Tech | May 10, 2020 2:20 pm

Sidewalk Labs Abandons Ambitious Toronto Waterfront Project

The hotly-debated project is no longer happening

Toronto skyline
Sidewalk Labs' ambitious Toronto project is a no go.
Taxiarchos228/Creative Commons

What happens when a high-profile technology company announces its intention to invest in a populous city? The last few years have provided a case study in exactly that, as Sidewalk Labs — a corporate sibling of Google — offered up a plan to bolster the technology of part of Toronto through redevelopment. For some observers, it was a bold foray into technologically pioneering urban planning. For others, it was a worrying instance of a corporation taking over governmental functions. The debates that followed served as a microcosm of larger arguments about the relationships between corporations and municipalities — with some echoes of the discussion over Amazon’s HQ2 project as well

As it turns out, though, many of those debates have turned out to be moot — at least for now. At the end of last week, Sidewalk Labs announced that they were pulling out of the Toronto project. Sidewalk Labs CEO Daniel L. Doctoroff — who’d previously served as New York’s deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding during the Bloomberg administration — announced the change in plans on Medium.

“[A]s 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 we had developed together with Waterfront Toronto to build a truly inclusive, sustainable community,” Doctoroff wrote.

As Alissa Walker at Curbed notes, the complexities of Sidewalk Labs’ Toronto project established a series of worrying tradeoffs. Would affordable housing technology that comes bound together with increased surveillance be worth it? Are the tax breaks sought by large tech companies justified if those companies make efforts to build more homes for people who might otherwise be priced out?

Sidewalk Labs’ Toronto venture opened the door to a number of questions; the end of this particular project doesn’t mean people will stop asking them.

Subscribe here for our free daily newsletter.