New York Magazine

Cozy Streetscapes and Big Data

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

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 midafternoon, 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.

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