Switch to previous version of Magzter
How Tech World Is Shaping The Physical World To Suit A Human One

Google’s ideas for the future of cities, starting with Toronto.

Justin Davidson

When the highest of high-tech master plans for Toronto’s waterfront, issued by Google’s sibling company Sidewalk Labs, arrived at my doorstep, I laughed. As I first riffled through the “Urban Innovations” section of the four-volume, 1,600-page boxed set (which you can also download), I came across a proposal for “lightweight, adjustable street furniture”—a.k.a. market stalls. There’s even a photograph of Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori, where these modular artichoke- and eggplant-vending platforms pop up every morning and get stowed away by mid afternoon, just as they have for centuries. Awesome technology!

As I sat and read, though, it became clear that this forward-to-the-past approach is not a gaffe or a ploy but a goal. Billed as a data- crunching techno-utopia, Sidewalk’s vision for Quayside, the first 12-acre parcel of Toronto’s much vaster eastern waterfront, distills old-city principles and revives them for the digital age. Streets are designed around gasoline-free forms of transit: feet, wheelchairs, bicycles, and trolleys. Instead of having roads coated in asphalt that must be constantly jack hammered up, relaid, and patched, Quayside will have large hexagonal pavers that can be popped out and dropped back into place—essentially, oversize cobblestones.

It’s fascinating to see a software-powered universe come to grips with the physical world. The result is better than we had any reason to expect. Sidewalk’s CEO is Daniel Doctor off, the deputy mayor under Michael Bloomberg who bequeathed to New York his signature project, Hudson Yards. Far from being the sequel to that district of glass megatowers, though, Quayside is the new city that Hudson Yards might have been: mixed, flexible, and humane. This is a mega development organized not only around a corporate ledger, a politician’s ambitions, or a tech guru’s fantasies—though all those desires are in the mix—but also around a set of thoroughly road-tested urban needs. At Hudson Yards, financial mechanisms dictated what could be built. In Abu Dhabi’s showcase, Masdar City, technological goals dictated what should be built. Quayside, on the other hand, turns the paradigm around, first determining what kind of place people want to live in, then designing the technological and financial tools to make it happen. In some ways, the Sidewalk vision is that of a preindustrial city, only more orderly, more privatized, and with less early death.

Continue Reading with Magzter GOLD

GoldLogo

Get unlimited access to thousands of curated premium stories and 5,000+ magazines

READ THE ENTIRE ISSUE

July 8-21, 2019

MORE STORIES FROM NEW YORK MAGAZINEView All
Well, Here We Are
New York magazine
10+ mins read
The Voice of a Generation
New York magazine
10+ mins read
Still Gazing in Awe at Jude Law
New York magazine
10+ mins read
Republicans Don't Even Know What They're Covering Up
New York magazine
6 mins read
Peter Thiel's Latest Venture Is the American Government
New York magazine
6 mins read
Medea in Brooklyn
New York magazine
9 mins read
In Conversation: FRANK GEHRY
New York magazine
10+ mins read
Good-bye to Gotham
New York magazine
4 mins read
The Culture Pages – Aidy Bryant – “I'm Not Nice!”
New York magazine
10+ mins read
The Undersung
New York magazine
10+ mins read
RELATED STORIES
Punk In Theory
Guitar World
2 mins read
Dan MacDonald: Organically Grown Music
Fiddler Magazine
10+ mins read
The Concept of Self
American Art Collector
2 mins read
Sri Lanka To Toronto - Canada's Brisket Whisperer
Saveur
2 mins read
The Prophecy
Muscular Development
4 mins read
'A Star Is Born' Mania Sweeps Over Toronto Film Festival
AppleMagazine
2 mins read
Find Little Gems In Canada's Biggest City- Toronto
Business Traveler
3 mins read
Is Drake An Annoying Sports Fan, Or Just Living the Dream?
ESPN The Magazine
5 mins read
City & Country - Meghan's Hideaways
Woman's Day Australia
1 min read
How Indo-Canadian Producer Arnob Bal Is Shaping the Sound of Indian Indie Musicians
RollingStone India
4 mins read