Heated sidewalks and roads that light up to indicate traffic flow and obstacles were aspects of Google sister firm Sidewalk Labs’ publicly released, long-awaited master plan for a “smart city” neighbourhood it wants to build on Toronto’s waterfront.

Sidewalk Labs said Monday that its $1.3-billion plan for the Toronto neighbourhood was developed after 18 months of speaking with more than 21,000 Toronto residents.

Last week, the firm’s 1,524-page draft “Master Innovation and Development Plan” was delivered to Waterfront Toronto, a tri-government agency that is partnering with the private firm on the project.

Together, Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs want to develop the 12-acre plot of land Waterfront Toronto calls the Quayside into primarily residential units. But there are also plans to develop approximately 190-acres beyond the area which would include an “urban innovation campus” for startups and a new Google Canada headquarters.

The streets in the area would feature video cameras and sensors whose data would be collected and monitored by an independent trust, which Sidewalk Labs claims will notice inefficiencies and make urban life more efficient.

Sidewalk Labs CEO Daniel Doctoroff told reporters their proposal aims to “dramatically” reduce carbon emissions by nearly 90 per cent.

"Our proposal aims to ... create a new model of inclusive growth, where cutting-edge technology and forward-thinking urban design combine to achieve an ambitious improvement in every aspect of the way we live,” he said during a presentation.

In March, Sidewalk Labs gave a glimpse of several other high-tech “smart city” prototypes that included heated sidewalks to help reduce ice and snow buildup and so-called “building raincoats” that would shield pedestrians from cold weather or rain.

Instead of concrete roads, the neighbourhood streets would have removable roadway tiles each designed to be porous enough to allow water down into the area’s specialized-designed stormwater management system.

The removable road tiles also have a lighting system that would adjust based on high traffic, construction, bikes and special events.



Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. owns Sidewalk Labs, whose stated goal is to improve urban infrastructure by using technology and improving energy consumption, cost of living and ease of transportation.

Matti Siemiatycki, the interim director of for the School of Cities at University of Toronto, noted part of the plan’s aim to create more efficient materials involved buildings using genetically-engineered “tall timber,” but this would require changes to existing building municipal regulations.

Overall, he said a piecemeal approach piloting different technologies could be “effective.”

He noted that people within the neighbourhood might consent to their data being collected from the area’s cameras but people passing through might not, and the company would need to figure out how to thread the needle.

Despite the written proposal, Siemiatycki said Sidewalk Labs still has to explain how the data would be collected by the firm and its artificial intelligence systems.

Sidewalk Labs’ director of public realm Jesse Shapins told CTVNews.ca that the creeping influence of A.I. into people’s lives is prompting “important questions (that) we as a society have to be asking.”

“It’s focusing on where AI can be the most useful,” he said. “Things like understanding all the energy that’s being used in a neighbourhood at one time and trying to optimize that use to reduce energy demands and have less greenhouse gas emissions.”

Shapins added, “when you’re thinking about a public space, in many ways, the things that make (them) most remarkable is how inefficient they are.”

He added their proposal allows for public spaces to be open enough for people to use them however they choose.

The project has been mired by delays, resignations and critics arguing the collection of data could create intellectual property policy issues and infringe on the privacy of the people moving through the neighbourhood.

But before shovels can be put into the ground to start the project, it has to be approved by not only Waterfront Toronto but other levels of local government.

Doctoroff stressed that they could meet these government approvals because Sidewalk Labs has a “compelling vision” and have demonstrated they’d “put the hard work in.”

In about three weeks, the tri-government agency will also hold its first round of public consultations based on the development plan, which Sidewalk Labs likely hopes will quiet some advocates calling for transparency in the process.

With a file from The Canadian Press