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Google Is Building a City of the Future – Would Anyone Want to Live There? (politico.com)
114 points by cpeterso 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 135 comments



I live in Toronto.

The problem with companies like Alphabet / Google / Sidewalk Labs building mini-cities is twofold.

First, they lack the internal focus so they flake or sacrifice on things that no sane singular focussed entity would. For example Craig Nevill-Manning, head of Sidewalk Labs flaked on his talk at The Walrus' 15th year anniversary party titled The Walrus Talks The Future. This was a paid event, full of Canadian cultural elites, specifically aimed at talking about the future. "When someone shows you who they are believe them." If they cared about what we thought they would actually engage the people here that care.

Second, they try to leverage existing internal competencies. Completely understandable, but it warps the outcome to solution mixes that aren't necessarily optimal for the people actually living in the city. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I don't want to live in a city where a techno-hammer international corporation has hammered its copentenczies here and there. I want to live in a human city where little decisions are made by little people. I want to live in a city where flowers hang from windows and where theres little bike paths and a nice mix of trees. Cobblestone streets. Community gardens and little shops and restaurants. Some Chinese, some French, some Italian.

I'm not saying Google is necessary going to fuck up that area of Toronto. It might be great. But it's such a large project that I worry that it risks being another CityPlace. A soulless pocket mark on a diverse and increasingly interesting city.


As someone who lives in CityPlace, it's actually a pretty awesome area to live for young professionals. Right smack downtown, close to pretty much everything - work/offices, parks, bars/restaurants, delivery (same day Amazon Prime, all downtown restaurants on Uber Eats), transit, walking distance to every major sports arena, etc.

Not to mention massive growth in the area has lead to a lot of attention and investment from the city... seems to only be getting better every year.

No idea where you got the idea that it was "soulless"? Perhaps because it is a relatively new development/area... there is massive construction going up everywhere in the area including 2 new schools and community center right in the middle of canoe landing park: http://urbantoronto.ca/news/2017/09/cityplace-finally-gettin...


As someone who lives near CityPlace I've got to say that area is the most culturally sterile in the whole downtown core. That block is called the "vertical suburbs" for a reason. Everything's convenient...if your tastes are bland. Everything's within reach...if you go outside your neighbourhood for some actual culture or variety. It's a great place to live if you want to keep to yourself, and occasionally become involved in the local scene. It's not immersive like many vibrant neighbourhoods are, where you're an intrinsic part of the community.

Planned cities always fail. Those that are allowed to grow organically, evolving to fit the community's needs if and when demand builds, work out much better in the long run.

The difference between an area like, for example, Trinity Bellwoods and CityPlace is a lot more than the few hundred meters of distance. It's culturally night and day.


What a load of hand-waving. "Planned cities always fail?" You mean like Chicago? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burnham_Plan_of_Chicago


Manhattan was "planned" inasmuch as the grid system was created, but the exact character of each neighborhood wasn't laid down in advance. Defining "planned" is a matter of drawing a line on a spectrum, so there's a lot of arguments possible here.

What I mean is to compare Manhattan, which was loosely planned, with Levittown (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levittown), rigidly planned, which was the original planned city and the grandfather of overly aggressive city planning. Later this evolved into the dystopian monstrosities envisioned by urban megalomaniacs like Le Corbusier such as Ville Radieuse (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ville_Radieuse) which would have been so utterly unliveable.

He honestly should have stuck to architecting open-air prisons and slaughterhouses.

Even Manhattan got bludgeoned by overly aggressive planning in the 1950s and 1960s when tyrants like Robert Moses were involved.

Creating great urban spaces takes a lot of patience, care, and most of all, a willingness to let the city grow as it wants to, not as you intend it to.


Not sure why you hate planned cities so much.

I probably come from a much different land (India), where chaos and organic growth is the norm for cities 4000-5000 years old. However, my favorite city is Chandigarh, a city planned by the "meglaniac" le corbusier. It is a serene small town very uncharacteristic of India, with clean well planned roads, greenery, law and order abiding population (you don't know Indian drivers, but they follow laws in Chandigarh). I pin all this down to the planned nature of Chandigarh which allows city planners to control and mould how the city should look and be.

I'm not perfectly clear why you'd prefer an unplanned chaos over planned orderly city. In contrast to Chandigarh, the city I originate from is a centuries old city which has grown "naturally", and doesn't even have sewage (and Indus valley civilization had them 5000 years ago).

Not that there is a lack of "soul" or "culture" in Chandigarh, the planned aspect covers making sure the traffic doesnt crawl, there is enough greenery, and utilities and amenities are provided to the population.


Not having sewage is this case an Indian problem, not problem of 'organic' cities.


Chicago existed long before the burnham plan, and even then only parts of it were implemented. Large parts of it were a success, but I would not consider these equivalent city planning efforts


Chicago was always highly planned and engineered, starting from the original street grid, to raising the street level, etc. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/410050.html.


The core of most old American cities are fantastic places, Chicago included.


CityPlace is convenient enough. I would say the problem of CityPlace is that it is wedged between Gardiner Expressway and railroad, with only two ins and outs via Fort York blvd and that contributes to its relative isolation. Liberty Village has a similar problem albeit less pronounced due to its larger size.


Liberty Village is a moderate failure to encourage local culture, and the only reason it's not bleak and desolate is the historical Village area to the west. CityPlace isn't a community so much as it is a way of fitting the maximum number of concrete boxes into a given space as permitted by zoning laws. Culture wasn't even a consideration.

Compare with the King St. W. projects where the buildings try and augment the community instead of stomp and supplant it. These new buildings have created opportunities for new businesses to take root and thrive.

Despite having a considerable population, it's slim pickings around the condos in CityPlace. Unless you like Starbucks, dry cleaning, and an astonishingly boring pub you're out of luck.


I lived in CityPlace for over two years. The apartment itself was great. Fast internet, reliable guards / mail delivery. Nice BBQ area. I even used the football area.

My problem was once they started filling up the commercial areas downstairs. They were almost all kinda blah. The automotive-first design also made the area kinda sterile and windy. I used a bike, but most friends that visited felt like it was a part of Toronto that felt completely disjoint from the rest of it. Plus the bridge between the two buildings is so tacky and ugly. The area with the canoe is ugly. The "art" they put up is the type of garbage that makes it out of a committee. They could have engaged real artists. The look of the buildings themselves don't really bother me as much as they bother some other people, but they don't add a ton of architectural value to the city and their proximity to the rail yard makes them even more desolate from nice places.


CityPlace has gotten much better as retail has improved in the last year or so. A new Ramen place just opened up, as well as Bubble Tea place, a decent barber shop, a marijuana dispensary, a coffee shop, etc. More restaurants and retail places are coming as well now that most of the major construction is completing and the bottom floor retail spots are for rent.

Otherwise it's great for having a gym/pool/parking in your building which was the main draw for living there. But I'm not under any illusion it's a great cultural neighbourhood in itself. But regardless it's a 2min bike ride to King St W, 2 more to Queen St W, not far from Trinity, next to Spadina streetcar line, and Queens Quay waterfront. Walking distance to 75% of downtown tech companies.

Plus it's right off the highway making it easy to visit family in the country.

City place has many benefits and has improved, but it is what it is.

Renting a floor of a half renovated Victorian house or above a store on a main street has plenty of it's own downsides as well. Not to mention having to use a dirty packed Goodlife gym or public pool.


Good to know. I'll try to check it out next time I'm there. Is that where you're living these days? If so, let's grab ramen next time we're catching up! :)


The problem is that everybody wants to live in a different city. So you'll end up with a compromise, or something like Brasilia if you let the planners get away with it.

Nice cities grow organically, they're not planned at all, and it takes a long time for them to get that organic feel.


I think you can find a medium: designing a city around the idea of “seeding” organic growth, defining the broad spaces to be filled in by organic development, and then responding to that development to shape the city’s growth constructively. Basically, more gardening than city planning.


Barcelona's new city (planned development after the walls came down) is far more livable than what, say, Seattle has become.


Barcelona is a happy exception to the rule, and also the planning was done long enough ago that in the meantime organic elements have taken root again.

Also, don't underestimate Gaudi's ability to design the organic look right into a brand new building.

Great story here by the way:

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/apr/01/story-cities-...

I absolutely love Barcelona, it is one of the nicest places in the world in part due to the work done to give it its character and in part because of the unique setting it is in.


Barcelona solved its problems by knocking down walls. Seattle is walled in by water - it's a different sort of problem.


Most maybe grow that way, but it seems like most are preserved through intervention. Architectural review boards with emphasis on preserving historical features, etc.


Is the city you're talking about producible from the sum of little decisions by little people? Having seen some planned cities, I'm quite dubious that unstructured market access can lead to the same levels of city infastructural efficacy and pedestrian ergonomics, versus the planned cities of the US.

I have a feeling that centralization alone, whether performed by a (problematic) monopolist Irvine company, or done by a town council, makes a huge difference in quality. The charming picture-perfect towns with small shops and red brick churches with abundant leisurely strolling are likely very carefully constructed and enforced.


It's a bit awkward to attack Google for presumptively removing self-determination for "little people" after you start by criticizing a Googler for dissing "cultural elites". How dare they think they know what's best for you people! Only the designated elites know what's best for you people!

I'm not a particular fan of Google, I'm just saying if I lived in Toronto, my response would be shrug. You lived through Rob Ford, right? Was he a member of the "cultural elite"?


The reality is that there are people that spend all day researching things like urban planning and how to foster a more culturally diverse city. They tend to be more learned and more engaged. It's not that they are the only people that matter, and they're far from a tiny elite, but they tend to make cities better for everyone.

I'm not in that group of people. I don't spend my time researching elevated bike lanes vs physically separated ones. My business partner does, and I like to support him, but I know my areas of interest: Cybersecurity and data science. To me cultural elites are little people. They're well read, but they don't universally have power or money. Just an eye to what would make a better city and some time to try to make things better in their own way.


I'm not sure I follow. I'm not sure (obviously) what "cultural elites" are to you, but I certainly wouldn't have thought that urban planners were an example.


So... you don't want it to become Vancouver in other words.


@brailsafe, would you mind to explain a bit more why Vancouver is like this?


I was being a bit facetious here, but there is some truth to it. Though I can't pinpoint exactly why, Vancouver seems to have have developed into a very sanitized and homogeneous place. I don't know whether it's the cost of living or how many identical skyscrapers have been copy/pasted by the same developer, or how many swaths of older buildings and cultural landmarks have been bought up (or attempted to be bought up in the case of the Rio Theatre) and demolished to make way for very similar looking high rises. Many of these things seem to be coming together to subtract from any sense of character that the city might have had. My sense is that a sense of place is much stronger in various subcultures like skateboarding, but I think there is a stronger tendency for people to meet through an activity and then part ways only to schedule a new meeting a month later. It's a city that is simultaneously one of the most ethnically diverse places around, and culturally bland/white/rich/tasteless/pretentious/nofun. I do like this place, but I tend to think that the things I like are despite the city itself, and are often found in close proximity to the city rather than in it.


I hope you're right. But I do kind of trust Waterfront Toronto. Them and the city's parks have been doing a great job. For instance, the revitalization of the area beneath the Gardner expressway. The city seems keen to make sure they're heard throughout this project as well. I hope that continues.


For a company that makes over 90% of their revenue from advertising(often sleazy), I wonder what Google's real interest is in building a city. Actually, I don't really wonder.

Why exactly would anyone trust Google to run a city? Or a country, once they get bored of cities? Most seasoned developers seem to have a very low level of trust with Google, and use their services with the awareness that either they'll receive the "f* you" style of customer support or lose access to their service entirely because Google has some new great ambition.

Worse yet, public services simply become inaccessible because of a political view you expressed on YouTube.


wonder what Google's real interest is in building a city. Actually, I don't really wonder.

It’s not a city. It’s a panopticon.


> over 90% of their revenue from advertising(often sleazy), I wonder what Google's real interest is

Diversifying their revenue?


By tracking what people do in a place, and then pushing adds to them.


Google's founders have been talking about urban renewal of a city since they were working on the original iteration of Google in a garage.


> Why exactly would anyone trust Google to run a city?

Google isn't running the city. They are a partner helping design it, think of it more like a consultant. I believe the city always has the last word on any decision.


Actually much of Toronto's concern was Google's desire to be essentially exempt from large swaths of city regulations, so they could build it however they want. More akin to Disney World than a "consultant". (Disney World is technically almost entirely within government districts that are also controlled by Disney, and they can approve their own permits for many things, for example.)

Look into the Reedy Creek Improvement District for what Google is hoping for here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reedy_Creek_Improvement_Distri...


Do you have a source on that? Also, they must not have been very concerned if they went for it. I watch the opening ceremony, and all 3 levels of government seemed to be very happy about the deal, so either all of them are just as "wicked" as Google, or maybe you're distorting the truth here. Lastly, helping build a city is still very different from running a city.



They're a sibling company to Google, not under Google's umbrella directly.

https://www.sidewalklabs.com/


Corporate structure technicality. The DNA of the company will still be the same.


For completely self-serving reasons Alphabet wants to diversify revenue. Bets are told they can't depend on advertising, because that only canabilizes the Google business.


It seems like the void left by a (hypothetically) decreasing advertising market coupled with Googles desire to actually grow might place a ton of stress on the societies that fall victim to this desperation. Obviously it will temporarily stimulate local economies in strange and sometimes positive ways, but a lot of their interest seems to focus on processes better handled by an elected committee. Google naturally has it’s eye on taking over government responsibilities. This is frightening to me. The incentives are no better aligned than they were with advertising. It sounds like a company that simply got way too big and now we will all pay the price.


This is about Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Alphabet. It's an interesting project.

Read more about the project here: https://sidewalktoronto.ca/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sidewalk_Labs

More:

>Sidewalk Labs responded to a Request For Proposals issued in March 2017 by Waterfront Toronto to identify an innovation and funding partner. Following a rigorous evaluation process involving several local and international firms, Waterfront Toronto selected Sidewalk Labs.

>Sidewalk Toronto will begin with a new neighbourhood, called Quayside, located at Parliament Slip, just southeast of Downtown Toronto. Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto aim to bring the innovations advanced at Quayside to scale across the Eastern Waterfront, more than 325 hectares (800 acres) that represent one of North America’s largest areas of underdeveloped urban land.


> It could be the coolest new neighborhood on the planet—or a peek into the Orwellian metropolis that knows everything you did last night.

A refreshingly descriptive subtitle!


This article has been posted here a few times.

I understand people hate FAANG, but let's be honest about the fact that this is a fluff piece, and that having smog sensors built into a few city blocks is not at all similar. There are so many legitimate things to be concerned about, and this has got to be about the least concerning thing out there.


Did you read the article? Here's one paragraph:

> In Toronto, Sidewalk sketches out a picture of a neighborhood where intelligent “pay-as-you-throw” garbage chutes separate out recyclables and charge households by waste output; where hyperlocal weather sensors could detect a coming squall and heat up a snow-melting sidewalk. Apps would tell residents when the Adirondack chairs on the waterfront are open, and neighbors would crowdsource approvals for block-party permits, giving a thumbs-up or thumbs-down based on the noise the gathering was expected to produce. Traffic signals could auto-calibrate to ease pedestrian congestion during public events, or to ensure a smooth rush hour. The data from such systems would feed back into the city, which would constantly learn, optimizing its own operations from month to month, year to year. Sidewalk promises “the most measurable community in the world.”

"The most measurable community in the world". That's well beyond "smog sensors built into a few city blocks".


> The data from such systems would feed back into the city, which would constantly learn, optimizing its own operations from month to month, year to year.

All so we can better extract a profit from our u̶s̶e̶r̶s̶ citizens.


>neighbors would crowdsource approvals for block-party permits

Oh boy, a digital HOA. Wow, Google, I can't wait!


1984 was about totalitarianism. You're talking about being annoyed that your garbage will be done by micropayments instead of a flat fee. If you can't see the difference then you should read up on this place called USSR.


Any good totalitarian state implements the most ubiquitous surveillance they can. When the framework for that is already present, it becomes much easier to birth something like that. It's very easy to avoid creating a fertile breeding ground for totalitarian governance, and a factor of that's not having ubiquitous surveillance.


If you can't see that this sort of thing is headed towards the surveillance state of 1984 then you need to wake up.

There is a constant push towards more and more government and corporate surveillance.


One day, you come back to your apartment. It's locked, and won't accept your AUTHENTICATION_METHOD. (Your technocrat landlords despise plain old metal keys to open doors. What are you, a peasant?) There's a note on the door saying that you've violated the terms of service and that your account has been terminated. You're locked away from all your stuff! You try to get some answers from the robot downstairs, but it's unsympathetic to your situation, and it won't listen to an unperson.


> You're locked away from all your stuff!

No, that's not how it will go.

It will go like this: one day you come home to your apartment, it's locked and won't accept your AUTHENTICATION_METHOD.

The noise causes the door to be opened and the new tenant asks you to be quiet in the hallway. Your stuff was moved out and disposed off, after your digital media were scanned for patentable ideas (you really should have read the fine print).

Your cat has been uploaded and is fortunately still available as a construct so you really have nothing to complain about (that was a courtesy).


I can't figure out if the cat thing is a Douglas Adams thing or a Kurt Vonnegut thing.



More of a Charles Strauss thing maybe?


At least get the man's name right, he's a member here.

https://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=cstross


You decide to escape to a deserted island to live away from the oppressive regime of the technocrats. A few months later you land on your own island. It's not really yours, but nobody has installed cameras yet. You begin your new life and find happiness.

One day a bottle washes up on shore. You open it to find a message!

"We've updated our privacy policy..."


"... in accordance with the new EU policy directive."


That's a subplot of Philip K. Dick's novel Ubik. The protagonist is locked out of his apartment and his household appliances until he feeds coins into the meter.


And a few scenes in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls by Robert Heinlein.


In that case foot meets door pretty quickly.


It's interesting that Epcot is mentioned, but not the Disney companies later, more serious community building effort, Celebration.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/dec/13/celebration-de...

I understand the tech portion is different, but post-analysis of Celebration seems to cast a lot of criticism on a disconnect between planning/execution vs actual resident desires and needs.


So Google doesn't even have enough patience to grow a fiber internet business, but it has the patience to build a whole city and then support it for decades?

What happens 5 years later after all the people have moved into it, but Google discovers that the project is not very profitable for them to maintain or that they can't achieve whatever objectives they were hoping to achieve with it?

I'm guessing the #1 objective with this is to create a "role model" for a total surveillance panopticon type of city that governments around the world would then replicate, using its technologies.

I'm also assuming this city would also get "upgrade" to having "always-on" wireless brain scanning technology in the future, so that the company can "better target" ads at you in every moment of your life.


So Google doesn't even have enough patience to grow a fiber internet business, but it has the patience to build a whole city and then support it for decades?

That's a real problem with Google. They lack follow-through outside their core business area. Their ISP projects, both fiber and wireless, ended after a few prototype neighborhood installations. Their robotics projects went nowhere. They bought Motorola and trashed it. City infrastructure has to be maintained for centuries. Google lacks that capability.


Torontonian here. I understand your concern, but my opinion is that its a worthwhile (contained) experiment in a space (urbanism) that could use some new information about approaches that work and don't work.

In the hypothetical case you describe where Google decides to drop it - a case I find unlikely to be done as suddenly as you proposed if for nothing else but bad publicity - I could see the neighbourhood becoming a normal neighbourhood of Toronto with perhaps a cool extra things added. Currently it's essentially a dead industrial land in a great location that has been underused for too long, so the opportunity cost does not seem so high.


They raise prices.

They start selling the data (oh wait it's google, just terrifying services based on their data).

The abandon large amounts of costly hard to maintain infrastructure and the city crashes.


Freakonomics did a podcast a month ago with Dan Doctoroff, worth a listen if this interests you.

http://freakonomics.com/podcast-tag/sidewalk-labs/


> Constant data collection via smartphones or sensors can make life smoother for civic leaders and residents, in everything from transit to garbage.

No thanks.


It is eerie how much that rendering looks like the city from Logan's Run.

And as interesting as it is to imagine the city of the future, it is disquieting to think of it being designed to minimize the friction of monetizing the residents. But we know the best data comes from happy data cows.


I was going to make a joke about tech ageism and Logan’s Run here, until seeing your comment that the rendering actually resembles it. Creepy.


>Sidestepping democratic processes with "data-driven decision making" to make massive urban projects happen

By God, I get it now! Google have hired Robert Moses!


If cars (parking) were banned inside most areas of the city it could be interesting. An entire city optimized for bikes, ebikes and some public mass transport. Add a few self driving electric cars for the elderly.


I can't help but think of Alpha Complex. Trust the Computer. The Computer is your friend.


They used to call these company towns and they turned out pretty awful in the long run. We’ll see if it’s different this time.


> ...and neighbors would crowdsource approvals for block-party permits, giving a thumbs-up or thumbs-down based on the noise the gathering was expected to produce.

This is hilariously, naively utopian. Systems like this tend to become exclusionary (often based on race), where if you're the "right" kind of people you get permission and if you're not you don't. For examples see existing gated communities and HOAs or the Nextdoor [1] app and its endless reports of "urban youth in hoodies".

[1] https://www.buzzfeed.com/carolineodonovan/racial-profiling-i...


How to read this headline:

Google -> Sidewalk Labs

building -> designing

city -> neighborhood

future -> now



So, google is building a burbclave?


It interesting to me that tech's been willing to listen to Christopher Alexander and apply his work on building houses and neighborhoods and cities to building software, but as soon as we turn back to building neighborhoods and cities we ignore him and start trying to reinvent the waterfall method of expertise.


>In Toronto, Sidewalk sketches out a picture of a neighborhood where intelligent “pay-as-you-throw” garbage chutes separate out recyclables and charge households by waste output

I don't understand why the "city of the future" types have such a fetish for pay per use. It either winds up being cheap enough that nobody cares or if it's expensive enough for people to care it will be a serious drag on poor people. Sure you can come up with various voucher and aid systems but those have administrative overhead and their own unique downsides. It's better to just ensure that utilities (like trash pickup and tap water) are so cheap they're basically free and just eat the cost of the over-users because there's less harm in that than any other option.


I agree largely with the sentiment, but I do think that "pay-per-use" broadly is useful for any habit that you want others to be cognizant of (and, through awareness, reduce).

I do find this "pay-as-you-throw" concept off-putting as I don't like cooking; take-out bags and food wrappers are something I frequently dispose of. But if it was something I was more cognizant of I'd likely ask for less in the first place (don't need a bag for one item) or otherwise put pressure on the business (washable/returnable items) where doing so now would just be unnecessary and impractical.

That being said, being that many things such as waste, water, etc. are largely unavoidable I think providing a general credit such that it shouldn't harm average users is entirely practical. Bonus points if it's a transactional credit - you could sell your excess waste allotment to your neighbor at below regulatory rate if you're not using it.


As you say, much waste is unavoidable. Would "pay-as-you-throw" encourage people to litter if you make the Right Thing (throwing away and recycling) not free and the Wrong Thing free? I've lived in apartment buildings where tenants who leave trash bags on the floor of the trash room because they can't even be bothered to lift their bags into the dumpster. Or they dump mattresses on the floor of the trash room or on the sidewalk instead of scheduling a (free!) bulk trash pick-up.


I can't speak for Canada but littering is fined in most of the 'States [0]. Mind you, this is for freeways but I don't see how it couldn't be applied to residences that are already being actively monitored. Then the behavior is just a matter of risk/reward - is saving $x this month worth an y% chance that I'll have to pay $z? Adjust variables until the answer is "no" in the majority of cases.

[0]: http://www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resourc...


Yeah, I also wondered How does this help? Pay per what? Cubic foot? Pound? Contiguous item? A box full of paper is much cheaper to dispose of than that same box full of mercury.

As it stands, my city (and pretty much everyone else's) averages the total cost and we already pay as we go (per curbside container).

I just don't see what problem this solves...


Rich people who eat out every night don't have to subsidize the commoners throwing away an empty box of pasta.


That's a good point.

This is the same problem the Internet of Things had - too much sensing with too little value. Most of what they're talking about doesn't do anything. It just watches.


There's probably a social critique to be made about how Google is going all the way to Canada to build a city when there's so much that could be done to improve the urban situation in Silicon Valley. If they're going to do the Omnicorp Detroit thing, they could at least benefit the communities where the bulk of their employees work and live.

Yes, yes, the Bay Area's politics are inherently intractable and Google has been active in shaping the future of Mountain View. But it still looks like that they chose Toronto because it'll give the highest chance for squeaky-clean marketing graphics, instead of doing something really bold and trying to disrupt an urban crisis.


You mean something bold, brave, and disruptive, that would benefit the communities their employees actually live and work in, like trying to build housing in Mountain View?

I'm reasonably certain Google is already working on that one.


The article seems to imply that Toronto contacted Google, not the other way around.


If it's done like all Google projects, it'll be phenomenal, half-finished and then abandoned as engineers/leaders get bored and work on the next big thing. Meanwhile the city will rot away.


"Google Sidewalk abandoned; residents given $500 credit to move to Google Neighborhoods in Tampa Bay" (June, 2021)


I'm wondering if this city will actually be designed to host engineers, with an office campus on site so they can get to work easier without the hassle of traffic and having to lay on buses and the inevitible protests


"it'll be phenomenal, half-finished and then abandoned as engineers/leaders get bored and work on the next big thing"

You have just described every project at every large software company. However, important to note that usually "phenomenal" is an idea driven by all the non-engineer stakeholders.


>Mass-produced sensors now cost less than a dollar apiece, even for hobbyists; high-speed broadband and cheap cloud computing mean that a city can collect and analyze reams of data in real time.

Does the author believe 'sensors' is a term for some generic commodity product akin to rice? Yes, some sensors cost less then a dollar (but some sensors have cost less than a dollars a piece for decades) but other sensors (I.e. LIDAR, EDS, neutron detector) cost thousands.


Well, 50 million is not really "building a city". That would be enough for a few sidewalks and parks, but not for bringing up a new infrastructure network.


Note that this is a small block of land. The article describes Quayside as "a dozen acres". 12 acres would make a square with side lengths of ~1/8th mile. About 2 blocks in Manhattan. I think $50 million is about the right amount for a handful of new buildings. The artistic render is useful to get a sense the scale involved.


I've already permitted google to spy on me constantly. Why not just move into a place so they can literally watch my every move?


Welcome to the neighbourhood, have you read the terms of service?:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16214066


Probably the same people who used to wear Google Glass to social events.


It’s just 12 acres

Edit: oh, that’s the initial Quayside only. Afterwards it could get much bigger. https://sidewalktoronto.ca


Tragic how tobacco killed off a visionary like Disney. These uncommon people who actually make a difference dying before they're done contributing is one of the greatest tragedies.


We build products and companies from scratch, no reason not to try it with cities too.


A city needs to stick around longer than a failed startup, even if the city is doomed to fail too.


Luckily cities (in this case a neighbourhood in a thriving city) are much more self-organizing than a startup. There are real residents and community leaders who could be handed over control/management of the project.


Unless of course that violates the terms of service.



How do you think our cities were built?

Especially in the US, where even the oldest is 1/10 the lifespan of some ancient buildings in my country.


probably another google campus with a bunch of hype around it.


I wonder how much of a concern the new conservative Ontario government is?


could you link to something that shows what you're referring to? eg: is there some action or platform that you think would be a concern?


The Fords (when Rob was mayor) attempted to forcibly take the land from the Provincial and Federal governments (by way of their investment in Waterfront Toronto—the company working with Sidewalk Labs on this project). The Provincial government at the time continually blocked them out. Now Ford is premier. It's unknown if he'll set his eyes back on his grand plan.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17492065


It depends on how much power the provincial government has here, and how the relationship with the city government evolves.

The mayor and the new premier are both members of the Progressive Conservative party, but John Tory and Doug Ford are…they have rather different temperaments. Ford is, to risk oversimplifying, Trump-esque, and not easy to predict yet. This could either become a traditional "public-private parternships are great" pitch, or a weird populist backlash against big government and big business. (Who knows. Ford and the anti-gentrifications folks might end up both being against this. But really, who knows at this point.)


It's also taking up the land in the Portlands area (used to work down there) where the Fords wanted to build a ferris wheel, megamall and.... monorail

I wouldn't be overly surprised if they ran into snags. Ford has been known to hold a grudge. But that's just speculation.

Haven't heard anything about it from the new government yet. For anyone unfamiliar with the area, it's largely undeveloped, home to warehousing, light industry, stockyards, and the Pinewood Film Studios (to the east end).

https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2011/08/30/doug_fords_dream...


if google pays my rent and such i'll live there.


Perhaps it will be ad-subsidized. Watch 30 minutes of commercials for 10% off your rent that day.


considering the average price to own in Toronto is approaching $1M and rental vacancy is nearing 1% this comment sounds like beggars choosing.


> What does a tech company know about running a real live city?

Nothing, but they won't let that stop them. They will pack it with enough sensors to go full on dystopian nightmare and provide as little actual human support as possible.

> intelligent “pay-as-you-throw” garbage chutes

jesus, they really will find a way to ruin everything.

> neighbors would crowdsource approvals for block-party permits, giving a thumbs-up or thumbs-down based on the noise the gathering was expected to produce

oh great, we can have those shitty neighborhood social networks cranked up to 10.

oh and just imagine the HOAs!

> few better places to have this conversation than Canada, a Western democracy that takes seriously debates over informational privacy and data ownership—and is known for managing to stay polite while discussing even hot-button civic issues.

hopefully people wake up and become very very impolite towards these goddamn data companies.

> Hitching up with tech companies that are flush with both cash and grand visions might be cities’ best chance to leap into the future, or at least to turbocharge their lagging districts

Yeah, we need to give more power to corporations. Not less. We need fucking Larry running every aspect of our lives.

> So far, the deal hasn’t exactly been a victory for transparency

What a shock.


> “It’s not going to be a smart city of surveillance. It’s going to be a smart city of privacy, and that will be a first.”

I don't believe this. I think this person should be personally tossed in jail when they inevitably are revealed to be collecting far more than people wanted them to.


Truman Show? Thank you, No.


Primates living in futurist cages will still be primates. Its time for us to realize that we are moving towards possible futures devoid of real progress. More sensors, cameras, fasters connections, unlimited entertainment will not help us become happier and prosperous society. We need to discuss real radical ideas and implement them:

1. World without political boundaries, weapons, pollution, carbon emissions.

2. Cheap or free healthcare.

3. Sustainable technologies.

4. Better Education.

5. Heal racial, political, class divides.

Where is that future?


> 1. World without political boundaries, weapons, pollution, carbon emissions.

Oh, please. Without weapons? The first group to get a hold of them will be de-facto rulers -- by force.


Thats how primates think. Are we not going to progress beyond that logic?


We also think that 1+1=2. Of course no social matter is as simple as this, but at the same time that increased complexity can not then be used as an excuse to try to argue that anything is possible - because it most certainly is not.

In general, when a social system collapses unless everybody abides it - it's going to collapse. This is not something you can just 'progress beyond.' We are individuals, and always will be. And there is practically nothing that everybody, onto perpetuity, will always and forever agree on.


Force is the means by which we coerce others to commit to an action that they do not wish to commit to.

Any world in which the desire or the means to commit force is lacking is not one I would desire to live in.


By not being primates anymore?


I think some of these ideas are logically impossible. For instance primates without weapons are not somehow suddenly enlightened. Far from it, they're primates waiting to be conquered and controlled by other primates with weapons -- something they probably won't have to wait too long for. Similarly, there is no such thing as free healthcare. Healthcare costs an immense amount of labor, technology, and resources to facilitate. These things have to be paid for by somebody. The same is true, to a lesser degree, of education. Paying for these things socially is not trivial. For instance the NHS in London has been one of the icons of success on this front, yet it's sustainability is now becoming a constant concern as people are living longer, growing fatter, and populations are increasing.

On other points, I don't even see an idea. #5 is the obvious one there, but I'm going to avoid that wasp's nest for now. Although even better education is perhaps the same thing. Today there are more people with college degrees than there were with high school degrees at a time that's still in the living memory of some in this nation. What do you mean and what would you expect to be the outcome?


You're absolutely right! Those are all wonderful, laudable, humane, compassionate and beautiful goals! We should all work towards them for the good of humanity.

Where is that future? Like all such things, it lives exclusively in the realm of the fever-dreams of radicals who focus on dreams.

The future is what we build it to be. When discussion and ideology is emphasized above building a future, then the future we get is the one produced by the builders. This is pretty much never the future the dreamers wanted. It's possible that there may be some lessons in there around the power of discussion to bring forth the goals desired.

We've had an ongoing discussion about real radical ideas for generations now. Personally, I've about had it with radicals and their pure, beautiful goals untroubled by interactions with nasty, dirty reality. I much prefer to see what can actually be built to discussions of lofty goals.


It's right around the corner. There are just a few minor roadblocks in the way of getting there: money in politics, a couple of hundred years of vested interests and very large corporations that would fight that future tooth and nail.


I really struggle to imagine how a world with no weapons could come about.


Of course. Because it would require us to change our thinking first, and become something not currently human. As it stands, there is no way a no-weapons world could exist because someone would gain weapons and then take it over.


Less #1, that future is already here, it's called China.


I'm not sure that having a homogeneous population and seizing political power counts as healing racial and political divides...


Does citizenship imply unlimited kool-aid?


Could you please stop posting unsubstantive comments to Hacker News?




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