City clicker: Dan Doctoroff on building cities from the internet up

Sidewalk Labs founder Dan Doctoroff tells EG why building cities from the internet up will need the weight of the real estate sector behind it as he reveals why Sidewalk Toronto is “by far the most complicated thing I have ever worked on”.

“It is hard to explain the future.” So says Dan Doctoroff, chief executive and founder of Sidewalk Labs, the urban innovation arm of Google’s parent company Alphabet. And yet, explaining the future is something Doctoroff is asked to do a lot these days as he embarks on the complex task of building a city “from the internet up” on an 800-acre site in Toronto.

The plan is to use the site as a test bed before rolling the concept out globally as part of the company mantra of “reimagining cities to improve quality of life”.

Previously the chief executive and president of Bloomberg and deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding for the City of New York, Doctoroff also led New York City’s bid for the 2012 Olympics.

During his first term as deputy mayor, Doctoroff oversaw 289 projects and initiatives, including the rezoning of 6,000 city blocks, the creation of 130m sq ft of residential and commercial space, and 2,400 acres of new parks, including the High Line, Brooklyn Bridge Park and Governor’s Island. No stranger to urban development, he has been heading Sidewalk Labs since its inception in 2015.

Here he tells EG how he is realising the enormity of the task in hand – “I have to say I did not have a good sense of what I was getting myself into. This is by far the most complicated thing I have ever worked on,” – and reveals how he sees a major role for traditional real estate developers, masterplanners and architects as part of the Sidewalk Labs plan: “We aren’t going to be the absolute, physical developer of the vast majority of this site, we want to be the catalyst to the private market to show that innovation actually makes financial business sense.”

Main image © Salem Krieger

For more listen to the full interview with Doctoroff below:


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