Posts tagged with "Sidewalk Labs":

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Sidewalk Labs unveils full Toronto waterfront master plan that's a timber-topia

The smart city is the king of go-to solutions for the problems that bedevil urban areas. At the moment, the concept—tech innovates those problems away!—is trending hard in Toronto thanks to the work of Sidewalk Labs, the Alphabet-owned company that dove face first into urban design a few years ago with a plan for a lakefront district in Ontario's capital. Now, that plan is a completed master plan, the foreground to any large development. The public got its first look at Sidewalk Labs' new neighborhoods yesterday when the company released a full run through of their finalized plans. Unlike New York's super-sleek Hudson Yards, a comparable "big development," there will be a forest's worth of wood buildings in this project.  The digital doorstopper runs 1,500 pages and is available here, but the basic premise is two new mega-developments, with the potential for more, will be built mostly from mass timber and kitted out with sensors and data collectors that will, its authors contend, make life more pleasant for Torontonians by providing affordable housing, non-car transit options, jobs, and economic development. The company will, for a substantial investment and cut of the profits, develop real estate, finance transit networks, provide management services to government, and deliver what it calls "advanced systems," the whiz-bang infrastructure that supports the building of Quayside and Villiers West. The computerized promise of better services has garnered a lot of attention. Trash-sweeping robots would displace nifty nabber trash grabbers. Sensors embedded in crosswalks could, for example, keep the walk sign on until a pedestrian is safely on the opposite curve. Google's business model relies on pawning off data advertisers, but in a media briefing, Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff claimed that the very valuable data Sidewalk Labs collects will be underpinned by the "strongest data and privacy regime for any urban data in the world." That protection was certainly absent for Google Nest Cam users, and government officials still have concerns over whether the company's policies will align with Canadian data security laws. Data gleaned in Toronto, Doctoroff noted, will be stored in a data bank and won't be shared with third parties without users' "explicit consent." While it's too soon to tell how that promise shakes out, there's plenty of information on the smart city's design and construction. Unlike 20th-century glass-and-steel corporate modernism that projected power and influence, Sidewalk Labs is turning to mass timber for 12 major buildings in the Quayside portion of the development. The showcase here is both structures by London's Heatherwick Studios, the eminent go-to firm for megadevelopers, and an $80 million vertical timber supply chain for those buildings that will extend from forests to an Ontario factory to fashionable city blocks. Doctoroff said his company is working with the Toronto buildings department to amend rules that cap timber building heights at six stories in order to build up to 30 stories tall. The developments will feature a standard of mixed-use towers, but about 70 percent of the project will be devoted to housing. Of these units, about 40 percent, or 1,700 units, will be rented below-market. "We expect to make money the way a normal real estate company would," said Doctoroff. Sidewalk Labs is investing over $680 million in what is projected to be a $2.9 billion development.  The credits list New York's Beyer Blinder Belle (BBB) and Heatherwick Studio as the teams responsible for the master plan sketches and renderings, but Doctoroff said Canadian firms would be behind most of the projects to come. Along with Stantec, BBB gets top billing for design and engineering services, while Snøhetta who were tapped for design services back in February, is credited alongside Heatherwick and dozens of other firms for research and development.
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Sidewalk Labs rolls out its mobile tracking services in Portland

Portland, Oregon, has partnered with Alphabet subsidiary Sidewalk Labs to roll out a new mobile data collection service, with the goal of tracking how people move through the city. Through Replica, Sidewalk Labs’ program that can aggregate de-identified location data from cellphones and turn it into a “digital map,” Portland will be able to more accurately track public transportation demand and the various ways in which people are getting around. According to GeekWire, the year-long pilot, which has been somewhat under the radar until this point, will cost the city of Portland $457,000. Replica works by first hoovering up de-identified location data from mobile apps, location data aggregators, and telecommunication companies, which sell location data. Using that information, combined with demographic data, Replica can create what Sidewalk Labs calls a “synthetic population” that can be used to model how real people move through any given area. The model is then calibrated against on-the-ground observations for accuracy. A new Replica model is generated every three months to show the impact of new policies and infrastructure on movement patterns. The use of Replica in Portland will be overseen by TriMet, the agency that operates mass transit in the Portland metropolitan area, the Portland’s Bureau of Transportation, and the Portland Metro. Portland’s City Council approved the use of Replica last December, but the program won’t be put in place until Sidewalk Labs provides a model derived from Replica in July that passes the bar set by all three agencies. The initial data aggregation for Replica has already begun, so that Sidewalk Labs can build its initial test population. If the Replica program is approved, the city hopes to use the data provided to measure the usage of bike lanes and public transportation, what impact for-hire vehicles are having on traffic congestion, what areas of the city are underserved transportation-wise, and what facilities are needed in public parks. Because Replica recreates commuting paths, the city would be able to track work commutes as well as where people gather during their free time, providing urban planners with an estimate of what’s actually being used. Replica has the added advantage of providing this information without the need to build surveillance cameras or take surveys, as smartphones are ubiquitous. Of course, privacy advocates have raised concerns over whether the data would truly be anonymous, and who would have access to it, concerns also raised over Sidewalk Labs’ Quayside development in Toronto. Portland has pledged that only the three aforementioned agencies would be able to use the information generated by Replica, but even they won’t have access to the entire dataset, only data returned via filtered queries. Sidewalk Labs is reportedly looking to test Replica in Kansas City and Chicago as well.
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PARTISANS' Building Raincoat could help Toronto keep a street culture year-round

Toronto is known for many great things. Its weather isn’t one of them. For the city's architecture the question is: how can public, urban space be usable and comfortable throughout the year? The architecture collective PARTISANS thinks it might have an answer. Referencing the “maze of awnings…and glass arcades” that defined Toronto streets in the late 19th century, the firm has designed an adjustable awning, somewhat-humorously called the "Building Raincoat," that could be installed to protect the sidewalk (and its users) from the elements. Intended to be applied onto any building, or perhaps pre-planned in new construction, the ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) structure latches onto the facade and to street pavers to create a protected space that remains transparent and lightweight, but still maintains the necessary durability to handle any meteorological assault. The Building Raincoat's four layers of EFTE help regulate sun exposure, and the spaces between the two interior layers inflate and deflate automatically to shift the opacity of the surface in order to regulate temperature under the canopy. The firm expects the Building Raincoat to double the number of daylight hours that can be comfortably spent outside each year. Cofounder Alex Josephson told Sidewalk Talk, the publication of Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto's joint effort Sidewalk Toronto, which hosted a presentation of the prototype of the building raincoat earlier this week, that PARTISANS took inspiration from other similar architectural typologies, like inflatables, that have been used to deal with space in experimental ways. The team iterated an array of possible structures before deciding on the three main qualities they needed: organic, folded, tensile. The raincoats have been developed in collaboration with structural designers Maffeis Engineering and environmental engineers RWDI, which have expertise in sustainability and in climate-conscious architecture.  To arrive at the right stable, comfortable, and aesthetically pleasing form, the collaborators have leveraged computer modeling tools from the get-go, integrating them into the design process, rather than just using them during later testing phases. Leveraging these technologies, they’ve developed what Josephson calls a “toolkit,” an array of different related shapes and systems that can be adaptably deployed and maneuvered. “This is real experimentation where the scientific method meets design,” Josephson told Sidewalk Talk. In addition to providing adaptable protection from the elements, engineer Gonçalo Pedro of RWDI said that the Building Raincoat acts as a natural extension of the space it is attached to. It creates flexible transitions and gradations between inside and outside, public and private. While still in the experimental phase, the team hopes that the building raincoat can help shape and shift our relation to public space, allowing us to occupy the street together as much as possible. This month, they've put it to the test and have installed a version of the Building Raincoat at 307, Sidewalk Labs' Toronto headquarters. During the afternoon session of Facades+ Toronto on October 11 PARTISANS, Maffeis Engineering, and Purpose Building will lead "Futuristic Skins: ETFE as Building Envelope," an intensive hands-on workshop focused on the design, application, and future of ETFE.
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Sidewalk Labs reveals Snøhetta and Heatherwick designs for its Toronto development

Toronto’s interconnected “smart neighborhood” is inching ever closer to reality. Sidewalk Labs has released a batch of new renderings from Snøhetta and Heatherwick Studio, as well as documents detailing how the company plans to pay for the ground-up development. Sidewalk Labs’ Quayside waterfront Toronto neighborhood is being touted as a smart, interconnected, “100 percent timber” development. In a February 14 Medium post, the company released a progress report detailing its progress before the finalization of its draft Master Innovation and Development Plan. One proposal that’s drawing flak is an arrangement where Sidewalk Labs would build infrastructure such as light rail on the site in exchange for a share of the revenue generated by increased property values—diverting tax revenue from public coffers. Sidewalk Labs claims the arrangement would allow the neighborhood to rise “years, if not decades, sooner than it would otherwise. This would unlock the potential of the Eastern Waterfront, and the jobs, housing, and economic growth that will come with it.” The company also clarified how many units of housing it would be building in the neighborhood, which would contain 12 mass timber towers. The project will adhere to the site’s existing zoning and will be 90 percent residential. That means 2,500 units total, 1,000 of which would be rented at below-market rates, and 50 percent of which would be “purpose-built rental apartments.” Half of the below-market housing would be affordable (and a quarter of that marked as “deeply affordable”) and the other half would be designated for middle-income earners. To meet the high demand for timber that the 12-acre project requires, Sidewalk Labs has announced that they would build a tall-timber factory in Ontario, which would supply up to 4,000 new jobs. Google’s 600,000-to-one-million-square-foot Canadian headquarters could also be in the making on the western side of Villiers Island along the planned light rail loop. Retail, an educational component, and amenities are likely headed to the campus as well. The neighborhood will also become a testbed for innovative urban technologies. Other than the weather-responsive “skirts” deployed at the open-air bases of each building, the entire project will be networked with high-speed Wi-Fi. A civic data trust would be responsible for removing identifying markers from any information gathered and aggregating it. On the design side, Michael Green Architecture has developed a mass timber kit-of-parts, and Snøhetta and Heatherwick Studio have designed building concepts for the campus, innovation zone, common areas, and other spaces. Of note are the “scalloped” balconies found throughout the residential developments and post-and-beam styled open-air “stoas” at the base of each tower. The design will continue to change as Sidewalk Labs solicits feedback from stakeholders, the Canadian and provincial government, and Alphabet, Sidewalk Labs' parent company. The entire presentation can be viewed here.
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Can Sidewalk Labs realize a totally timber smart city?

Can one of the world’s oldest building materials form the foundation of a sensor-integrated “smart” neighborhood? Alphabet subsidiary Sidewalk Labs is making a go of it on the Toronto waterfront, and has enlisted wood advocates and Katerra partner Michael Green Architecture (MGA) to design flexible, mixed-use timber buildings for its 3-million-square-foot Quayside project.

If the 12-acre site is developed as planned, it would become the largest timber project in the world.

The ground-up development in Quayside is leaning on mass timber because Sidewalk Labs has touted the material as sustainable and as tough as steel, as well as because cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels work well in prefabricated structures. MGA has designed a kit-of-parts that can be used for buildings of every scale, and Sidewalk Labs is reportedly looking at constructing a collection of 12 mass timber towers, with the tallest topping out at 30 stories.

Sidewalk Labs is aiming to build within Quayside’s existing zoning, which would entail 90 percent residential development.

The neighborhood will encourage street-level interaction through a combination of design and environmental control. MGA has anchored the base of each building with a “stoa,” or an open-air covered walkway supported by a colonnade (in this case, V-shaped heavy timber columns) that will contain retail and communal gathering places.

Of course, Toronto’s winters are especially punishing, and doubly so on the waterfront. Sidewalk Labs tapped the architecture studio PARTISANS to design an “outdoor comfort toolkit,” including a computer-controlled retractable canopy that will clad the stoas. The umbrella-like structures will block out wind, rain, and snow while heated pavers will keep snow off of the streets; the company claims that both advancements will double the amount of time residents will be able to spend outdoors.

Beyer Blinder Belle is responsible for the site’s master plan and Toronto-based PUBLIC WORK will be designing the landscape. Sidewalk Labs also reached out to the Ontario-based gh3*, Toronto’s Teeple Architects, and Toronto-based Dubbeldam Architecture + Design to create residential unit concepts. Sidewalk Labs will submit its final Master Innovation and Development Plan for public comment sometime this spring.

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Sidewalk Labs releases a new site plan for its Toronto neighborhood

Alphabet subsidiary Sidewalk Labs is continuing to refine its plans for Toronto’s waterfront Quayside neighborhood. The tech company released its first look at the mass timber development in August of this year and has now released a more in-depth breakdown of how its 12-acre site will be developed. The latest vision of Quayside comes in advance of a roundtable on December 8 with community members and elected officials, the second-to-last such meeting before the release of the master innovation and development plan in 2019. The new draft site plan, which Sidewalk Labs described as “more Jetsons, less Black Mirror,” has slashed the development’s height and set specific affordable housing and sustainability targets. Quayside, which will be 90 percent affordable in accordance with the area’s existing zoning, is leaning on mass timber for its mixed-use towers. The Vancouver-based Michael Green Architecture was tasked with creating a kit-of-parts that could work with buildings of every scale. Each building will be anchored by an open-air “stoa,” covered walkways supported by rows of V-shaped heavy timber columns. New York's Beyer Blinder Belle is responsible for the project's master planning. Development will now be clustered around 12 mixed-use mass timber towers, with the tallest topping out at 30 stories. The tallest building in the sensor-integrated smart neighborhood was originally supposed to reach 50 stories tall. Sidewalk Labs now expects approximately 5,000 residents to call Quayside home, and have earmarked 20 percent of the units as affordable, and another 20 percent as below-market rate. Fifty percent of the development’s housing will be rental units. On the transportation side, Quayside is positioning itself to connect with Toronto’s light rail network. The neighborhood is also looking into a “flexible street” system that can transition from supporting traditional cars to autonomous vehicles once the technology comes to fruition. Quayside is shooting to reduce emissions over a typical neighborhood by 75-85 percent through a combination of geothermal wells and solar panels. The timber used, all of it locally sourced in a boost to the Canadian lumber industry, will also produce less carbon dioxide emissions overall when compared to a typical concrete-and-steel building. As Engadget noted, Sidewalk Labs has been less-than-successful in its attempts to create a trust to oversee the massive amounts of data the neighborhood would collect on its residents. Last month, the project’s lead expert and consultant, Ann Cavoukian, quit over concerns that the trust would not be able to anonymize the information it was receiving. Following the final roundtables and the approval of a master plan in 2019, Sidewalk Labs expects construction of the project to last three to five years.
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Privacy expert quits Sidewalk Labs' smart city project in Toronto

Concerns about data privacy continue to dog the “smart city” planned for the Toronto waterfront by Google’s sister company Sidewalk Labs. But it isn’t just residents and watchdog groups raising the alarm—consultants and advisors to the project are also jumping ship. The latest to leave is Dr. Ann Cavoukian, a privacy expert whose resignation was intended as a “strong statement” about the project's data protection issues. Announced last year, Quayside, as the neighborhood development is called, has from the beginning been envisioned as a district run on data and tech, and is the largest urban development of its kind in North America. A layer of sensors embedded in the city would control traffic systems, monitor air pollution, automate garbage collection, transport residents, and much more. In response to concerns about how it would protect the data, Sidewalk Labs just last week proposed that it should be managed by an independent data trust, according to a new data governance proposal. But this is far from enough for privacy experts like Cavoukian. “I imagined us creating a Smart City of Privacy, as opposed to a Smart City of Surveillance,” she wrote in her resignation letter. Cavoukian’s guidelines center around Privacy by Design principles, which incorporate privacy protection in every step of a project’s engineering process, a condition that she said Sidewalk Labs had also committed to. However, Cavoukian said she realized last week that the data gathered in Quayside, instead of being wiped and unidentifiable, would be available to third parties who would not be beholden to the privacy commitment made by Sidewalk Labs. The Alphabet company, for its part, released a statement that essentially said its hands were tied: "It became clear that Sidewalk Labs would play a more limited role in near-term discussions about a data governance framework at Quayside." With Cavoukian's resignation, she joins Saadia Muzaffar, founder of Tech Girls Canada, who stepped down earlier this month from the project's digital strategy advisory panel due to what she called a lack of transparency and public information about its data protection measures. As Muzaffar wrote in her own letter of resignation: "The most recent roundtable in August displayed a blatant disregard for resident concerns about data and digital infrastructure. Time was spent instead talking about buildings made out of wood and the width of one-way streets, things no one has contested or expressed material concern for in this entire process.” The final plan for the tech-driven district will be released next year.
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Sidewalk Labs releases its vision for Toronto's waterfront

Alphabet subsidiary Sidewalk Labs has revealed their vision for a proposed “smart city” on Toronto’s waterfront in a (now) 12-acre parcel in the formerly-industrial port district of Quayside. This is the first time the company has released concrete design details on their forthcoming neighborhood, but information on how data will be collected­­—and how much—is still being kept under wraps. If the project is approved as is, the neighborhood could eventually be home to 3,000 residential units built entirely from mass timber. Sidewalk Labs has enlisted the help of the Katerra-owned Michael Green Architecture (MGA), which is no stranger to working with timber, to design the large mixed-use Quayside buildings. At the base of all of the proposed buildings would be “stoas," open-air retail and communal gathering spaces with adjustable protection from the elements. If built, the three-million-square-foot development would be the largest timber project in the world. All of this was revealed during a briefing yesterday ahead of the latest round of public input. Sidewalk Labs released a suite of new details during the public roundtable, including their plans for activating the streets, integrating the adjacent waterway, and doubling the amount of time residents can enjoy outdoors. While the open nature of the modular stoas is meant to encourage pedestrian mingling at ground level, MGA has also designed a series of collapsible, umbrella-like structures to block out wind, rain, and snow. The expandable canopies, when combined with heated streets that melt snow, will supposedly mitigate some of the more unpleasant weather during the winter. Sidewalk Labs is also testing a modular paving system that can be embedded with sensors and rearranged depending on how the street is being used. The team is designing a new multimodal street grid for the neighborhood that prioritizes public transportation, biking, and walking, and that narrows the allotment for cars in anticipation of autonomous vehicles. Of course, Sidewalk Labs’ attempt to create a ground-up, fully-developed smart city is still in the planning phases and faces several hurdles. While tall timber construction was recently permitted in Oregon, Toronto still caps mass timber buildings at six stories; Sidewalk Labs reportedly wants to build as tall as 50 stories in Quayside. As previously mentioned, the company has also been tight-lipped on the type and quantity of data their neighborhood will collect, and it remains to be seen if the proposed technology will be mature enough to support a robust, interconnected infrastructure for 3,000 residents. We’ll find out more as we get closer to the project’s spring groundbreaking date.
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Sidewalk Labs’ grand vision for Toronto shrinks as skepticism grows

On Tuesday, Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto signed a deal that pared down some of the business's plans to design a smart city on the Canadian city's lakeshore. Sidewalk Labs, a New York-based urban innovation startup founded by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, was selected last year to work with Waterfront Toronto, a government-backed corporation, to reimagine underdeveloped parcels on the city’s eastern edge. The proposal, Sidewalk Toronto, envisioned 800 acres of waterfront as a test hub for new urban technologies. Since the announcement, details about the project have been slow to emerge, but last week a 58-page agreement between Sidewalk and Waterfront Toronto revealed a narrower scope for the tech company than originally imagine. Rather than having influence over the entirety of the city's waterfront, Sidewalk Labs has been given a more stringent site plan and governance with just 12 acres of land available for its new high-tech neighborhood at Quayside. The site sits south of Toronto’s downtown at Parliament Slip, a long-underutilized port and empty space adjacent to the city’s elevated highway. While many of the design details have been kept under wraps since Sidewalk Labs was chosen for the project last fall, we do know that it aims to combine a new mobility system for transportation, sustainable and flexible buildings, data integration, and digital infrastructure. In the initial description and renderings, Quayside features “futuristic city” tech innovations such as sensors that can detect pedestrians at traffic lights, robot vehicles that can transport garbage via underground tunnels, and a transformative street layout fit for shared self-driving cars. According to the new documents, the city of Toronto doesn’t plan to give over any other waterfront lands except the Quayside parcel to the Sidewalk Labs project, although Waterfront Toronto officials say that expanding later on to neighboring sites is still a possibility. It was also made clear that Sidewalk Labs will have zero equity in the project, though the group initially invested US$50 million on public consultations and pre-design and -development work. That money could be recovered in their share of the profits should the final plans be approved. To move forward, the designs must go through a series of public roundtables this fall and eventually be looked over by the city council. While a new waterfront scheme has been in talks for years, Toronto is now pushing back on Sidewalk Labs’ design largely, it seems, because the grand vision for the project isn’t all that clear. Many critics have noted the original framework for the proposal was thin on details, especially regarding how Sidewalk Labs would collect and use Torontonians’ data and ensure privacy. In the new agreement, a set of protections and promises are listed but there are no specifics on how the partners would enact those are laid out yet. According to The Globe and Mail, one of Waterfront Toronto’s board members, developer Julie Di Lorenzo who was outspoken in her opposition to Sidewalk Labs’ plan, stepped down from her seat recently because she was “uncomfortable with the nature of the agreement.” In early July, the corporation’s CEO Will Fleissig also suddenly resigned from his position. Tuesday’s deal was signed unanimously with neither formerly involved parties present. The explosion of excitement surrounding smart cities has lessened in recent months, in part due to concerns over how data would safely be distributed across a city-wide digital infrastructure. Not only that, but the question remains unanswered as to whether or not technology is ready for built-from-scratch cities to pop up overnight. Early promises like the self-driving car have yet to find their footing. Waterfront Toronto plans to break ground on the project as early as next spring if all approvals go through. Since this is Sidewalk Lab’s first chance to reinvent the smart city, if it doesn’t work out there, they’ll have to find another town to take them on.  
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Google's Sidewalk Labs emerges as top contender for Toronto waterfront project

What happens when urban planning decisions fall into the hands of tech companies? This is a question that has been asked with increasing frequency as driverless cars, data-driven urban interventions, and "smart cities" have insinuated themselves into the daily news cycle. This week, it was reported that Sidewalk Labs, an urban innovation startup under Google's parent company Alphabet, has emerged as the top contender to tackle a major new urban development project in Canada. Waterfront Toronto, a government-funded corporation operating in of Canada's most populous city, has selected Sidewalks Labs for Quayside, a project which aims to rework 12 acres along Old Toronto's inner harbor into mixed-use space including residential development, of which 20 percent must be affordable. Quayside is part of Toronto Waterfront's mission to adapt nearly 1,977 acres around the city's port to modern use. Waterfront Toronto has been upfront about their tech-focused approach to the redevelopment project. In the competition's RFP, they announced the project was to be "a test bed for how we construct the future city" focused on "forward-thinking urban design and new technologies to create people-first neighborhoods." Sidewalk Labs seems to match these requirements, with projects like the Link NYC wi-fi kiosks now dotting the streets of New York's five boroughs, which is managed by a new Sidewalk-managed company called Intersection. Much like their (and Google's) parent company Alphabet Inc., one of Sidewalk's approaches has been to function as a kind of business incubator for organizations dealing with topic-specific urban interventions. Among their other projects, Cityblock Health addresses urban space as a determinant for public health and Semaphore Lab prototypes adaptive traffic lights. Sidewalk's slogan, "We're reimagining cities from the internet up," may provoke unease among urban planners or socially-minded architects – language is telling, and this catchphrase is notably people-less. Even when addressing issues like affordable housing, urban congestion, and health, solutions based on predictive algorithms rather than human experience can engender healthy skepticism. Waterfront Toronto, now in a self-imposed "blackout period" as they finalize the process, expects to make a formal announcement sometime this fall. The board has a scheduled meeting on October 20th to decide on the staff recommendation.
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Sidewalk Labs may develop its own district to test smart city tech

This May 3 to May 6, the Brooklyn Navy Yard's Duggal Greenhouse is hosting the inaugural Smart Cities NYC conference and expo. Smart Cities NYC is ambitious in its scope, with a global selection of speakers whose backgrounds include government, the tech industry, academia, real estate/development, and design. Autonomous vehicles, public health, construction technology, resilient urban landscapes, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are just a few of the subjects being discussed. The Architect's Newspaper is covering the first two days of the conference—see yesterday's coverage here! Dan Doctoroff, C.E.O. and co-founder of Sidewalk Labs, Alphabet's urban innovations company and designer of LinkNYC, today laid out his company's vision for driving smart city technology into the near future. Before delving into Sidewalk Lab's goals and methods, Doctoroff painted a picture of an industry facing intrinsic challenges. "Getting things done in cities is really hard.... no city in the world does a good job of truly integrating the physical and the digital," said Doctoroff. That's why, he said, venture capitalists hadn't invested deeply in smart city technology companies. Additionally, as infrastructure crumbles and cities become unaffordable, the public loses faith in government's ability to solve problems. Yet, he believes that technological innovations in materials/fabrication, social media, machine learning, and related fields have the ability to revolutionize cities the same ways that steam engines, electric grids, and cars did in the past.   Doctoroff then discussed an ambitious plan to accelerate the innovation process. Sidewalk Labs is "looking into developing a large-scale district" that would serve as a smart city technology testbed. The company is currently in the feasibility studies phase, and it remained unclear if this would be ground-up construction, but it sees this test bed as critical. Thanks to its district-scale size, it will attract an aggregation of innovators whose collaborations and synergies will create positive feedback loops of experimentation and success. Put differently, the sheer scale of the testbed will make its technologies greater than the sum of their parts. Once successful models are discovered, he predicted, they will be quickly dissimulated. He cited The High Line (a Bloomberg-era project that Doctoroff oversaw as deputy mayor) as an example of a globally and rapidly copied idea. Throughout his speech, Doctoroff often repeated that such innovations would only be successful if they improved quality of life, health, opportunity, equity, and other laudable goals. To that end, he outlined several specific areas where Sidewalk Labs was pursuing its ideas. One was the more efficient use of real estate; Sidewalk is currently looking into prefab modular housing, sensors that monitor building performance in real-time, and robotic delivery services that would reduce the need for residential storage space. Another area is mobility systems that would replace private cars, which Doctoroff said were a financial burden to many ($9,000 to $10,000 per year for a single family), as well as creators of sprawl, lethal accidents, and carbon dioxide emissions. Sidewalk Labs is exploring self-driving cars, car shares, optimizing existing road network usage, and the incentivizing of walking and biking. Sidewalk Labs's third area of focus is sustainability. Most notably, Doctoroff cited a thermal exchange system in development that could capture buildings' wasted heat, thereby reducing energy usage by up to 80 percent over a year. He also mentioned more familiar techniques, like greywater recycling and Passive House technology. A fourth area involved urban commons: the "public realm that is the city's living room or backyard," as Doctoroff put it. Innovations in that department included the use of retractable ETFE canopies to protect bike lanes and sensors that monitor air quality and the status of public assets (presumably benches, streetlights, and similar infrastructure). Lastly, Doctoroff referenced the "close-knit community that uses data to improve services." This area of focus included ensuring universal access to broadband and undertakings like LinkNYC. The improved collection and analysis of data could improve healthcare delivery and new democratic forums. On the whole, Sidewalk Labs's plans were ambitious and brimming with technological optimism, despite the challenges that smart city technology companies face. The question of top-down versus bottom-up efforts was a final and critical undercurrent of its vision: "You can never truly plan a city, you can [just] lay foundations," said Doctoroff. How exactly that plays out, and where the public has an opportunity to shape and direct these technologies, remains to be seen. Want more technology news for the architecture, engineering, and construction industries? Don't miss The Architect's Newspaper's Tech+ expo, coming to New York City this May 23!
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This new transit map will help you prepare for the L train shutdown

More than a quarter-million people take the L train to get to and from Manhattan everyday, but riders are already bracing for that fateful day when the line's underwater tunnel closes for crucial repairs in 2019. In response to the shutdown, a group of New Yorkers are taking post–L train survival into their own hands with a new interactive map that may help all of us travel a little smarter.

In collaboration with transit advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, Google's New York–based Sidewalk Labs has put together an interactive map to illustrate how the L train shutdown will impact riders across the system. Now in beta, NYC Transit Explorer reveals transit access visually, encouraging New Yorkers to think more broadly about how to get around. Here's how it works: The map aggregates the MTA's GTFS feeds for subways, buses, and the Staten Island Ferry to ascertain how long it would take to get to point A to B or point B from A, C, D, and E. NYC Transit Explorer allows users to tweak the variables to their liking—if a bus-loving Queens-to-Brooklyn rider prefers to walk fewer than ten minutes at any given point in the trip, she can adjust variables to access the most surface transit possible, while a Bronx-to-Manhattan rush hour commuter might prefer the faster subway. The map depicts travel time on a gradient from each location, and it allows you to compare travel times to the same destination via a bus-only, subway-only or combination routes. Best yet, users can see, via a time gradient, how long it would take to get from two different points. If a person is moving, for example, he can plot his commute from his current home and get a sense of where he could relocate to preserve the same (or shorter) travel time. Looking towards the future, the map also allows users to see commutes without the L train, or with the newly-opened Second Avenue subway. Sidewalk Labs' handy video offers an explainer and how-to for getting around New York faster: For those whose map skills start and end with Google Maps, some of the Transit Explorer's features are less than intuitive. Addresses are added through a pin drop, while minor streets remain unlabeled even in the closest zoom. Nevertheless, the map reveals transit deserts and hubs outside the city center (hello, Jamaica) and could be a useful tool for L-train dependent Brooklynites wondering how they'll get to the city when their train powers down.