Sidewalk Labs’ ambitious $900 million plan to build a high-tech neighbourhood in Toronto has come to an end, as the company abandons plans owing to “economic uncertainties.”
The project, which had been planned since 2017, would have built an internet-connected district on Toronto’s waterfront, complete with driverless cars and sensors everywhere.
But it’s also attracted its fair share of criticism over data collection and how it might outprice residents.
“It has become too difficult,” said the CEO of Sidewalk Labs, Alphabet’s urban innovation arm and Google sister company.
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Alphabet urban innovation arm Sidewalk Labs says it is abandoning its $900 million project to build a high-tech neighborhood in Toronto.
CEO Daniel L. Doctoroff announced today in a blog post that Sidewalk Labs would no longer be proceeding with the Quayside project, which has been in development since October 2017, owing to economic uncertainties resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the company, the project to build a 12-acre ultra-connected neighborhood on Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront would have “set new standards” for city designs and would have included everything from driverless vehicles to heated sidewalks, not to mention a copious number of sensors.
“For the last two-and-a-half years, we have been passionate about making Quayside happen — indeed, we have invested time, people, and resources in Toronto, including opening a 30-person office on the waterfront,” CEO Doctoroff, former New York City deputy mayor of economic development, said.
“But 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 12-acre project financially viable without sacrificing core parts of the plan we had developed together with Waterfront Toronto to build a truly inclusive, sustainable community.”
Waterfront Toronto was informed of the news yesterday, he said.
But the project has also been mired in controversy, and has faced backlash from residents and activists over how the city would collect data of its residents, as well as fears over the housing pricing out Toronto’s minimum wage workers.
One of its most controversial moments came in 2019 when Sidewalk Labs filed its master plan for the project, revealing intentions for a much larger 350-acre district – a more ambitious proposal than the 15-acre neighborhood it had originally set to out build.
There have been some notable departures from the project, too, including a privacy consultant who resigned over concerns about how the company would handle residents’ data. An expert on Waterfront Toronto’s Digital Strategy Advisory Panel also resigned due to transparency concerns.
In October last year, the project entered a phase of consultations over privacy implications and other business practices. A decision was meant to be reached in March but the deadline was pushed back to June 25 due to the pandemic.
The announcement comes as Alphabet has pulled back on other real estate deals in the Bay Area. Google also said recently that it expects a “modest decrease” in capital expenditure for 2020 due to pandemic-related constraints.
Despite Quayside coming to an end, the company says it is still determined to push forward with other projects, including factory-made mass timber construction.
“While we won’t be pursuing this particular project, the current health emergency makes us feel even more strongly about the importance of reimagining cities for the future,” said Doctoroff.
“I believe that the ideas we have developed over the last two-and-a-half years will represent a meaningful contribution to the work of tackling big urban problems, particularly in the areas of affordability and sustainability. This is a vital societal endeavor, and Sidewalk Labs will continue our work to contribute to it.”
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