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