Google abandons plan to build tech city where smart streets would melt snow and sensors manage traffic


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Uncertainty in the real estate market of Toronto where it was planned has made the project unviable, Google affiliate Sidewalk Labs said.

Sidewalk Labs, a unit of Google’s parent company Alphabet, had been proposing to turn a rundown part of Toronto’s waterfront into a wired community but the project is no longer financially viable. (Illustration | Sidewalk Toronto)

Toronto: Google said Thursday it is abandoning its smart-city development in Toronto and blamed unprecedented economic uncertainty.

A unit of Google’s parent company Alphabet had been proposing to turn a rundown part of Toronto’s waterfront into a wired community, but Sidewalk Labs chief executive Dan Doctoroff said in a statement that it is no longer financially viable.

“As unprecedented economic uncertainty has set in around the world and in the Toronto real estate market, it has become too difficult to make the project financially viable without sacrificing core parts of the plan,” Doctoroff said.

Sidewalk Labs had partnered with a government agency known as Waterfront Toronto with plans to erect mid-rise apartments, offices, shops and a school on a 12-acre (4.9-hectare) site _ a first step toward what it hoped would eventually be a 800-acre (325-hectare) development.

Heated streets would have melted ice and snow on contact. Sensors would have monitored traffic and protected pedestrians, and driver-less shuttles would have carried people to their doors.

But some Canadians balked at the privacy implications of giving one of the most data-hungry companies on the planet the means to wire up everything from street lights to pavement. Changes were since made to make it more palatable but some celebrated Google’s decision to scrap it.

“This is a major victory for the responsible citizens who fought to protect Canada’s democracy, civil and digital rights, as well as the economic development opportunity,” said former BlackBerry chief executive Jim Balsillie, a smartphone pioneer. “Sidewalk Toronto will go down in history as one of the more disturbing planned experiments in surveillance capitalism.”

Doctoroff had said the company was not looking to monetize people’s personal information in the way that Google does now with search information. He had said the plan was to invent so-far-undefined products and services that Sidewalk Labs could market elsewhere.

Concerns in Canada intensified following a series of privacy scandals at Facebook and Google.