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Alphabet’s Dream of a Smart City in Toronto Is Over

  • The project’s prospects fell as concerns over big tech grew
  • Covid-19 pandemic cited as final hurdle too big to leap
Quayside site plan
Quayside site planSource: Sidewalk Labs

Alphabet Inc.’s ambitious dream to create a city of the future on Toronto’s waterfront is over. Millions of dollars and years of lobbying weren’t enough, and the tech giant’s urban planning unit, Sidewalk Labs, officially shuttered the project on Thursday.

The stated reason was the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on real estate prices. Without the ability to profitably sell office space and homes in the development, the project wasn’t viable, Sidewalk Labs Chief Executive Officer Dan Doctoroff said in a blog post.

But even before the virus swept over the world, Sidewalk’s Toronto ambitions had been scaled back significantly. Years of opposition from privacy activists and urbanists, as well as pushback from prominent members of Canada’s tech industry had relegated Alphabet to a 12-acre plot of land that would essentially only have room for a handful of residential and commercial buildings.

Sidewalk Labs’ failure signals how much attitudes toward big technology companies and their influence over our lives has shifted in recent years. If a company like Alphabet, with its talent and resources, can’t pull off such a project, it’s not clear anyone can.