Toronto’s Goal to Become the Smartest City in North America

Canada’s largest city is undergoing major strides to turn themselves into a tech hub—and not just through the presence of leading companies in the field, but through infrastructure upgrades too.

The city of Toronto is soliciting the public for their bid in the Federal Smart Cities Challenge. The challenge looks to solicit communities to submit bids based on innovation, big data and merging technology.

“The City is committed to continuously improving and modernizing public services, now and in the future – and we want to know what you think the biggest challenges facing Toronto are and your ideas for how innovation and technology can make a meaningful impact to life in Toronto,” a post on the city’s site reads.

Top finalists in the country will receive $250,000 to prepare more detailed proposals, and the winning city will pick up $50 million to implement and develop the projects. Two cities with less than 500,000 inhabitants will each receive $10 million, while a $5 million prize is reserved for communities with less than 30,000 people.

All of the funding for the challenge comes from a $300 million federal government investment.

Toronto wants residents to fill out a survey to let them know what the biggest challenges are when it comes to finding ways to innovate. The survey asks about issues relating to connectivity, job growth, mobility, affordable housing, and much more.

Some examples are provided within the survey as well, such as this idea to aid in job growth: “Create a single mobile app to connect people and businesses to community services, with built-in measurement of response times, user satisfaction, and feedback.”

More examples of existing projects are given to spur on residents, including the smart traffic signal pilot and the city’s partnership with Waze.

If Toronto citizens have a specific proposal, they can also complete a submission and send it directly to the city. In addition, a panel discussion on the Smart Cities Challenge is happening later this month.

Sidewalk Labs and Building Smart Communities

Speaking of a smarter Toronto, Sidewalk Labs’ CEO Dan Doctoroff took to Reddit to answer questions about his company’s plans to develop the smart waterfront community Quayside.

A few of the most interesting questions from Reddit users and corresponding answers from Doctoroff are included below.

A vision of what Sidewalk Labs' Quayside area may look like.
A vision of what Sidewalk Labs’ Quayside area may look like.

In response to a question about Sidewalk Labs not actually owning any land but doing their best to make sure a vision is transferred to the developer:

  • “Our expectation is we will play the role of co-master developer with Waterfront Toronto. That role includes developing a plan and a vision that the community and its elected officials can rally around and be excited about; working to get the plan approved, and overseeing the eventual development of infrastructure.”

On Sidewalk Labs’ statement that they will need “substantial forbearances from existing laws and regulations” in order to implement some ideas and strategies.

  • “Any time you innovate in a public environment, you’re going to need to work closely with government officials and regulators. For example, if we have an all-autonomous vehicle district, the regulatory regime would have to accommodate that. If we want to have a new form of building codes that enables more flexible—and therefore cheaper—buildings, new regulations will have to be put in place so that can happen.”

On why Sidewalk Labs did not relocate their HQ to Toronto, considering Quayside is the flagship project.

  • “We have already opened a temporary office in Toronto, and are close to taking permanent space. Over time a significant number of employees will be based in Toronto, with many others making weekly/regular trips to the city. We also spend a lot of time working out of Waterfront Toronto’s office downtown.”

On the idea of Sidewalk Labs incorporating affordable housing into Quayside.

  • “We’re looking at new types of buildings that can reduce construction costs; new approaches to making buildings more adaptable, which can lower cost; and innovative financing programs to make housing more affordable. I was very proud in New York to have led the development of a housing plan that created or preserved 165,000 units of subsidized housing over an 11-year period of time and would hope we can adapt some of those approaches to Sidewalk Toronto.”

Some of Doctoroff’s answers included in this piece are paraphrased or edited for clarity, so head to the ask me anything thread for the full questions and responses.