Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs abandons its Toronto smart neighborhood project

Last year, we reported on Alphabet subsidiary Sidewalk Labs’ ambitious plan to develop a full smart neighborhood in the city of Toronto. Early testing for this neighborhood, which would have been called “Quayside,” was expected to begin this year, but due to the major disruptions caused by Covid-19, the Quayside project is being shut down.
For those who don’t know, Quayside was going to be a true neighborhood of the future, complete with buildings made of “mass timber” (a material as strong and fire resistant as steel, but more sustainable), modular rooms and walls, automated public transport, adaptable roads that can use sensors to change their layout, and much more.

All in all, Quayside was intended to be as clean, green, and affordable as possible. Sidewalk Labs hoped their efforts would help Toronto reduce its climate impact while creating new jobs and low-income (but not low-quality) housing options for those that need them.

Unfortunately, we’ll never know whether or not Sidewalk Labs could have achieved that vision. Quayside’s closure was announced on Medium today by Sidewalk Labs’ CEO Daniel Doctoroff.

“…as unprecedented economic uncertainty has set in around the world and in the Toronto real estate market, it has become too difficult to make the 12-acre project financially viable without sacrificing core parts of the plan we had developed together with Waterfront Toronto to build a truly inclusive, sustainable community,” he said in the Medium post. “And so, after a great deal of deliberation, we concluded that it no longer made sense to proceed with the Quayside project, and let Waterfront Toronto know yesterday.”

Waterfront Toronto is the organization responsible for revitalizing the Toronto waterfront region, and it originally partnered with Sidewalk Labs to achieve that goal. We haven’t spotted an official comment from the organization regarding Sidewalk Labs’ withdrawal from the Quayside project yet, but Toronto Mayor John Tory did chime in with the following statement:

Doctoroff made it clear that, while the Quayside project is coming to an end — at least, in its current form — Sidewalk Labs as a whole will not be dissolving. The company will continue to pursue other projects that will result in a “meaningful contribution” to the work of “tackling big urban problems.”