Sidewalk Labs – Toronto Reverse Case Study for Google

By | July 3, 2022
smart city toronto

Sidewalk Labs Model Reverse Case Study in Toronto

Nice article from MIT Technology Review on Toronto “Killing” The Smart City (as Sidewalk Labs tried to formulate it)

In Brief

  • Toronto announced plans for new development
  • Same area where Sidewalk Labs wanted to prove concept
  • In May 2020 Google walked away…
  • Privacy – far less tolerance in Canada for private companies harvesting personal data
  • Of historical note IBM coined the phrase Smart City
  • New iteration focuses on natural world instead of techno-efficiency
  • emphasis on wind and rain and birds and bees rather than data and more data
  • “It’s not a smart city,” he concludes. “It’s a city that’s smart.”


Sidewalk’s big idea was flashy new tech. This unassuming section of Toronto was going to become a hub for an optimized urban experience featuring robo-taxis, heated sidewalks, autonomous garbage collection, and an extensive digital layer to monitor everything from street crossings to park bench usage.

Had it succeeded, Quayside could have been a proof of concept, establishing a new development model for cities everywhere. It could have demonstrated that the sensor-­laden smart city model embraced in China and the Persian Gulf has a place in more democratic societies. Instead, Sidewalk Labs’ two-and-a-half-year struggle to build a neighborhood “from the internet up” failed to make the case for why anyone might want to live in it.

By May 2020, Sidewalk had pulled the plug, citing “the unprecedented economic uncertainty brought on by the covid-19 pandemic.” But that economic uncertainty came at the tail end of years of public controversy over its $900 million vision for a data-rich city within the city.

More Posts