As Amazon scraps New York, Alphabet’s Toronto ambitions swell

As Amazon scraps New York, Alphabet’s Toronto ambitions swell
Sidewalk Labs LLC’s ambitions to build a futuristic city on Toronto’s waterfront have gotten a whole lot bigger — and perhaps more controversial.

The urban innovation unit of Alphabet Inc. and sister company to Google is proposing to speed up its plans to redevelop 350 derelict acres on the city’s waterfront in return for a cut of property taxes, development charges and increased land values.

New York-based Sidewalk is offering to finance the infrastructure required to get the project off the ground, including a light-rail line, in return for a slice of the proceeds, which it estimates could be about $6 billion (Canadian) over the next 30 years.

The proposal, which includes a new Google campus, builds on Sidewalk’s company’s 2017 plan for a 12-acre redevelopment that envisioned a mecca of green energy, self-driving technology and 3,000 housing units all connected by digital sensors.

Sidewalk chief executive officer Dan Doctoroff said the project needs to be bigger for infrastructure investments like utility lines and public transit to make sense. The new financing model would allow the waterfront rail link to be built “years, if not decades, sooner than it would otherwise,” he said in a blog post.

Privacy Concerns

The proposal to build a city from scratch is the most wide-ranging since Sidewalk was selected to oversee the development. While greeted with enthusiasm when first unveiled, the project has become embroiled in controversy.

Privacy advocates are concerned about how data will be used by Alphabet, though the company has since committed to putting it all into public trust and not using it for advertising. Having money flow to Sidewalk that would normally go to city coffers might only inflame more controversy.

At the core of the debate is a question about whether tech giants like Google should have such a big impact on how cities are shaped. Inc. pulled out of a plan to build a large new campus in New York City after pressure from some residents and local politicians.

The project has yet to be approved by Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto, the government organization overseeing the project and various levels of government, and it may be years before it’s realized.
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