It must be said that as far as technology goes, Google has made an enormous impact in many areas of the average person’s life. But perhaps not the most important ones. 3D and smart televisions exist, as well as smartphones advanced enough allow us to do everything from sending emails to playing Blackjack anywhere we choose, and at any time. But, imagine if technology was linked to all aspects of life. What if sensors monitored the air quality of an entire city? What if garbage collection was monitored, with public reports being made monthly on efficiency? What if traffic was monitored on every level, at all times?
This is the city that is being created by Sidewalk Labs. And if that name doesn’t ring a bell, all you really need to know is that Google owns them. This future city is what is in development on the Toronto Eastern waterfront, and sounds like something to be impressed by. But the project is already controversial, and it hasn’t even officially started yet.
The concepts of the city design are interesting, especially given the extent of some of the design choices. Heated bike paths and side walks are on the drawing boards, which aim to melt snow, and negate any need for shovelling services. Retractable canopies are planned, which extend to protect pedestrians from rain. It all sounds like a dream come true. So why are some already unhappy about the project?
According to Toronto’s deputy mayor, Denzil Minnan-Wong, there are already concerns with the whole idea, even before it’s gotten off the ground. In an interview with the BBC he raised questions about the data that Sidewalk says it will be collecting via its multiple sensors, and what exactly it will be used for.
Sidewalk responded by saying that the data collected will be open to the public, and will be used to efficiently run the city. Mr Minnan-Wong pointed out that Sidewalk has yet to even disclose the agreement it has struck with Waterfront Toronto, which calls into question exactly how open Sidewalk is being about any of its plans.
An Enormous, Shady Project
The ‘Waterfront Toronto’ referred to by Mr Minnan-Wong is the organisation responsible for revitalising the Toronto Waterfront, which negotiated with Sidewalk about its construction project. He pointed out that the size of land allocated for the project is still unclear, with rumours saying that the initial project will cover 12 acres, but may expand to an astronomical 325 acres in time.
The point Mr Minnan-Wong made, however, is that the exact numbers are not known. And Sidewalk doesn’t seem to be keen on revealing the details. He told BBC that he fears the whole project is nothing more than a play by Sidewalk, and by extension Google, to take charge of what could be very valuable real estate.
A City Of The Future
Sidewalk, of course, insists that they only intend on building a city ‘from the Internet up’ that they hope will guide the rest of the world. They have much to say about promoting healthier living for the residents of their new city, which will not only experience a better way to live, but also a more fun way too. From self-driving taxis to roadways designed with bicycles in mind, the city does sound like it could change the way people live. If indeed that is what comes out of the project.
Since construction has not even started, and there has been no announcement of when the city may be finished, it is simply a matter of waiting and watching what happens on the Toronto Waterfront.