June 22, 2018
Freakenomics recently aired an episode entitled “How to Build a Smart City”. Host Steven Dubner interviews Sidewalk Labs CEO, Dan Doctoroff on the proliferation of cities and how to make them better through modernization. Doctoroff’s quest to build smart cities began at the helm of New York City’s bid for the Olympic games under Mayor Bloomberg. While NYC ultimately lost the bid, the city still benefited from the efforts required to appeal to the IOC (International Olympic Committee). One of the lasting legacies of these efforts includes the newly revitalized High Line which draws thousands of visitors from all over the world each day.
Doctoroff now leads Sidewalk Labs in his current chapter of city shaping. Sidewalk Lab’s mission is to use technology to shape 21st century urban life. Current population trends negate previous assumptions that people wanted to move out of cities when in fact millions are flocking to the world’s urban centers. Current infrastructure and housing models cannot sustainably support these population booms. Some of the gravest challenges cities face include long commutes, high rents and fewer economic opportunities. Doctoroff and Alphabet think technology (IoT in particular) is the best solution.
Sidewalk Labs, owned by Alphabet, decided to actually build a smart city. They chose Toronto.
Why Toronto? Toronto is one of the fastest growing cities in North America and one of the most diverse large cities in the world. Because it’s growing so fast, there’s increasing pressures on affordability and mobility. This creates opportunity challenges for lower income people as they get pushed out of the city and thus into the periphery. However, Toronto is very open to new approaches to remain inclusive and to become the world’s smartest city.
Sidewalk Labs is using Toronto as its laboratory for every urban system. The company is re-designing Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront district. They aim to leverage technology to “bend the curve” on quality of life metrics.
Sidewalk Labs identified that traditional automobile infrastructure is one of the biggest problems plaguing urban districts. Nearly 30-40% of the land in North American cities is devoted to parking, roadways or infrastructure that support cars. With areas zoned for autonomous vehicles, Doctoroff believes we can increase urban density for housing and land dedicated for public spaces. Autonomous vehicles will also improve public safety.
IoT will play a major role in Sidewalk Labs’ efforts in Toronto. Their website states, “Better data integration, combined with more accessible community hubs that offer a variety of local services, enable a comprehensive approach to social and community services that delivers better outcomes to people at lower cost.”
It will be interesting to see these smart city ideas come to life in Toronto and scale around the world!