On Toronto’s Eastern waterfront, a new digital city is being built by Sidewalk Labs, a company owned by Google, the parent of the Alphabet.
It is hoped that the project will become a model for 21st Century urban planning.
But the case has been controversial, which is one of the biggest ever tie-ups between a city and a large corporation.
And that, coupled with the fact that the company in question is one of the largest tech companies in the world, is the cause of some uncomfortable.
Sidewalk Labs promises to transform the old waterfront area into a bustling mini metropolis, one built “from the internet”, although there is no timetable for when the city will actually be built.
Dan Doctoroff, the company’s head, and the former vice-mayor of New York, told the BBC that the project was “on the creation of healthier, safer, more convenient and more fun life”.
“We want this to be a model of what urban life can be in the 21st Century,” he said.
The area will have a lot of sensors for traffic data collection, noise and air quality and monitoring the performance of the electrical network and waste collection.
And that has led some in the city, including Toronto deputy mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, to the question exactly what Sidewalk is hoping to achieve.
“What data will be collected and what is it going to be used? They are real and prescient issues for the city of Toronto,” he told the BBC.
Sidewalk Labs told the BBC that the sensors will not be used to monitor and collect information on citizens, rather it will be used to allow governments to be flexible about the way in which the neighborhoods are used.Park with four seasons under one roofAre slums the most intelligent of the city?Nightmare Vision of the urban futureRead all of the BBC’s Tomorrow’s Cities coverage
Mr. Minnan-Wong is also concerned by the fact that the company has not been very open with his own data.
“Sidewalk talks about open data, but since the beginning, the only thing they are not making public their agreement with the Toronto Waterfront.”
Waterfront Toronto is the organization responsible for the revitalization of the area around the port town.
Initially Sidewalk to the organization of the coverage of 12 hectares, but it is believed it wishes to expand this to the entire area – which 325 acres will be a huge land-grab.
“The idea that the earth we are talking about, even something as fundamental as the one that is not clear,” said Mr. Minnan-Wong.
“Is this a real estate play, or is this a technology project? We don’t know.”
It is not the only one questioning how the deal was made.
Writing on the news website The Conversation, Mariana Valverde, law and urban researcher at the University of Toronto, said: “The people of Google have not approached the town as usual, highly regulated, but have been negotiating, in secret, with the dependency of the Toronto Waterfront.
“The city staff, who have noted that their waterfront planning experts have not been consulted, have recently raised important questions concerning the potential conflicts between the ambitions of Google and public laws and policies.
“For example, the city has a fair procurement policy that would not allow it to let a large u.s. company, and any kind of monopoly.”Metro bots
The cabinet has some pretty radical ideas of the city, including:Self-driving cars controlled by the app – be the backbone of the neighborhood transportThe reinvention of buildings through a concept known as The Loft of the solid structures (wood, not steel), but soft interiors as well, the use might be modified according to the needsControl of the weather to encourage citizens to make the most of outdoor space, plastic retractable awnings will shelter people from the rain, while heating the pedestrian and bicycle trails will melt the snow
For its part, the Sidewalk insists on the fact that this year is going to be all about the consultation, the city leaders, local decision makers and the community as a whole, to ensure that what is done in Toronto, it is something that “significantly improves the life”.
Mr. Minnan-Wong, who had not personally participated in two public meetings Pavement has taken place so far, is not convinced.
“I’ve heard that the encounters are very clever productions, but they do not go far in addressing the concerns expressed by members of the public, who want to know the details of what is in the agreement.”
“Is Sidewalk to talk about what he wants to talk about it or what the public wants to talk about it?”
What is clear is that the green will be at the top of the agenda, with plans for more eco-friendly building materials which will be built in a factory to cut down on the need for a messy construction site. This would create the Sidewalk described as “the set of neighbourhoods of low-cost, faster to build housing”.
Sensors that help to separate waste for recycling, anaerobic digestion for composting to significantly reduce waste in landfills.
It is also planning a pilot project to assist tenants to reuse the so-called gray water – water from bathroom sinks, showers, tubs, and washing machines.The planners against the technologists
Mr. Doctoroff is not naïve about the challenges of creating such a city.
“The most difficult part of this will be the integration of innovation and urbanization, and there is a huge gap between the urban planners -the people who govern and plan cities and technologists.”
“Building a team that can do both, it is difficult.”
But he thinks that the Sidewalk is in a unique position to provide this urban blend of innovation firm that combines the expertise of Google engineers with the heads of government.
In the framework of the planning process of the call for tenders to develop the site at the water’s edge, the firm looked at 150 examples of smart cities, including those built from the ground up, such as the Masdar, in Abu Dhabi and Songdo in South Korea.
“One of the mistakes that previous cities have done, it is the idea that you can plan something from the top. This is not how cities evolve organically.”
Mr. Doctoroff is a big fan of Jane Jacobs, an urban planner who has fled New York to live in Toronto and spent his life to encourage cities to improve their shared spaces.
She once said: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because and only when, they are created by everybody.”
If the Google company in the city of experiment will fulfill this promise is the one many will be watching with interest.