When Google sibling Sidewalk Labs announced in 2017 a $50 million investment into a project to redevelop a portion of Torontos waterfront, it seemed almost too good to be true. Someday soon, Sidewalk Labs promised, Torontonians would live and work in a 12-acre former industrial site in skyscrapers made from timber—a cheaper and more sustainable building material. Streets paved with a new sort of light-up paver would let the development change its design in seconds, able to play host to families on foot and toself-driving cars. Trash would travel through underground chutes. Sidewalks would heat themselves. Forty percent of the thousands of planned apartments would be set aside for low- and middle-income families. And the Google sister company founded to digitize and techify urban planning would collect data on all of it, in a quest to perfect city living.
Thursday, the dream died. In a Medium post, Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff said the company would no longer pursue the development. Doctoroff, a former New York City deputy mayor, pointed a finger at the Covid-19 pandemic. “As unprecedented economic uncertainty has set in around the world and in the Toronto real estate market, it has become too difficult to make the … project financially viable without sacrificing core parts of the plan,” he wrote.
But Sidewalk Labs vision was in trouble long before the pandemic. Since its inception, the project had been criticized by progressive activists concerned about how the Alphabet company would collect and protect data, and who would own that data. Conservative Ontario premier Doug Ford, meanwhile, wondered whether taxpayers would get enough bang from the projects bucks. New York-based Sidewalk Labs wrestled with its local partner, the waterfront redevelopment agency, over ownership of the projects intellectual property and, most critically, its financing. At times, its operators seemed confounded by the vagaries of Toronto politics. The project had missed deadline after deadline.
The partnership took a bigger hit last summer, when Sidewalk Labs released a splashy and even more ambitious 1,524-page master plan for the lot that went well beyond what the government had anticipated, and for which the company pledged to spend up to $1.3 billion to complete. The redevelopment group wondered whether some of Sidewalk Labs proposals related to data collection and governance were even “in compliance with applicable laws.” It balked at a suggestion that the government commit millions to extend public transit into the area, a commitment, the group reminded the company, that it could not make on its own.
That chunky master plan may remain helpful, Doctoroff said in his blog post. Sidewalk Labs did serious thinking about civic data management over the course of the two-and-half-year project. As recently as March, Sidewalk Labs executives discussed with WIRED how the company might approach the issue with complete transparency. (Critics said even those efforts did not go far enough.) Doctoroff says that work—and the work of Sidewalk Labs portfolio companies, which seek to tackle various urban mobility and infrastructure problems—will continue.
Still, the projects end raises questions about the Read More – Source