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Alphabet, Toronto Partner to Create Tech-Infused Neighborhood

The company’s urban design arm is helping the city to redevelop a 12-acre, mixed-use neighborhood with smart city technologies.

(TNS) -- A subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet is taking a lead role in redeveloping Toronto’s waterfront into a technology-infused urban neighborhood of the future, Canadian leaders announced Tuesday.

Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs, an urban design firm in New York, won a bid to partner with a redevelopment agency to create Sidewalk Toronto, a 12-acre mixed-use smart city neighborhood on part of that city’s massive, 800-acre project to redevelop the waterfront area.

Alphabet pledged $50 million toward an initial planning phase with Waterfront Toronto, a multiagency organization, and agreed to relocate its Canadian headquarters from another part of the city to anchor the site, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a news conference.

Trudeau joined Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt and Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor John Tory to introduce the project.

Trudeau painted a picture of a neighborhood that will be “smarter, greener, more inclusive” and a model for communities around the world “that our kids and grandkids are going to inhabit.”

“This will create a test bed for new technologies,” Trudeau said.

Alphabet launched Sidewalk Labs in 2015 to reimagine urban design “from the Internet up.” Sidewalk Labs, which built a large free Wi-Fi network in New York called LinkNYC, won a bid with Waterfront Toronto to help design a neighborhood named Quayside, on port land southeast of downtown.

Architectural drawings that Sidewalk released show a neighborhood with tree-lined pedestrian paths and waterways, with buses and possibly self-driving cars on surface roads and autonomous cargo vehicles operating in underground tunnels. Planners hope for a self-driving shuttle, as well as traffic lights that give priority to pedestrians and cyclists.

Sidewalk was looking for a place to build a model community in which “cutting-edge technology and people-first design are built into the very foundation.” Doctoroff said. “We believe we can demonstrate to the world how to make living in cities cheaper, more convenient, healthier, greener, fairer and maybe even more exciting.”

The project aims to be a hub for innovation in fields like energy savings and environmental protection. Buildings will be modular to fit different uses, and they will have sensors to monitor noise or other pollution.

Toronto has worked for more than 15 years to revitalize the postindustrial waterfront, including areas of derelict buildings, polluted lands, parking lots and warehouses that were seemingly cut off from the rest of the city by a highway, according to Matti Siemiatycki, a University of Toronto associate professor of geography and planning and a former member of the Waterfront Toronto board. It’s not unlike San Francisco’s waterfront before the old Embarcadero Freeway was demolished, he said.

Although the revitalization was already under way, “it felt for a long time that Toronto has been on the cusp of something,” he said. “This announcement about Sidewalk and one of the first sort of big-scale district developments is an affirmation for the city that this is a place that really is coming on the map globally.”

Moreover, Toronto is bidding against other cities to land Amazon’s second headquarters. Landing Google “bodes well” for the city’s bid to “attract other big players like Amazon,” Siemiatycki said.

©2017 the San Francisco Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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