A Sudden End To @SidewalkToronto

Russ Curry, Ministry of New Media

The latest #SidewalkWeekly alert, their podcast providing listeners with a weekly dose of #urban #tech news, talks about why they decided not to pursue the Quayside project in Toronto.

The original announcement of Sidewalk Toronto was made at Corus Quay on the Eastern Waterfront back in October 2017 by Will Fleissig and Dan Doctoroff, CEOs of Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs, respectively; Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne; Toronto Mayor John Tory; and Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Alphabet, Inc. but has run into a tremendous amount of opposition since then.

It didn’t take long for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association to sue both Waterfront Toronto and the federal, provincial and municipal governments of Canada over this quayside smart city project (April 2019).

There are many theories on why this project failed; TVO said “Toronto’s politics can be obstructive, and its NIMBYs are a powerful force”, ars technica was quoted as saying “Residents rebelled over plans to collect and use their data, among other things” and The Conversation reported “It is hard to exaggerate the extent to which the entire Quayside development was not just a mess, but an obvious mess. This was a multi-billion-dollar deal between a land-development agency with no previous experience with foundational smart-city issues like data and intellectual property and a tech company created in 2015, with no track record in urban development”.

Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff wrote “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” and the The Guardian made comment when it wrote “Sidewalk Labs’ CEO said unpredictabilities stemming from pandemic meant project was no longer feasible”.

#COVID19 was either the final nail in the coffin or a convenient excuse to cancel a project that has increasingly been defined by public-relations blunders and grassroots pushback. Either way it is a sad end for an ambitious project.

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