May 7, 2020 - Technology

Alphabet's Sidewalk Labs drops Toronto smart city project

A photo of Sidewalk Labs' Toronto office.

Sidewalk Labs' Toronto office. Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images

Sidewalk Labs, the urban tech segment of Google parent Alphabet, is pulling out of its long-planned smart city project for Toronto's waterfront, citing "unprecedented economic uncertainty."

Why it matters: The move suggests pursuing futuristic transformations may take a back seat as already strapped cities focus their resources on managing the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact.

Driving the news: "[A]s 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," Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff said in a Thursday blog post.

  • "And so, after a great deal of deliberation, we concluded that it no longer made sense to proceed with the Quayside project, and let Waterfront Toronto know yesterday," he continued.
  • Nevertheless, Doctoroff said the coronavirus crisis "makes us feel even more strongly about the importance of reimagining cities for the future" and suggested work will continue on various Sidewalk Labs projects aimed at deploying tech to make cities more affordable and sustainable.

Background: The project was meant to be a testbed for the smart city concept in North America, using tech for sophisticated construction processes and tapping an extensive network of connected sensors and devices to monitor and optimize everything from traffic patterns to energy use to housing density.

  • Sidewalk Labs last year said it planned to team with local partners to invest roughly $1.3 billion Canadian (roughly $931 million U.S. today) in developing the project.
  • But it has been plagued nearly since its 2017 inception with criticisms over privacy and other issues.

Go deeper: The privacy worries with smart cities

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