May 22 2017

What Will Google’s Smart City Look Like?

Lower housing costs, smart cars and environmental sustainability are all on the checklist for the new city district that aims to improve urban living.

Downtown Toronto may soon get a brand new, smart city district compliments of Google.

Sidewalk Labs, the urban development arm of Google’s parent company Alphabet, recently announced it is in the early stages of plans to build a “large scale district” that will act as a testing ground for smart city technologies. Dan Doctoroff, founder and CEO of the company, made the announcement at the Smart Cities NYC conference on May 4, StateScoop reports.

The company is discussing with city officials a plan to build a city “from the internet up.”

Using IoT to Make City Limits Disappear

StateScoop reports that the goal of the smart city will be to address five intensifying issues plaguing urban living and development, including:

  • The rising cost of housing — Pre-made modular housing units could cut down construction costs by 30 percent.
  • Long commutes — A system that enables all modes of transit — ridesharing, public transit, driverless cars, walking and cycling — could reduce congestion.
  • Environmental sustainability — Implementing thermal transfer technologies could reduce costs and cut back on wasted energy.
  • Ubiquitous connectivity — A solid, high-speed connectivity infrastructure that provides online access to residents is necessary to enable the city’s technology aims and provide data-driven services.
  • Creating a new “public realm” — Introducing self-driving cars can help open up space for pedestrians and public parks, the types of spaces that define cities.

“The future of cities lies in the way these urban experiences fit together and improve quality of life for everyone living, working and growing up in cities across the world,” Doctoroff said at the conference. “Yet there is not a single city today that can stand as a model — or even close — for our urban future.”

Chasing Cheaper Urban Living Through an Idyllic Smart City

Sidewalk Labs has been pursuing the idea of a smart city built from the ground up for some time now, recently engaging in a “thought experiment” around introducing technologies in every aspect of city life.

Doctoroff is pursuing the idea that “a combination of digital technologies — ubiquitous connectivity, social networks, sensing, machine learning and artificial intelligence, and new design and fabrication technologies — would help bring about a revolution in urban life,” he writes in a November blog post.

The idea is to revolutionize urban experiences, but the issue is also that existing buildings and city infrastructure are not built to be connected. Starting from scratch could help to infuse these technologies throughout the new infrastructure.

“We recognized that you can never truly plan a city. Instead you can lay the foundations and let people create on top of it,” Doctoroff wrote.

The new 12-acre strip in the downtown district in Toronto, built on smart city values and internet backbone, will look to test the models Sidewalk Labs has been theorizing: how connected tech can improve city life at every level.

“We’ve found that applying urban innovations at scale could reduce cost of living by 14 percent compared to surrounding metro areas for an average family in America,” Doctoroff told StateScoop.

And while the idea may seem ambitious, Doctoroff says he is committed to forging ahead.

“I’m sure many of you are thinking this is a crazy idea: building a city new — the most innovative, urban district in the world, something at scale that can actually have the catalytic impact among cities around the world,” Doctoroff said. “We don’t think it’s crazy at all. People thought it was crazy when Google decided to connect all the world’s information. People thought it was crazy to think about the concept of a self-driving car.”

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