Alphabet’s ambitious smart city experiment, Sidewalk labs has received an approval to proceed with its smart city plan for the Canadian city of Toronto. The plan had generated a lot of controversy and criticism when it was pitched two years ago, and as such getting the green signal probably comes as a relief to Sidewalk – no pun intended.
However, the approval is conditional, as Alphabet will receive a smaller area than they initially proposed. The 12 acre project in Toronto’s Quayside district is being projected as the optimum amalgamation of smart thinking, sustainable design and technology leveraged in sync to create an urban city around the Toronto waterfront.
The fact that Sidewalk parent Alphabet also holds a subsidiary (A company known as Google!) which global technology behemoth and is integrated with most of the world population in one form or the other. Combined with Sidewalk, this has the potential to give Alphabet a frightening hold over the lives of people living in the smart city.
This possibility appeared to be quite threatening to a lot of anti-smart city advocates in Toronto and around the world. In fact, the criticism was so wide-spread that the entire project was on the verge of collapsing, posing serious threat to the existence of Sidewalk Labs, since Toronto was to be its debut project.
However, against all the odds, project has finally gained approval. Sidewalk and Waterfront Toronto have agreed to limit the scope of the Sidewalk development ensuring the company will work in collaboration with oversight agencies to build upon a 12-acre area adjoining Toronto’s parliamentary building.
Sidewalk Labs chief executive officer, Dan Doctoroff said:
We are encouraged by today’s decision by the Waterfront Toronto board and are pleased to have reached alignment on critical issues with Waterfront Toronto. We want to be a partner with Waterfront Toronto and governments to build an innovative and inclusive neighborhood.
However, Sidewalk will not be leading the charge for infrastructure implementation in the area, as it will be held and implemented by Waterfront Toronto.
After two years in Toronto and engaging and planning with over 21,000 Toronto residents, we are looking forward to the next round of public consultations, entering the evaluation process, and continuing to develop a plan to build the most innovative neighborhood in the world. We are working to demonstrate an inclusive neighborhood here in Toronto where we can shorten commute times, make housing more affordable, create new jobs, and set a new standard for a healthier planet.
Suspiciously, Sidewalk has not revealed it’s plans regarding the data which will undoubtedly be generated by the residents of the city and their visitors.
Privacy concerns are one of the low points of this project. To assuage concerns over this, Sidewalk even agreed to employ an independent trust solely to analyze and approve data collection in Quayside. However, expert Dr. Ann Cavoukian, wanted an anonymized entity to foresee the data collection and sidewalk did not agree to be represented by a third party.
Despite the threats to privacy, we can not overlook the importance of this project. Improved infrastructure with integrated technology, clean energy, traffic management and telecommunications could very well act as a role model for the cities of the future. All Sidewalk needs to do now, is strike a balance between leveraging technology and data to benefit the denizens of its model, smart city while also respecting their privacy.