Google’s Guinea-Pig City - The Atlantic - 2018
Will Toronto turn its residents into Alphabet’s experiment? The answer has implications for cities everywhere.
Alphabet division Sidewalk Labs (a sister company to Google) is poised to spend $50,000,000 to redevelop a piece of Toronto waterfront called Quayside, filling it with "modular, dynamic" buildings that can be reconfigured as their uses change, data-gathering sensors that will help Sidewalk refine its own products and also allow Quayside to tune its zoning, usage, and management from moment to moment, as well as a new Google headquarters and a bunch of startups, and "affordable" micro-apartments starting at 162 square feet.
Molly Sauter's excellent critical piece on the Sidewalk/Toronto deal in The Atlantic shows how masterfully Sidewalk played the process, presenting incredibly detailed plans for the development that wooed lawmakers and citizens, and then later quietly announcing that these plans were really just guidelines that may or may not be followed in the final build-out; they also managed to get their agreement with the City of Toronto declared a secret, so that virtually no one -- not even key city councillors -- have been allowed to see it.
Sauter interrogates the promises of Sidewalk's smart city, raising the questions the city should have answered before greenlighting any action on the project, such as whether all those shiny startups will benefit Canada, or, as is customary, whether they will relocate to Silicon Valley as soon as they're successful enough to do so -- and also, how families are supposed to live in 162-square-foot apartments.
Google wants to run cities without being elected. Don't let it - The Guardian - 2017
"Alphabet, the parent company of Google, does not suffer from a lack of ambition. Its subsidiaries are tackling topics ranging from autonomous vehicles to smart homes, artificial intelligence to biotech life extension. So perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that Alphabet has decided it will plan, build, and run a city, too – well, part of a city. It’s a bit more surprising that a major city is happily handing Alphabet a neighborhood of prime real estate to call their own. .../... There’s no doubt that urban labs can help in the design of powerful, useful technologies. But building the smart urban future cannot also mean paving the way for tech billionaires to fulfill their dreams of ruling over cities. If it does, that’s not a future we should want to live in."
Google’s plan to revolutionise cities is a takeover in all but name - The Guardian - 2017
"Aside from the institutional investors shopping for entire city blocks, Alphabet understands the real audience for its cities: the global rich. For them, the narratives of data-driven sustainability and algorithmically produced artisanal lifestyles – Sidewalk Labs even promises “a next-gen bazaar” replenished by local communities of makers – are just another way to justify rising values of their property portfolios. That Alphabet’s “urbanism as a service” might not appeal to the residents of Toronto does not matter. As a real estate project, its chief goal is to impress its future missing residents –above all, millions of Chinese millionaires flocking to Canada’s housing markets. Doctoroff was not equivocating when he told the Globe and Mail that Alphabet’s Canadian venture “primarily is a real-estate play”."