Sidewalk Labs, an urban innovation startup owned by Google parent company Alphabet, announced a partnership with Toronto authorities to develop a new coastal area. Time to ask Google. Can you build a city? Even if only a small fraction of the ideas are advertised, Sidewalk Labs will extend the possibilities of educational urbanization to a much higher level than many smart city strategies. Please pay attention. Cities with any interest in using technology to improve their cities should be very careful of each lesson.
Sidewalk Toronto plans to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of a failed smart city. Smart cities are based on the idea that cities can be made more livable, sustainable, and efficient by better-utilizing information and communication technologies. The idea is promising but has yet to yield results. The biggest failures in 20-year smart city history, especially Dongtan in China and Songdo in South Korea, are solid proof that a good city cannot be built on top of a tech mainframe. Even if you have some technical intelligence, this is not where you learned to call it home.
Amazon’s biggest contribution to smart city development at the moment can be seen in their Ring doorbells and cameras. The devices are designed to reduce crime rates and the company has even introduced a neighborhood app that allows users to share images and warn others of suspicious activity in their local area. Google is also getting involved, with plans being approved for the development of smart urban spaces in Toronto and Mountain View, California. In Toronto, Sidewalk Labs (a sister company of Google) is developing a plan and waiting for final approval to transform a disused area of the city into a high-tech and eco-friendly smart neighborhood, building from the ground up.
Google has also introduced plans in recent years for creating a new development in Mountain View, California, which is the home of their HQ. As well as redeveloping their offices, they propose creating as many as 8,000 new homes in a newly developed smart space that prioritizes pedestrians over traffic.
Companies like IBM, Cisco, and Microsoft find it difficult to redeploy large-scale operating systems used by large organizations in demanding urban environments. A city is a dirty place. It is a mix of privatized utilities, legacy infrastructure, limited government resources, and a categorical public. These components make it difficult to sell a data platform that can operate at the scale needed to achieve tangible efficiency gains. Instead, a city full of prototype smart parking lots and smart lighting has been delivered so far. More was announced last week as part of the Australian government’s $50 million smart cities and suburbs program.
Rethinking Cities from the Internet’s Perspective
We’ve seen very little of the “revolutionary” change taking place at smart city conferences around the world. That’s why Sidewalk Labs is so important. Led by CEO Dan Doktoff, former Deputy Mayor of New York under Michael Bloomberg’’s mission is to reimagine the city from scratch. It’s important to note that this is the version of the Google network where you spend most of your waking hours. Instead of selling a clunky operating system that maps outdated infrastructure to new data points, Sidewalk Labs is creating a product that it believes will change the way city dwellers use their city. And don’t forget that he owns and monetizes the data generated when people use these products. The Sidewalk Labs’ concept focuses more on how people behave in cities than on updating what we already have.
For example, the Flow Parking app, like many smart parking systems, helps you find free parking spaces. We’ve introduced a new pricing model that lowers parking costs for those who need to travel further. And punish those who have to walk. The reason for using sensors to monitor air quality and temperature goes beyond generating real-time data that governments may or may not use. It proposes to use the data to create optimized environments that reduce the need for restrictive zoning, allowing for “radical mixed-use” zoning. City Block Health, another startup spun out of Sidewalk Labs, is a personalized health system in the US for Medicaid or Medicare members. Presumably, though it`s a bit hard to tell, this will allow these people to be supported across many different (data-driven) interactions as they shop, commute, and go about their daily lives. This is human-centered product design for an era of not just digitally enabled but “Google-powered” citizens.
Although smart cities are designed with increased efficiency and sustainability at heart, there are also a number of concerns surrounding the technology involved in creating a truly smart city. The combination of sensors, cameras, and constant data collection has led to a number of concerns about surveillance, vulnerability to hacking, and transparency about what our data is being used for.
The online nature of a smart city naturally makes it more vulnerable to cyber-attacks, so digital security is paramount. For example, if hackers are able to access systems managing electricity grids, this could lead to widespread blackouts. Equally, the frequency and volume of personal data collected pose a risk to privacy if the systems are breached. Aside from hypothetical (but very possible) system breaches, an extreme version of a smart city that sees every part of life under surveillance raises ethical questions about what it means as a human to be living under constant surveillance and where to draw the line.
No longer “us and them”.
Toronto’s sidewalks are being built with traffic lights for other cities. According to Sidewalk Labs, the notion that engineers and urbanites don’t get along needs to change. The company engages urban experts and technicians in product planning. He included residents and workers in the beta test, and the city government gave him a social permit to work. Instead of a cartel of architects, city planners, consultants, developers, and regulators planning their city’s future privately using the standard master planning process, the company will spend $50 million next year to support the public dialogue. Discuss what Sidewalk Toronto should be like among citizens, governments, universities, and others.
There are two main scholars that doubt when it comes to the future of smart cities – the optimistic and the pessimistic. Those optimistic about the growth in technology predict that there could be up to 3 trillion IoT devices in use by 2035, many of which will be embedded in smart cities. The increasing development of these technologies will continue to push the boundaries of smart city achievements and it is an exciting time to be involved in urban development. Conversely, those more skeptical of the risks of smart city technology predict that technologies’ inability to cope with demands and individual fears about data usage may stall the development of smart communities.
Ultimately, the development of smart cities is happening hand-in-hand with the tech giants and will have a profound effect on all aspects of city life and management, from public safety to transportation and pollution monitoring. As long as developments are occurring with transparency, data security, and accountability in mind, smart cities could see brilliant improvements to the quality of life, without turning day-to-day life into a dystopia.
You probably have a lot of ideas that won’t go anywhere. But one thing is clear. Sidewalk Labs thinks about cities like no other tech company has ever thought of. Can they build? This will certainly build on their technology and their approach to smart city development.
You’ll probably have a lot of ideas that won’t go anywhere. But one thing is clear. Sidewalk Labs thinks about cities like no other tech company has ever thought of. Can they build buildings? it will certainly be based on their technology and their touch on smart city development.
Author: Diva Maharani | Illustrator: Akbar Nugroho