Toronto’s New Smart City Will Be Built from The Internet Up

Toronto Silo Park

Toronto Silo Park

By Aaron Cunningham

Toronto’s reputation as a leader in the tech industry is about to get a major boost with the building of a Google initiative. Located in the heart of the waterfront district, the new Google Campus is but one part of a larger smart city project called Sidewalk Toronto, located at Toronto’s Quayside. The Quayside project is being designed through a joint effort between Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs, the urban tech-focused subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet.

Their plan is to turn the area into the “world’s first neighborhood built from the internet up.” What exactly that means is still yet to be seen, but their proposal focuses on five areas: housing, energy, mobility, social services, and shared public spaces. Their goal is to use the rejuvenation project to serve as a model for sustainable neighborhoods around the world.

The new tech hub and smart city are the feathers in the cap of Toronto’s booming and innovative tech industry. In recent years, Toronto has become the home of an ever-increasing number of startups; from blockchain to finance, from education to food, Toronto is establishing itself as an innovative hub for technology.

The Shed, Credit Diller Scofidio and Renfro

The Shed, Credit Diller Scofidio and Renfro

Quayside’s Vision for a Perfect City

The exact technology that will run through the neighbourhood is under a period of a year-long evaluation, where the public is involved in the process to determine what will be part of this project. Some exciting initiatives are on the table, though. A self- contained thermal grid can recirculate energy from non-fossil-fuel sources to heat and cool buildings, while food disposal systems could keep garbage out of landfills. Smart technology will run throughout the city, seamlessly blending into everyday life.

For drivers, the area may seem less than hospitable, as large portions of the neighborhood might prohibit non-emergency vehicles entirely. Instead, bike-share stations, transit stops, and cycling and walking paths will offer driving alternatives. The area may also feature an autonomous transit shuttle, built by the self-driving vehicle subsidiary of Alphabet, Waymo.

One concept Sidewalk Labs is proposing is potentially having all construction materials be largely pre-fabricated and eco-friendly, with a focus on simple, spacious, minimal, and modular design. The designers envision buildings that can easily be transformed to suit multiple purposes, from residential to retail and industrial. Their plans call for generous amounts of trees, bike lanes, and bustling storefronts that will create a new level of quality urbanism.

Highline Aerial, Credit Friends of the High Line

Highline Aerial, Credit Friends of the High Line

A Web of Data Collected from the Smart City

Apart from the self-driving vehicles, the components of this urban utopia are not entirely new. The quest for the perfect futuristic city has been around since the 1960s. Unfortunately, to date, most of the utopian dream cities imagined by innovative architects have often fallen short. The sterility of a perfectly-designed urban environment can lead to a cold, lifeless place, devoid of heart. Brazil’s capital city of Brasilia is a great example of city planning gone wrong. Brasilia was built from the ground up to be the perfect city, no attention to detail was missed. Although architecturally stunning, most visitors find the place lifeless and dull, devoid of the indefinable quality that makes a great city.

Another facet to Quayside which has drawn concern from its critics is the digital layer that would run throughout Quayside life, using data points collected to improve public services and the overall quality of life in the neighborhood. To make this a reality, Sidewalk Labs would be working closely with the public and with government agencies to ensure the responsible collection and use of the data, such as safe storage, and that all data collected remains aggregate and anonymous. The concerns come from the fact that even the smallest level of detail, such as kitchen lights left on too long or spikes in noise levels, could be monitored. All of the data collected could be analyzed with the intent of perfecting the design of future smart cities – though it does all seem a bit like an episode of Black Mirror.

Regardless of how you feel about Toronto’s new smart city, one thing is for certain, that it will put Toronto on the map. Google is about as big as it gets when it comes to tech firms, and their move to open a campus and smart city in Toronto reconfirms what many in the industry have known for a long time: Toronto is the place to be for innovative technology.

Community Vision

Community Vision

Eastern Waterfront Map

Eastern Waterfront Map

Digital Infrastructure Vision

Digital Infrastructure Vision

Visuals courtesy of Sidewalk Labs.