3 Smart City Lessons from Sidewalk and Toronto Tomorrow

While technology keeps moving faster and faster, the biggest takeaway of Toronto's smart city initiative is that the public sector needs additional and more profound knowledge regarding how data works.

Corina Stirbu -
Illustration: © IoT For All

In Toronto the climate is harsh, and an innovative smart city project to shape the city’s future and provide a global model for inclusive urban growth, while considering the affordability, flexibility and climate is a real challenge! 

Sidewalk, an Alphabet company, released an innovative Master Innovation and Development Plan (MDIP) for Toronto. While the plan was meant for a smart-city development in Canada’s largest city, it can also be used as a global guide book for urban innovation, a new urban toolkit for the digital times we are living in.

The MDIP was released in June 2019, written in 18 months, 3 volumes, 1524 pages and 18 pounds. Yes, you read that! 18 pounds of smart-city innovation!

Fast-forward to 2020: the plan sparked much controversy and faced a fairly rocky reception and a pushback from the community and the government in terms of policy innovations, data privacy, intellectual property, real estate (of course!) and community engagement. 

After all the media coverage (or an outrage?), public consultations and meetings, Sidewalk released a more limited proposal for the development of Toronto smart-city!

Here’s our 3:2:1 on Sidewalk Labs: Toronto Tomorrow

3 Lessons on Innovation and Smart City Toronto 

1. Mobility

The plan covers a broad-ranging six-part vision and a people-first street network approach, using both new and old technologies. The focus is to integrate street design, placemaking, policies, and affordable transportation. But the key takeaway is that additionally to expanding traditional public transit, a street life for pedestrians and creating more pedestrian (and bike-) friendly spaces, SideWalk proposed: 

  • a new generation of ride-hail services with a far lower cost than privately owned cars without increasing traffic on the Torontonian streets with even more vehicles.
  • Safe self-driving vehicles 
  • a logistics hub connected to neighborhood buildings through underground delivery tunnels built to keep the trucks off local streets

2. Building & Housing

MDIP proposed a three-part strategy for construction, building and housing innovation while considering affordability and economic opportunities in high-demand cities: 

  • Construction innovations to accelerate construction timelines by as much as 35% while reducing costs and using mass timber — a forthcoming and eco-friendly building material as strong and fire-resistant as steel and concrete, but easier to manufacture.
  • Building adaptable Loft spaces and other design innovations with flexible interior panels and real-time monitoring systems will make households costs more affordable and make co-living more efficient.
  • 40% of the housing units are below the market rate, and 50% of the total units are built for rental purposes and long-term affordability.

3. Sustainability 

Some people believe in climate change; some don’t! But no matter on which side of the argument you place yourself, you should know that Sidewalk Labs proposed a six-part pathway for climate positivity that covers: 

  • Energy-efficient building designs to maintain interior comfort by using airtight wall systems — yay! For lower household bills!
  • A digital management tool to eliminate energy waste and to increase efficiency 
  • A thermal grid (district energy system) to provide heating, cooling, and domestic hot water using geothermal energy, waste heat, and wastewater heat. All these are done using electric heat pumps instead of fossil fuels or natural gas.

2 Quotes on Smart City Toronto

You know, the whole purpose of innovation, the whole purpose of technology is not for technology’s sake itself, is to make people’s lives better. That’s why all of us, at Sidewalk, are into this: we think there is the potential to make people’s lives better. (…)

People are gonna look to this as the blueprint, cookbook, or the how-to manual for how to introduce cutting edge innovation into the physical environment. (…) They will look to this for inspiration, they will look to this for specific guidance, and how to think about 21st-century innovation – how it can fundamentally improve people’s life.

 — Daniel L. Doctoroff, Chair and CEO at Sidewalk Labs

By having Sidewalk interested in coming here, we’re building up our credentials as the place to be in the world.”

— John Howard Tory, Mayor of Toronto

1 Opinion Regarding MDIP’s Impact and Its Emerging Technologies

While we’re used to asking Alexa and Google Home to play Baby Shark or What Does the Fox Say?, we should also note that smart home devices have made their way into over half of American households.

54% of U.S. homes own at least one smart device, according to a Strategy Analytics survey released on the 7th of January. The most popular smart devices are speakers (28% of homes), security systems (28%) and thermostats (21%).

Having a strong background in developing IoT apps and knowing the current technologies and trends on the market, we can definitely say that MDIP is an amazing way to approach the smart-devices and technologies, and here’s why:

  • Up until now micro localization using beacons for moving vehicles for the transportation sector was emerging, the fast mobility solution of Toronto is a completely new approach
  • Thermal water is a rather old underrated resource, while the green tech solutions for home and office are still new on the market when it comes to a scheduled irrigation for multiple plants using a single (flower) pot, and the sustainability proposals here cover the entire Toronto’s eastern waterfront: Quayside—the undeveloped areas between East Bayfront and Port Lands with magnificent potential!

They covered in a unique way everything on inclusive innovation, affordable housing, sustainable and fast mobility, and incredibly complex solutions for pretty much every sector in urban life.

On the other hand, while the technology moves faster and faster, especially in the IoT for consumers market, the biggest takeaway of this project is that the public sector: governments, city halls, and data governance leaders need a more profound knowledge regarding how data works. There is a considerable need for balanced policies and ethical approaches in terms of data collection to offer customized and high-quality services while keeping privacy and anonymity.

Corina Stirbu - Chief Marketing Officer, Wolfpack Digital

Guest Writer
Guest Writer
Guest writers are IoT experts and enthusiasts interested in sharing their insights with the IoT industry through IoT For All.
Guest writers are IoT experts and enthusiasts interested in sharing their insights with the IoT industry through IoT For All.