeting was held Wednesday to discuss Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs' proposed smart city.

The principals behind Toronto’s proposed waterfront smart city offered few details and lots of reassurances at its first public town hall.

 “We’ve convinced ourselves the opportunity [in Toronto] is so significant, people are going to be excited,” Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff said at the event held at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.

“We’re convinced by the end of year, you’ll find it really compelling,” he said. 

Sidewalk — a spinoff of Google parent company Alphabet — is so convinced of the project’s potential, it is putting up $50M for a yearlong public discussion kicked off by Wednesday’s town hall. 

Should all go well, Sidewalk and Waterfront Toronto hope to transform Quayside, 12 acres on Toronto’s eastern waterfront, into a digitally networked community of self-driving cars, affordable housing, people-friendly streets and underground freight. 

Quayside would be the starting point for a plan that would eventually expand to 800 acres.

As Waterfront CEO Will Fleissig made clear at the town hall, Sidewalk Toronto is just an idea at this point.

“Waterfront Toronto controls this property,” he said. “No land is being transacted. We have the right to walk away if we don’t like it.”

Much of the conversation at the town hall focused on worries about how the project would affect the rest of Toronto, be it public transit, housing or privacy.  

Doctoroff assured the crowd that the project would not be some insular tech enclave. 

“We never do technology for technology’s sake. We don’t care about the cool, new stuff … but can we find ways to dramatically lower the cost of living.”

Sidewalk Toronto Quayside Sidewalk Labs
A rendering of Sidewalk Toronto

The promised affordable housing of Sidewalk Toronto also came under scrutiny at the town hall, with antipoverty advocates protesting outside prior to the event.

At the town hall, Doctoroff often referred to Sidewalk’s 198-page vision document as a source for more specific details. In an op-ed piece written for the Toronto Star published earlier in the day, Doctoroff and Fleissig talked in more detail about their housing goals. 

“Sidewalk Toronto aims to demonstrate real solutions to the housing crunch and affordability crisis, the plight of the planet, and the urgent need for safe and convenient transportation options,” it read. “Modular and tall-timber construction techniques can lead to more affordable housing and more sustainable buildings.”

As for the issue of maintaining privacy in a high-tech community, Doctoroff assured the town hall audience that privacy remains a project priority.

“We believe in privacy by design. We want to build it into the foundation and do it in a Canadian way,” he said.