Can a tech company build a city? Ask Google

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Google’s parent company known as “Alphabet” owns an urban innovation startup company known as “Sidewalk Labs”, which has announced an agreement of partnership with the City of Toronto for developing a quayside precinct. With such a huge project in hand, I think it is about time that we ask Google, Can they build cities?

The new waterfront precinct is dubbed as “Sidewalk Toronto” which is a 500 hectare sandpit for testing a suite for new and innovative technological gizmos. The aim of Google’s project is to thoroughly re-imagine the manner in which a city is made.

Sidewalk Labs, even with only a fraction of ideas that can work at their disposal, will be able to expand the possibilities of “technology-based urbanism” to towering heights than many middle-of-the-road smart city blueprints or strategies.  I suggest that any city even lightly interested in using tech to smarten their cities should be paying sharp attention.

Got to learn more from smart city fiasco

Sidewalk Toronto closely like a phoenix plans to be born out of the ashes of the collapsed smart city. The idea behind the formation of smart cities is to make cities more efficient, sustainable and livable through better use of communication and information technologies. Though the idea is brilliant and promises a lot of beneficial things, the reason of their failure is that it has not been able to deliver much in this context.

Dongtan (China) and Songdo (South Korea) are the two big examples of smart cities failures. They are the epitome of the hard-hitting fact that the better cities cannot be built just out of a technical mainframe. Although the cities have become technologically smarter, but people residing in them can still not call them as their home.

Many big corporate giants like Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, etc have learnt that it is not that simple to redeploy large-scale massive operating systems which are presently used by these big organizations into the complex urban environment.

Cities are chaotic structures, with heady blend of legacy infrastructural space, Privatized utilities, public authorities which are resources constrained and the highly opinionated voting public. All these ingredients add up t prove that it is almost impossible to create a data platform which can operate at such a scale which is required to produce efficient outcomes.

We see that what this project has delivered to us is in the name of the prototypes of smart lights and smart parking

Re-imagining city from the viewpoint of Internet

Sidewalk labs, instead of selling clunky operating systems to fit in the legacy infrastructure with new data pints, is building products which according to it will change the way in which citizens use their city. The data created from the use of these products by the people will be owned and monetized by the company itself.

Smart cities were focused on upgrading what we already have but Sidewalk Labs is focused on the root-core of how do people behave in the cities. For example, Smart city systems will help you in finding an empty parking space but with the Google’s model you will be introduced with a new pricing strategy that will lower the cost of parking for the people who travel further, also penalizing those who could have walked.

No point of “US” and “Them”

Sidewalk Toronto is an epitome for other cities to follow in its footsteps. Sidewalk Labs sees it as an idea for brining together the “Urbanites” and “Technologists” who can’t get along. Integration of technologists and urbanites will lead in efficient product planning.


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