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.
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...
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nice cities grow organically, they're not planned at all, and it takes a long time for them to get that organic feel.
Also, don't underestimate Gaudi's ability to design the organic look right into a brand new building.
Great story here by the way:
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.
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.
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"?
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.
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.
It’s not a city. It’s a panopticon.
Diversifying their revenue?
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.
Look into the Reedy Creek Improvement District for what Google is hoping for here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reedy_Creek_Improvement_Distri...
Read more about the project here:
>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.
A refreshingly descriptive subtitle!
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.
> 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".
All so we can better extract a profit from our u̶s̶e̶r̶s̶ citizens.
Oh boy, a digital HOA. Wow, Google, I can't wait!
There is a constant push towards more and more government and corporate surveillance.
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).
One day a bottle washes up on shore. You open it to find a message!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
By God, I get it now! Google have hired Robert Moses!
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  app and its endless reports of "urban youth in hoodies".
Google -> Sidewalk Labs
building -> designing
city -> neighborhood
future -> now
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 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 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...
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.
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.
I'm reasonably certain Google is already working on that one.
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.
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.
Edit: oh, that’s the initial Quayside only. Afterwards it could get much bigger. https://sidewalktoronto.ca
Especially in the US, where even the oldest is 1/10 the lifespan of some ancient buildings in my country.
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.)
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).
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.
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.
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?
Oh, please. Without weapons? The first group to get a hold of them will be de-facto rulers -- by force.
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.
Any world in which the desire or the means to commit force is lacking is not one I would desire to live in.
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?
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.