Google affiliate Sidewalk Labs is shuttering its Toronto office and has laid off the majority of its local staff after cancelling its smart-city project there.
Sidewalk said Thursday that 20 people had been laid off from the Toronto office, while some employees had left voluntarily. This was the majority of its local employees; a LinkedIn analysis showed that 24 people are employed by Sidewalk in the city, although a few have left quietly over the past month. The company has nearly 150 employees total, largely working at its New York headquarters.
“As excited as we are for the future, we are sad that this shift in focus means we will say goodbye to some of our incredibly talented team members,” Sidewalk Labs spokesman Dan Levitan said. He also said Sidewalk’s large office and event space next to the Toronto waterfront would close.
The New York-based urban planning company partnered with public development agency Waterfront Toronto in 2017 to build a 12-acre community called Quayside filled with new technologies and designed to make urban living easier and more sustainable. The Alphabet Inc. subsidiary proposed a range of technologies, including traffic signals that adapted to pedestrian patterns, artificial-intelligence-powered heating and cooling for buildings and robots that moved freight and garbage underground.
After 2½ years of promotion and controversy, including over the potential of surveillance and data collection on the site, Sidewalk cancelled the project on May 7, citing economic uncertainty from the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Quayside was Sidewalk’s only significant city-building project, although it was not the company’s first choice to build a community, as it described, “from the internet up.” A confidential 2016 document obtained by The Globe and Mail last year revealed the company had detailed plans to propose for the Denver, Detroit and San Francisco Bay areas. That document also revealed that Sidewalk originally wanted to collect enough data about peoples’ lives that it could predict their future movements.
The Globe reported in May that the death of Quayside was part of a pattern of internal and external clashes and disappointments that stretches back nearly to Sidewalk’s inception. The company struggled to define its goals from the start, and the 2016 document became a source of internal strife as city-building experts clashed with Google-style technologists.
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