Google sister-company Sidewalk has a secret ‘yellow book’ with its plans to reinvent cities, plus possible sites beyond Toronto

Employees at Alphabet‘s Sidewalk Labs can find inspiration in a yellow book created by the company’s founders.

The coffee table book is meant to help employees and recruits get up to speed with the company’s vision to redesign a city from the ground up, according to three people who have seen copies. It includes interviews with dozens of forward-thinking academics on every aspect of urban planning, from self-driving cars to garbage delivery, according to two of those people.

It also features theories and ideas for how some key problems might be solved in the future. It also has case studies of other cities that have solved urban planning problems in innovative ways, including in Singapore and Florida.

One of the people described it as a “very pretty” book and more of a “vision plan than a business plan,” making it reminiscent of the little red book that Facebook designed for all its employees.

For example, according to one of the people, there is a suggestion that roads should only be open to self-driving cars during the day. Meanwhile, garbage pickup and deliveries should only be carried out in the very early hours of the morning so they wouldn’t interfere.

The back of the book lists half a dozen cities that could be considered ideal for testing a smart city concept. Among those cities included Toronto, where the group is already working to transform a stretch of blighted waterfront, Denver, Colorado; Detroit, Michigan; and Alameda in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is a residential area buttressed by acres of empty land that was previously a naval base. It’s unknown whether Sidewalk is actively considering expanding its efforts beyond Toronto.

These sites were specifically chosen because they meet a core set of criteria, including a vast swath of unused land and locations near lots of business and jobs — not in a remote rural area. Some of these geographies are being actively pursued as potential sites for development, the people said, while others are more of a proof of concept.

Part of the book’s content was used on Sidewalk’s website, to publicize its plans in Toronto or add to its blog, the people said.

Sidewalk Labs was founded in 2015 as an independent subsidiary within Google holding-company Alphabet, with a mandate to use technology to fix many of the problems facing cities today. It’s led by CEO Dan Doctoroff, who was the deputy mayor of New York City under Michael Bloomberg from 2002 through 2008, then became the CEO of Bloomberg LP through 2014. The company’s first project was a set of public Wi-Fi kiosks in New York City, before it launched the Toronto smart city project in October 2017.

Sidewalk benefits from close ties to other Alphabet groups including the self-driving car project, Waymo. It has also spun out but continues to partner with its health initiative, known as Cityblock, and a developer platform called Coord.

Sidewalk declined to comment.

 

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