Google’s Sidewalk Labs Sees Sustainable Future for Wynwood

Google's smart city development arm Sidewalk Labs will soon have a presence in Wynwood with a focus on sustainability.

Implementing smart city technology has quickly become one of the most important goals for governments of all sizes as well as both private and public development groups. The benefits are countless: examples of solutions grouped under the “smart city technology” category can offer optimizations for virtually anything from reducing heat loss to preventing the flooding of coastal cities.

According to Alison Novak, the head of urban developments at Sidewalk Labs, the Alphabet-owned “urban innovation company,” the company’s goal is to “create a new normal in which developers and communities can achieve shared goals and work together toward better cities.” 

“That’s a business-as-usual we can get behind, and a future that can’t arrive soon enough,” she writes.

Sidewalk Labs, meet Wynwood

The future will be arriving shortly in Wynwood. Sidewalk Labs recently unveiled that it has been tapped to advise on an innovative new development project in the heart of Miami’s technology hotbed. 

While the broader announcement did not focus specifically on the Miami development — Novak’s blog post instead highlights Sidewalk launch of its development advisory services, as it bounces back following an unsuccessful launch of its smart city project in Toronto in 2020 — the company’s inroads into Miami are just the latest confirmation that the Florida city is an emerging hotspot for tech in the U.S, and around the globe.

A rendering of Sidewalk Labs’ vision for Mana Common

The Google sister company has been hired by local developer Moishe Mana to advise on its Mana Commons development, which Novak says will reflect Sidewalk’s commitment to sustainable, environmentally-friendly infrastructure.

“More and more developers have a strong desire to make their projects as sustainable and equitable as possible while being financially feasible,” she writes. “We hear that time and again from everyone reaching out to us.” For Miami in particular, Sidewalk will work to determine how the 23-acre mixed-use Mana Commons project can “reduce grid demand by sharing local renewable resources among buildings and leveraging demand management tools for residents and tenants.” 

Sidewalk will also reduce landfill output by investigating new waste systems and consolidations. To do so, Sidewalk will likely use Delve, the AI design tool it launched last year specifically for the purpose of designing efficient, sustainable smart cities. 

Mana Commons, which Moishe Mana purchased in 2013, remains largely undeveloped, but the site is well known to the tech community, most recently hosting the Bitcoin 2021 conference earlier this year. 

Sustainability is Sidewalk Labs’ mission

The news from Sidewalk marks the company’s return to the fore after its Toronto project faltered in early 2020. But despite that project’s inability to get off the ground, plans for Sidewalk’s smart city development in Toronto reflected the commitment to sustainability that is now echoed in its plans for Miami. 

In Toronto, Sidewalk had planned for and piloted an innovative new recycling program, anchoring most of its planning in sustainability and “climate-positive development.” The company had cited energy-efficient building designs, digital management tools, a district energy system called a “thermal grid” (in addition to the construction of an advanced power grid using solar energy and real-time energy pricing), a smart disposal chain, and a combination of green infrastructure and digital stormwater management systems as key to its Toronto smart city plans. 

Sustainability is at the core of Sidewalk’s new projects, including the Miami development, as well as developments in Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Portland. In her blog post, Novak noted that sustainability considerations are taken from a project’s pre-acquisition to implementation stages. This may include anything from the use of the company’s proprietary in-house software to assess a project’s greenhouse gas emissions to leveraging Delve to discover better, more efficient, more sustainable development designs. 

The company had anticipated its Toronto smart cities project would bring 93,000 new jobs and add $14.2 billion to Toronto’s economic output by 2040. Sidewalk has not speculated on how, exactly, they will advise the development of Mana Commons — or how their new presence in Miami will affect the local economy. It will not be as large as the Toronto project, but Sidewalk’s presence in the development will likely require a few boots on the ground in Miami, 

As the Alphabet subsidiary bounces back with its planned Miami development), Miami — and the Wynwood area in particular — is seeing a surge in leading tech companies viewing the city as a destination for new headquarters, developments, and hubs. In recent months, Nirvana Technology, VC firms Founders Fund and Atomic, and BrainStation are among the companies that have planted roots in the Wynwood neighborhood. 

Bill Harris, the PayPal founder who is now heading up Nirvana and plans to hire 200 employees at the company’s new Wynwood HQ), has dubbed Wynwood “Silicon Beach.” In 2020, venture-backed companies in Miami raised $972 million across 57 deals — an all-time high for the city.

The innovative momentum in the city has been rolling for quite some time, spearheaded by government figures including Mayor Francis Suarez. Details on Sidewalk’s entry into Miami, via Wynwood, may be sparse thus far, but the tech giant’s presence in the city is doubtless a huge vote of confidence in its innovative potential.