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Alphabet Selects Toronto For Its Smart City Hub

The Toronto waterfront

Sidewalk Labs has signed a deal with Waterfront Toronto to begin plans for a new experimental $1B “smart city” on the city’s waterfront.

Sidewalk, a division of Google parent company Alphabet Inc., has agreed to invest $50M to develop Quayside, a 12-acre district on the waterfront, into Sidewalk Toronto. 

"I'm pleased to announce Waterfront Toronto has found an extremely promising partner in Sidewalk Labs," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a waterfront news conference announcing the deal. "A world leader in urban innovation, Sidewalk Labs will create a test hub for new technologies in Quayside."

If all goes well over the next year, Sidewalk Labs has said it will pursue a much larger area to develop. Future plans for the project include at least 3.3M SF of residential, office and commercial space, and the moving of Google Canada's Toronto headquarters to Quayside. The company's Kitchener headquarters will remain in Kitchener.

“Today, we are expanding our know-how by partnering with Sidewalk Labs to create a progressive, innovative community; one that addresses significant challenges and sets new standards around sustainability, affordable housing and community engagement,”  Waterfront Toronto President and CEO Will Fleissig said in a Sidewalk news release.

The project is considered a test — an experiment aimed at making Toronto’s eastern waterfront a hub for urban and technological innovation to improve the quality of city life. 

“Successful cities around the world are wrestling with the same challenges of growth, from rising costs of living that price out the middle class, to congestion and ever-longer commutes, to the challenges of climate change,” Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff said. 

“Sidewalk Labs scoured the globe for the perfect place to create a district focused on solutions to these pressing challenges, and we found it on Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront — along with the perfect public sector partner, Waterfront Toronto.”

An artist's illustration of the Quayside redevelopment

Sidewalk's innovative plans for the new community include banning private cars. Pedestrian-friendly streets would be served by autonomous vehicles and freight robots moving on underground tunnels, and buildings would be constructed using modular units that are produced nearby. 

The official announcement — made Tuesday at Corus Quay on the Eastern Waterfront — follows Sidewalk's March application to Waterfront Toronto to partner up to develop the area. Both partners will devote the next year to community and stakeholder consultation, planning focused on improving infrastructure and transportation systems, creating affordable housing and retail uses and identifying clear governance policies for data protection and privacy.

“Today’s announcement is about creating a new type of neighbourhood that puts people first,” Trudeau said. 

“Sidewalk Toronto will transform Quayside into a thriving hub for innovation and a community for tens of thousands of people to live, work and play. This project offers unprecedented opportunities for Canadian innovators and will create thousands of good, middle class jobs.”

Following the year of development, a final plan will be given to the board of directors of Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs. If adopted, the plan will form the basis for the development and any subsequent revitalization of city-owned lands in the Eastern Waterfront. 

This process will kick off with a community town hall meeting on Nov. 1. 

CORRECTION, OCT. 24, 1:55 P.M. EST: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the Google Canada headquarters would move to Toronto. Google Canada's Toronto headquarters is expected to move to Quayside, but the Google Canada Kitchener headquarters will remain in Kitchener. The story has been updated.