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Building a city from the internet up

There has been a lot of exciting tech + urbanism news this week in Toronto. Uber announced that it’s building a new artificial intelligence team in the city and it came out that Sidewalk Labs (Alphabet company) had responded to an RFP put out by Waterfront Toronto. 

The RFP, which closed at the end of last month, was to find an “innovation and funding partner” for the 12-acre Quayside precinct shown above in purple. It’s the first parcel of the “eastern waterfront.” (Click here if you’d like to download a copy of the actual Request for Proposal.)

These days, it’s easy to be cynical about these sorts of announcements. Every day you hear about some new innovation center or tech hub. But what’s perhaps unique about this one is that Sidewalk Labs is thinking crazier than most and they have the financial backing that crazy sometimes needs.

If you’re not at all familiar with Sidewalk Labs, I suggest you read this post about how the company wants to build cities “from the internet up.” It’s by their CEO, Daniel L. Doctoroff. 

Not surprisingly, they are thinking about everything from automated trash systems and autonomous vehicles (including their impact on built form, cost of living, productivity, etc.) to exchange-based thermal grids and more cost effective construction methods. And it’s not just about the technology. It’s about marrying tech + urbanism.

Also interesting is their model of setting up a “hyper-focused labs”, which are each run by entrepreneurs-in-residence. These internal labs are focused on things like housing affordability, the health challenges faced by low-income city residents, and so on. 

It’s all very exciting. So let’s ensure this moves forward and let’s hope Sidewalk Labs keeps thinking crazy. Toronto is ready to lead and show the world how a city built from the internet up should perform.

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