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Why Toronto is the ideal place to build a neighbourhood of the future

Daniel Doctoroff is chairman and CEO of Sidewalk Labs and former deputy mayor of New York. Eric Schmidt is executive chairman of Alphabet.

Two years ago, Google (now Alphabet) formed Sidewalk Labs with the belief that emerging technologies could help tackle the world's toughest urban challenges. Together, we imagined a new kind of place where new digital and physical capabilities are built into its foundation. As this exploration evolved, we became convinced that this new place could make living in cities cheaper, healthier, greener, more convenient and even more exciting.

Since then, Sidewalk Labs has looked all over the world for the perfect city to bring this vision to life. We found it here in Toronto. And we found the perfect opportunity through Waterfront Toronto's call for an innovation partner in the development of Quayside, a new neighbourhood just southeast of downtown, with an aim to scale the solutions advanced there across the eastern waterfront – a district of several hundred hectares that represents one of North America's most promising areas of underdeveloped urban land.

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In Toronto, we found a city with unequalled diversity and a remarkable spirit of openness – a beacon of social tolerance that welcomes strivers from all over with new opportunities. That openness has made Toronto one of the fastest-growing large cities in North America. Its recent economic success hasn't come at the expense of these values, but rather because of them.

Read more: Google's Sidewalk Labs signs deal for 'smart city' makeover of Toronto's waterfront

We also found a city with a long urbanist legacy matched by a recent technology boom, focused on artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and clean-tech. It's no wonder venture capital investment in the city reached a record high in 2016. And we found a partner in Waterfront Toronto with support from all levels of government to bring the eastern waterfront to life.

Toronto's strong sense of diversity also makes it the perfect place to inspire new solutions for the challenges that come with urban growth. Torontonians know all too well that the City That Works isn't working for everyone. Like other successful cities, Toronto is struggling to maintain diversity as housing prices soar, congestion worsens and cost of living skyrockets. And it must grow while reducing household energy use and taking local sustainability measures to battle climate change.

We think the eastern waterfront can feel like no other place in the world. Imagine Toronto before cars ruled the city. Streets bustled with a lively mix of residents and businesses all day and night. An ever-changing array of shopkeepers peddled their wares. Kids played safely in the streets and parks. We can reclaim that hyperdynamic sense of community – and we can do it in a way that puts people, not technology, front-and-centre.

The eastern waterfront will be a place where residents, companies, startups and local organizations can advance new ideas for improving city life. It's where a self-driving test shuttle will take its first steps toward becoming a next-generation transit system that's cheaper, safer and more convenient than private car-ownership. It's where new insights into advanced construction methods will start to reveal a path toward more affordable housing development. It's where explorations into renewable energy and sustainable building designs will show promise toward becoming a climate-positive blueprint for cities around the world.

To help get started, Google plans to move its Canadian headquarters there. In time, we expect the eastern waterfront to inspire ideas that spread to neighbourhoods throughout the Greater Toronto Area and eventually to cities everywhere – making Toronto the global hub of a new industry focused on urban innovation.

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What the Eastern Waterfront cannot become is a wealthy, high-tech enclave. We're committed to making the eastern waterfront affordable and accessible to residents of all different ages, incomes, and backgrounds, reflecting the diversity of the broader metro area. New infrastructure must strengthen connections between the city and its beaches and parks. And the eastern waterfront should be a model for using technology and data as tools to enhance personal connections and the urban environment – not to close us off to each other and from our surroundings.

Of course, we don't claim to understand local needs as well as Torontonians do. That's one of the many advantages to having a partner like Waterfront Toronto, with its long history of close public engagement and community development in places like the West Don Lands. Together we will devote the next year to extensive long-range planning efforts, working closely with residents, community leaders, government officials and trusted advisers through town halls, design charrettes, open houses and other forms of public engagement.

Our ideas are only the beginning of the conversation. In the end, it will be the people of Toronto who decide if the vision we've put forth is compelling enough to move forward. Working together with the local community, at this moment in time, on this great site, in this remarkable city, we can demonstrate that housing can be much more affordable, that spending an hour in traffic a day is not our destiny, that job opportunity is our right and that a cleaner planet is our future.

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