Smart cities are livable, accessible and human-centered communities where technology, innovation and sustainable use of resources intersect. And there is a growing interest in building smart cities around the globe. The investments into smart city initiatives globally were recorded at $81 billion in 2018 and investments are projected to double by 2022. Seventy percent of the population will be concentrated in urban areas by 2050. Smart city startups such as Sidewalk Labs Toronto are helping assess the technology, test policies and develop structures, laying the groundwork for the cities of the future.
Sidewalk Labs Toronto: Creating the Neighborhood of the Future
A smart city generally encompasses urban development programs for integrating data and technology to make communities habitable, connected and sustainable. But Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs Toronto has grander plans. By applying technology, innovation, and time-tested urban design, Sidewalk Labs Toronto aims to create smart cities that are quick to accommodate the evolving needs of its dwellers. Affordable housing, improved transportation options, and more livable public places are some of the challenges Sidewalk Labs Toronto seeks to address. Working alongside architecture firms Snøhetta and Heatherwick Studios, Sidewalk Labs proposes an expansion of the city’s light rail transit, heated pedestrian pathways, energy-efficient buildings, and affordable housing.
Sidetracked, But Now Getting Back on Track
The plan for a smart city project in Quayside, Toronto’s East Bayfront area, was unveiled in October 2017. The project—headed by Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff—is focused on making the area a greenhouse of urban innovations and technology. Currently, the Sidewalk Labs Toronto Master Innovation and Development Plan (MIDP) is being revised. Even amidst data privacy concerns and transparency issues, Sidewalk Labs Toronto is taking steps to engage the public.
So far, community involvement has taken the form of roundtables, panels, conferences, and demonstration of prototypes. Such steps were done with the intent to involve all stakeholders in developing a plan pleasing to all. Doctoroff appreciates the discussion around the project. He states, “We’re big believers that in order to create a successful project, particularly one that is new and different, you have to put ideas out there, you have to be willing to take the criticism…” The company revealed that the complete MIDP will be published by Spring, 2019. Clearly, Sidewalk Labs Toronto is taking decisive steps to get back on track.
Building Smart Cities: Urban Innovations Across the Globe
Obviously, with the rising demand for cities that combine technology, innovation, and sustainability, innovators are working on building smart cities across the globe. For example:
- Guangzhou, China partnered with CISCO and Plug and Play in building a smart city in its Panyu District. The $2.9 billion-project will cover a 3.2 square kilometer area housing various sectors under production, academics, research, business, and residence.
- Belmont City in Arizona is an $80 million-smart city. The 24,800-acre property will be a residential, commercial, retail and business space. Located just outside Phoenix, the project aims to create a 100 percent smart city equipped with cutting edge digital technologies, self-driving cars and state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities.
- Dubbed as the world’s most ambitious project, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has invested $500 billion in building NEOM. A project covering a vast 25,900 square kilometers, NEOM will include a bridge spanning the Red Sea. In addition, there will be an urban area stretching across Jordan and Egypt, and a private airport.
- In Gujarat, India, another Smart City project is taking shape. The Dholera Smart City project began in 2011 and is expected to be operational within the year. Featuring excellent connectivity and transportation, Dholera Smart City has railways, ports, highways and an international airport.
Historically, communities were formed as a response to a human’s need to be in a safe environment. Moreover, a community answers the need to share physical space and interact with other people. Therefore, by placing these needs at the fore, stakeholders are truly building smart cities of the future.