From 4th – 8th December 2017 Compare the Cloud be running a number of articles on Smart Cities. As a special preview, Kayla Matthews takes a look at Google’s plans to turn Toronto in the most high-tech city you’ve ever seen.

Google has changed the way we use the internet. What if it changed the way people live, too? It just might for some Toronto residents.

In mid-October, Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of a Google parent company called Alphabet Labs, signed a deal to develop 12 acres of land on Toronto’s waterfront. That deal launched an initiative called Sidewalk Toronto. The goal is to create an extremely connected community called Quayside.

A High-Tech Place With a Low Cost of Living

It’s no secret that Google keeps tabs on how people use the internet and adjusts its algorithms accordingly to result in more relevant online experiences. Sidewalk Labs plans to do the same with the aim of enhancing community living through data collection.

For example, it might use personal information to make streets safer, streamline the necessities of life such as timely trash collection and make public transit routes more efficient. Such statistics would also likely be used to see how people interact with and make use of what Quayside offers its residents.

Many people may be surprised about the projected cost of living for this advanced community. Representatives from Sidewalk Labs believe people could live in Quayside for 14% less than the surrounding area. Timber-frame housing, modular units and cohabiting situations are some of the scenarios being examined to help people live well for less.

Multi-purpose buildings may also result in mixed-use environments with houses, offices and production facilities. They’ll ensure spaces don’t go to waste and contrast with the city’s existing zoning laws. The associated electricity grid would reduce energy consumption in that district to 95% below city regulations.

A Hefty Investment and Huge Potential Development Plans

Thanks to an initial $50 million (U.S. dollars) investment from Sidewalk Labs, the Sidewalk Toronto project could result in no less than 3.3 million square feet of housing, commercial space and office buildings. Notably, one of the structures in the new development could serve as the new headquarters for Google Canada.

Also, if things go as planned, Google’s “smart city” might not be the only boost to Toronto’s economy. The Canadian destination is also in the running to welcome Amazon. The mega e-commerce company is in the evaluation phase for picking a location for its second headquarters.

However, there are housing concerns related to the possibility of Amazon’s arrival. The brand could hire as many as 50,000 new employees, and they’d all need places to live. Could Quayside help fill the housing void? Potentially, but it’s too early to tell.

The Possible Pitfalls of a Connected City

As interesting as Quayside seems, no city is perfect. Many individuals know that the blue light associated with technological gadgets can disrupt the body’s natural sleep cycle. Even so, 95% of Americans use some form of technology an hour before bed. Canadians likely have similar habits and have grown accustomed to sleeping next to their phones and tablets or using them just before bed as steadfastly as a toddler might rely on a teddy bear or security blanket.

Health experts warn using gadgets before bed isn’t healthy. It makes sense then, that Quayside’s inhabitants could theoretically deal with sleep issues from the surrounding and constantly present tech.

Sidewalk Labs released a 220-page document outlining aspirations for its community, and noted how only two pages discuss privacy

Furthermore, people raise privacy concerns and wonder what sacrifices they’d make to live in a place that seemingly tracks everything they do. Anthony Townsend, an internationally known author, strategy consultant and speaker, recognizes that Quayside represents a “tremendous opportunity.” However, he pointed out that Sidewalk Labs released a 220-page document outlining aspirations for its community, and noted how only two pages discuss privacy.

Google's plans for Toronto Smart City -> 'other forward-thinking organizations... fell short of expectations'Click To Tweet

It’s also worth realizing other forward-thinking organizations and people dreamed up futuristic communities that fell short of expectations — presumably because individuals weren’t ready for such significant changes.

Songdo, a community in South Korea, is one of them. Granted, the city won’t be finished until 2020, but many analysts view it as a failure because it currently houses only about half the residents it could hold.

Walt Disney even had bright ideas of a “future city” called Epcot. As we know now though, only a theme park materialized from the visionary’s dream.

Quayside has hurdles to clear but substantial funding and a major brand backing it. It’ll be fascinating to see if and how this groundbreaking concept comes to life.