Footpath Labs — the urban innovation unit of Google parent company Alphabet — may be close to a deal to build a high-tech neighbourhood on Toronto’s waterfront.
Called Quayside, the 12-acre project is expected to cost at least $US1 billion and will prioritise smart city technologies, according to The Wall Street Journal. Approval from the city of Toronto could happen as early as this month.
If plans move forward, the neighbourhood would serve as a huge testing ground for Footpath Labs’ urban planning experiments ideas.
Though details of the plan are still unclear, Footpath Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff, a former New York City deputy mayor, has hinted at what the company would like to see in a city. He has often spoken about how self-driving cars, embedded sensors that track energy usage, machine learning, and high-speed internet could improve urban environments.
Footpath, founded in 2015 by Doctoroff and Alphabet CEO Larry Page, has been looking for over a year for a fitting place to build a large-scale district. One of its earliest and most visible smart-city efforts was replacing phone booths with public WiFi kiosks in Manhattan.
In October 2016, the company announced that it would partner with national advocacy group Transportation For America to help 16 cities, including Austin, Texas, Washington, DC, integrate technologies into their public spaces. Earlier that year, The Information reported Footpath Labs was moving ahead with “Project Footpath,” a plan to create a district to trial its urban technologies — which now sounds a lot like the Toronto plan.
The deal would comes a little over a month after e-commerce giant Amazon said it will spend $US5 billion to build a second headquarters in a North American city. Toronto is a contender, along with over 50 other cities. In September, Toronto Mayor John Tory said he plans to submit a bid to Amazon.
Doctoroff has said that he believes that technology can contribute to a better quality of life for residents, businesses, and governments. In a recent interview with CityLab, he said he believes technology could help cities ease zoning and building code rules through performance-based data — which could be used to create more opportunities for housing.
“Whereas today we might say you cannot have a music studio next to senior housing, someday we might be able to say that you can do whatever you want as long as noise never exceeds a certain level. But we will always have to come to these decisions in a democratic way,” Doctoroff told CityLab.