Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs wants a cut of Toronto’s revenue to build out its vision of a futuristic data-driven smart city.
The project has been controversial from the start. Critics have been calling out the Google (GOOG) sister company and its partner Waterfront Toronto for lack of clarity around data collection and intellectual property.
Sidewalk Toronto is offering to help finance transit projects through the neighbouring Portlands area to speed up the process. Sidewalk Toronto says it should get a portion of developer fees and property taxes in exchange for developing the currently rundown area which is 30 times larger than the Quayside neighbourhood where Sidewalk Toronto plans to build its smart city
Sidewalk Toronto also says it could build a new Canadian headquarters on Villiers Island and a timber factory in Ontario to build help build the smart city — creating 4,000 jobs in the process.
Toronto Mayor John Tory told Yahoo Finance Canada the city hasn’t received a formal proposal but if and when it does it will be given full public scrutiny, subject to public consultation, and discussion.
“I believe innovation and technology can help improve our quality of life, help our city grow and help create jobs. Developing our waterfront in the right way is vitally important to the future of Toronto,” says Tory.
“Collectively, our job as governments, along with the waterfront corporation, is to make sure the Quayside project is done in a transparent manner that’s good for Toronto, good for the province, and good for Canada.”
Sidewalk labs CEO Don Doctoroff made the plans public in a post on Medium.
“We came to Toronto because we want to build great things and innovate in ways that improve urban life — and this is the only city in the world that has the mix of talent and tenacity to make this happen,” says Doctoroff.
Not everyone is buying the promises though.
“It still looks and sounds a lot like vaporware,” Jesse Hirsh, President of Metaviews, told Yahoo Finance Canada.
“Software developers and tech companies love to promise the world, but rarely are they able to deliver.”
Sidewalk Toronto says it doesn’t plan to take over the Portlands.
“Our proposed involvement in real estate development would be limited to Quayside and the western edge of Villiers Island — in large measure to prove out our belief that timber construction can help make a more affordable, sustainable, vibrant neighbourhood, and to deliver on our affordable housing goals,” says Doctoroff.
“We intend to undertake this development in tandem with local development partners, while recognizing that we will likely have to bear the primary risk for much of the innovation embedded into the plans.”
Hirsh isn’t buying it.
“They want to distract us with shiny new things and hope we don’t realize this is the privatization of urban environments one neighbourhood at a time,” says Hirsh.
“They promise fancy technology and innovation but the end result will be the (re)colonization of Toronto’s waterfront.”
Ontario also has not agreed to Sidewalk Toronto’s conditions. Shauna Brail — a member of the Sidewalk Advisory Council, told Yahoo Finance Canada the proposal represents a clarification of their business model, including how they propose to earn revenues, in large part by building infrastructure to create land value.”
That doesn’t mean the province will agree to Sidewalk Toronto’s terms.
“It’s also a negotiation. We do know that our governments have not committed the required funds to build, maintain and support Canadian cities. Therefore, as an exploration of another model – it presents a starting point. Will it lead to a productive negotiation? Possibly,” says Brail, associate professor of urban studies at the University of Toronto.