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Image: Sidewalk’s rendering of an “efficient and affordable” housing block

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Google firm teams up with Toronto for North America’s ‘largest smart city’

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A sister company to Google has won a competition to design a high-tech district for Toronto that aims to make it a “global hub” for urban innovation.

Sidewalk Labs will invest US$50m (£38m) over the next year to plan a 12-acre district on the Lake Ontario waterfront just east of the city centre. It would include a new headquarters for Google Canada.

The aim is to develop North America's largest example of a smart city with data-driven systems to improve traffic, air pollution, noise, waste and public transport. 

A unit of Google’s parent company Alphabet, Sidewalk Labs will test self-driving technology for a “point-to-point transit system”. 

Its brief is to create a place that showcases advanced technologies, including building materials, sustainable practices and innovative business models that foster “climate positive urban development”.

Waterfront Toronto, a government regeneration agency, issued a request for proposals in March to build the “Quayside” neighbourhood.

The two have now reached a deal whereby Sidewalk will invest US$50m over the next year.

The company’s Sidewalk Toronto subsidiary will also have the opportunity to develop a 750-acre plot in the future, which Sidewalk describes as “one of North America’s largest areas of underdeveloped urban land”.

If the Quayside plan is implemented it would mean building about 3 million sq ft of residential and commercial space including a headquarters for Google Canada.

The advanced building methods will be combined with “flexible building designs” that enable “radical mixed-use, walkable neighbourhoods that reduce the cost of housing and retail space”.

The company says it chose Toronto because it is “the world’s most diverse city” and the fourth-largest in North America, with a population of 2.9 million people in the city limits that is expected to grow by 35% in the next 25 years, and 6.7 million in the metropolitan area that is expected to grow 42% over the same period. It has also emerged as a technology hub, with 212,000 presently employed in the sector.

It also has a full set of problems that smart city systems can try to alleviate. For example, house prices have more than doubled over the past 10 years, with average sales now exceeding $750,000, and its transit system has been unable to keep pace with economic and population growth.

Officials on hand for the announcement this week included Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Toronto Mayor John Tory and Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt.

Sidewalk Toronto’s proposal is here.

Image: Sidewalk’s rendering of an “efficient and affordable” housing block