Sidewalk Labs is the Google affiliate with the stated goal of ‘reimagining cities to improve quality of life’. It’s an idea and ambition that is already starting to happen.

In Toronto Canada, the city is negotiating a plan to give part of the city’s waterfront over to Google. Here for the first time Sidewalk Labs plan to build and run a radical mixed-use site to be called Quayside.

In Western Sydney, centred around the new Badgerys Creek airport, there are plans for an Aerotropolis, which can also be imagined as a new city. Badgerys Creek is not just the building of a new airport, it’s an opportunity, like Quayside to transform a region unlocking global markets, improved liveability, boosting business activity and jobs.

In redefining the entire Western Sydney region, it is also hoped to create a more liveable city. One vision, that of Toronto is being driven by a new age tech-giant. The other in our backyard is being driven by various levels of government and in time we assume massive corporate and private investment.

Both plans are ambitious and both involve re-thinking the traditional way cities are planned and managed.

Sidewalk Labs plans involve creating a neighbourhood with the internet as its foundation. Where data from sensors monitoring everything from air quality to pedestrian traffic to how much water is used will be central. AI and robotics will provide services like deliveries and garbage disposal.

What is an Aerotropolis?

Put simply, an aerotropolis is a metropolitan sub-region whose infrastructure, land-use and economy are centred on an airport. Australia’s first new airport in 50 years.

It consists of the airport’s aeronautical, logistics and commercial elements, associated ground-based transport and clusters of aviation-oriented businesses and residential developments interdependent on their airport access.

The chief value proposition of the aerotropolis is that it offers businesses rapid connectivity, nationally and worldwide, increasing regional efficiency. Aerotropolis firms, many in the high-value perishables, modern industrial and advanced business services, are often more dependent on distant suppliers, customers and partners than those located in their own region.

By providing these time-sensitive firms with rapid long-distance accessibility an aerotropolis, helps cut costs, increase productivity and expand markets.

Metropolitan and State-wide trade is accelerated and broadened through expanding airline routes that operate as a ‘Physical Internet’, moving products and people quickly regardless of distances, analogous to the way the digital internet moves data and information.

That’s the vision for a big part of Western Sydney, now let’s compare that with Toronto’s vision.

The Toronto Vision

Quayside is described as a new type of place that combines the best in urban design with the latest in digital technology to address some of the biggest challenges facing cities, including energy use, housing affordability and transport.

A place that embraces adaptable buildings and new construction methods to make housing and retail space more affordable. A place where people-centred street designs and a range of transport, make getting around easier than the private car.

A place of innovation around energy, waste and other environmental challenges, where public spaces welcome families with strong community ties and that’s all enhanced by digital technology and data.

Sidewalk Toronto also aims to create the conditions for a community built around innovation and business including start-ups and academic centres. A global hub of a new industry focused on urban innovation

Toronto’s already-thriving tech sector and reputation for developing innovations will help while, Alphabet plans to move Google’s Canadian headquarters here.

Planning for an Aerotropolis

In a report prepared for the Sydney Business Chamber the vision for Sydney’s Western Aerotropolis (SWA) is also very much tied into a new planning strategy.

The report’s author John D. Kasarda, Director, Center for Air Commerce, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School makes a number of informative comments, including:

The SWA planning strategy must integrate the traditional domains of airport planning, urban and regional planning, and business site planning. These domains must be treated in a holistic fashion in order for the airport region development to be economically viable and socially and environmentally sustainable.

Planning strategies must also ensure timely and flexible structures which allow the market to respond to perceived opportunities and drive economic growth, avoiding rigidity and lengthy delays.

Any future SWA masterplan should be guided by this integrated planning paradigm and by a strategic roadmap and a ‘go-to-market’ strategy and brand.

It is essential that local government view airport and airport area commercial development as largely reinforcing rather than competitive with their own municipality’s commercial development plans. Any effort to control or otherwise limit commercial development at and around SWA should be avoided.

Liverpool and other Western Sydney LGAs have focused to date on improving the speed of connectivity to Central Sydney. It is recommended that the focus moves to improving connectivity to the SWA and its surrounding employment areas.

A bigger picture view of the SWA development aims to lead to coordinated actions to address infrastructure and environmental challenges, while realising more beneficial commercial real estate development opportunities.

SWA branding should be consider and be instrumental in creating ‘buzz’ in marketing to future investors, developers, tenants and residents. This would also provide an excellent ‘place making’ framework for SWA with solid benefits for the entire region.

SWA & Toronto Similar Objectives

Both the SWA and Toronto examples are ambitious in terms of creating new cities, and their objectives look somewhat similar.

For Sidewalk Lab, the aim is to establish a complete community driven by quality of life, that creates a destination for people and all sorts of business. While also tackling the challenges facing cities, like energy use, housing affordability and transportation.

The idea is also to help make Toronto the global hub of a rising new industry: urban innovation and serve as a model for other cities around the world.

For the SWA the aim is for economic benefits that are broadly based and inclusive, including the generation of jobs across all levels of education and socioeconomic demographics.

With a fully functioning, profitable and growing SWA, the economic, social and community benefits should aim to be widespread across the airport region and beyond to the entire Sydney basin, giving it a competitive edge and helping the city also become a more prosperous global city region.

Thus, we see two global ambitions approached from different but related perspectives.