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Sidewalk Labs chooses Toronto for its high-tech urban district

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Announcement burnishes Canadian city’s reputation as growing tech hub


Sidewalk Labs, the urban innovation unit of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, announced during a press conference this afternoon that it will be working to develop a new high-tech urban district on Toronto’s waterfront, planting a flag in Canada’s largest city, a move that’s been expected for weeks.

The new 800-acre district on the shores of Lake Ontario, a massive new development in the Quayside neighborhood, was envisioned with the aim of “mixing people-centered urban design with cutting-edge technology.”

Sidewalk Labs will serve as the development’s innovation partner, working alongside Waterfront Toronto, a government-founded agency leading waterfront redevelopment. The company announced a $50 million investment in testing smart city technology today, making it the largest Google-related smart city project in the world, while Google announced it will move its Canadian headquarters to this neighborhood

The Eastern Waterfront area has been imagined as a new neighborhood that will be"climate positive"—emissions will be net zero—with 20 per cent of new housing designated as affordable.

In a press conference at the Toronto waterfront, Justin Trudeau and the Ontario Prime Minister Kathleen Wynne, as well as Dan Doctoroff, the head of Sidewalk Labs, discussed the district and its potential. Prime Minister Trudeau said it will help build “smarter, greener cities,” with technology scaling across Toronto and the world. He says the city’s greatest advantages are its open and optimistic citizenry.

“We know the world is changing,” he says. “We can either be afraid of it, or step up and embrace it.”

In his speech, and an op-ed published today in Toronto’s Globe & Mail, Doctoroff praised the city’s social openness, urbanist legacy, and booming tech scene. He name-checked Jane Jacobs, the famed New York urbanist who moved to Toronto, and quoted her great appreciation for the city.

A map of the new district
Sidewalk Labs

During the presentation, a video featuring Sidewalk Labs employees and Toronto citizens extolled the virtues of the city and its tech scene, and the unique opportunity to “redefine urban living.” Coming right before Amazon begins sorting through applications for its HQ2 project, the announcement raises the stock of the Canadian metropolis, which has recently seen its tech scene boom.

Sidewalk Labs, based in New York City, which operates with a stated goal of “reimagining cities from the Internet up,” has been involved in a number of smaller projects, including LinkNYC smart wifi hubs, which are spread out around New York City, and Flow, a new transit analysis platform.

Sidewalk Labs will host a town hall in Toronto on November 1 to discuss its plans with the community.