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Two years ago, Google created a startup called Sidewalk Labs to "accelerate innovation in cities around the world." The company has been weighing potential locations for a massive feasibility study that could be used as an example of what future cities could look like.

On Tuesday, Sidewalk Labs and the city of Toronto announced that they'll transform a section of the metropolis's waterfront. The project, called Sidewalk Toronto, will combine technology with innovative design to create a city center that's home to people and companies.

"This project," Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said during a press conference, "will become a model for others not only in Canada, but around the world."

Sidewalk Labs was created by Google in 2015, then spun out as a subsidiary. Former New York City deputy mayor Dan Doctoroff is the company's CEO.

"We have an opportunity," Doctoroff said in a video during the presentation, "to fundamentally redefine what urban life can actually be."

While the company scouted locations for the project last year, Doctoroff wrote that he envisioned the city of the future offering free Wi-Fi throughout, relying on sustainable energy, having automated trash systems, and being outfitted with self-driving cars in mind. These innovations, he said, could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds and save the average resident an hour each day, thanks largely to transportation improvements.

They would also put every resident within a short walk of green space, he wrote, since autonomous cars would require fewer street lanes and parking spaces.

Sidewalk Toronto will redevelop part of the city’s Port Lands into a technology-enhanced community
Waterfront Toronto revealed today it is partnering with Sidewalk Labs, a sister company of Google, to design a new kind of mixed-use, complete community on Toronto’s eastern waterfront.

The project – called Sidewalk Toronto – will be located in a new neighbourhood called Quayside, located in the Port Lands. It will combine forward-thinking urban design and new digital technology to create people-centred neighbourhoods that achieve precedent-setting levels of sustainability, affordability, mobility and economic opportunity.

The announcement was made at Corus Entertainment by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor John Tory, and featured remarks from Eric Schmidt, the executive chair of Google’s parent company Alphabet, as well as the head of Sidewalk Labs and representatives from Waterfront Toronto.

“A world leader in urban innovation, Sidewalk Labs will create a testbed for new technologies in Quayside – technologies that will help us build smarter, greener, more inclusive cities which we hope to see scaled across Toronto’s eastern waterfront and, eventually, in other parts of Canada and across the world,” Trudeau said at the event.

Trudeau added the project will “effectively transform Quayside into a thriving hub for innovation” and cited Geoffrey Hinton, a pioneer of deep learning and a University Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, as an example of the “innovative thinkers” Canada has to offer.

Hinton, who attended the announcement,  is also an engineering fellow at Google and heads the Silicon Valley company’s artificial intelligence research project in Toronto.

Sidewalk Toronto will include features such as an open digital infrastructure, flexible building designs and new modes of mobility. The project also seeks to be a place that encourages innovation around energy, waste and other urban environmental challenges. Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs will spend the next year holding extensive community consultations and long-range planning sessions, calling public engagement critical to the success of the project.

Will Fleissig, the CEO of Waterfront Toronto, put it bluntly: “We can co-create the neighbourhood of the future starting with the Quayside project.”

Schmidt noted that Google has been talking for years about finding a city where the company could implement its ideas and was increasingly aware that Canada “mattered an awful lot more than we in Silicon Valley thought,” thanks in part to pioneering research in machine learning and AI done in Toronto and Montreal – research that now forms the basis of the company.

Alphabet plans to move Google's Canadian headquarters to the eastern waterfront to anchor the new community.

“We believe it’s possible to accelerate urban innovation by creating a new type of place where cutting-edge technology and people-first design are built into the very foundation,” said Dan Doctoroff, the CEO of Sidewalk Labs. “This will be a place where new solutions can be launched, advanced and co-ordinated at scale.

“We looked all over the world for the perfect place to bring this vision to life, and we found it here in Toronto.”

Doctoroff went on to praise Toronto’s diversity and history of openness, noting the city has recently experienced a technology boom.

The announcement is proof that Toronto has become a magnet for international companies, drawn to the city’s economic strength and cultural diversity, said Shauna Brail, U of T's presidential adviser on urban engagement and director of the university's urban studies program.

“It highlights the position Toronto is in right now in terms of being able to attract innovative, exciting, interesting, dynamic firms that have the potential to also behave as city builders to help transform and improve our city,” she said.

Among the global technology firms that have recently grown their presence in Toronto are Facebook, Uber and Thomson Reuters. Toronto is also considered to be a contender for online retail giant Amazon’s second North American headquarters.
But the billionaire tech moguls will still live on their gazillion
acre estates with a fleet of cars at their disposal.