Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company, is demanding a share of Toronto’s property taxes and development fees through their subsidiary, Sidewalk Labs, as Reuters reported.
The demand is part of a deal to build a “smart city” by developing a neighborhood with Sidewalk Labs providing the technological infrastructure.
Quayside, as the development project is called, has faced backlash from local residents for the project’s lack of transparency, and the ever-present privacy concerns.
Sidewalk is assuring that it needs taxpayer money to fund a light-rail transit line along the waterfront. The company claims this would allow it being built “years, if not decades, sooner than it would otherwise.” Once built, the transit would then be passed off to a public agency.
“We’re prepared to take the risk up front of developing a model to help make that happen, and we’re prepared to essentially get paid back when we’ve demonstrated that it can be successful.”
Corporations that conduct business with cities have been under added scrutiny since Amazon had to cancel its plans for a second headquarters in New York after public backlash. When asked about the possibility of Alphabet receiving a similar backlash from the Toronto residents, Micah Lasher, head of policy and communications at Sidewalk Labs, said he expects people to be open to the proposal, and that they welcome the surrounding conversation.
Meanwhile, Toronto City Councillor Paula Fletcher expressed that she’s “terribly shocked” by the proposal, as it was not originally within the scope of the project.
“I think it’s a big credibility problem for everybody,” she concluded.
Project Quayside’s plan is to turn what once was a derelict strip of public land on Lake Ontario into the “city of the future,” with designs that would be at home on the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
According to Urban Toronto, the project’s outline includes innovative concepts like “flexible interiors capable of being modified to accommodate drastic changes in building use,” and a solar-powered “microgrid” that would power the neighborhood and be used to fuel electric vehicles.
The neighborhood street wouldn’t be welcoming to conventional vehicles, prioritizing pedestrians and cyclists instead. To this end, they propose incorporating sensors on traffic lights, leading to one of the many privacy concerns raised by the Toronto residents.
Quayside is set to create 2,500 homes, 40 percent of which would be below market price, and a factory that would create 4,000 jobs.
Per, the Toronto Star, Sidewalk would only develop about 15 percent of the land, leaving the rest to other parties, and proposes to split the revenue generated once the government sells parts of the public land.