From the Wall Street Journal, Aug 1:
TORONTO—An Alphabet Inc. GOOGL 0.28% project aimed at creating a “smart city” on Toronto’s waterfront is facing resistance from local officials who are worried about the development’s direction and how Google’s parent company will handle residents’ personal data.HT: FT Alphaville's Further Reading post.
The local friction has raised doubts about Alphabet’s inaugural attempt to use urban design and technology to tackle modern-day issues, such as expensive housing, traffic congestion and environmental sustainability.
The Toronto project is suffering from delays and the loss of key personnel. On Tuesday, the two bodies behind the project—Alphabet’s subsidiary Sidewalk Labs LLC and Waterfront Toronto, a Canadian government entity—said they expect to release a final development plan by next spring. That plan had been expected this November. Meanwhile, the chief executive of Waterfront Toronto, a supporter of Sidewalk, resigned in July, and a real-estate developer left Waterfront’s board this week because she was uncomfortable with Alphabet as a partner.
The early stumbles reflect the challenges of building new, high-tech land developments and illustrate the difficulties for-profit technology companies can encounter when working with municipal agencies responsible for safeguarding citizens’ privacy.
Sidewalk remains positive about the waterfront plan and its relationship with Toronto. “We have had the privilege of working with public servants at all three levels of government, and on the staff and board of Waterfront Toronto, to create a groundbreaking plan for Toronto’s waterfront,” the company said in an emailed statement.
Under the terms of a negotiating agreement issued on Tuesday, Sidewalk laid out a plan to invest a total of $50 million for the next planning stage of the deal. Waterfront Toronto, a development and revitalization agency established in 2001 with government-appointed board members, agreed to negotiate intellectual property ownership and digital privacy rights based on a set of “guiding principles” emphasizing people’s control over their own information.
Privacy watchdogs have questioned who will control sensitive digital information as residents are tracked by sensors that may be embedded in such infrastructure as traffic lights, thermostats and garbage-disposal units. Also at issue are ownership rights over any products or techniques developed at the site and sold elsewhere.
“Is the public getting back from the project the appropriate level of value in terms of money and public policy objectives like public housing?” said Richard Joy, executive director of the Toronto chapter of real estate and land development nonprofit, the Urban Land Institute. “It’s brand new territory, and perhaps one for which we don’t have a very good measure yet.”...MORE