Google helped change the world with the inception of their browsing platform, and now, an organization known as Sidewalk Labs (owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet), may be responsible for changing how the world views streets. Carlo Ratti Associati (CRA), an internal firm based in Torino, Italy, is the company credited with developing these streets, which caught the eye of Sidewalk Labs. Sidewalk Labs hopes to use this technology in their Toronto Tomorrow Project in Canada. Sidewalk Labs’ mission for this project is to bring cities into the future through smart technology in a way that “not only meets but exceeds Waterfront Toronto’s five priority outcomes” of creating economic development, sustainable/climate-positive development, affordable housing, new mobility and urban innovation [2]. They plan to use CRA’s dynamic streets to meet these ambitious goals.

Dynamic streets differentiate themselves from regular streets because they have the ability to adapt into any kind of use necessary for an area and can be specific to different times of the day. If the area has high vehicle traffic in the morning, but foot traffic in the afternoon as students get out of school, the hexagonal blocks can easily be picked up and replaced to suit those various purposes [3]. Early this summer, Sidewalk Labs opened a wooden prototype of the technology to the public to observe how people “interact” with it [1]. Smart streets can be built using a variety of materials such as concrete, rubber or more porous materials. Lights at the center of the block indicate what kind of surface the block is acting as. The top middle portion of each block can also be removed to add bollards, basketball hoops, bike racks and workout equipment [3].

The benefits go beyond the simple movability of dynamic streets. This new technology may also prove to be better for the environment because it requires less of the ground to be permanently sealed. When work needs to be done on piping or underground electrical lines the blocks can simply be picked up, which will save costs on extra work such as repaving and drilling [4]. Additionally, these blocks have the capability to be heated, which will eliminate the need for harmful salts to be applied to the streets. This may also minimize the amount of potholes on the road because they can be quickly and easily replaced as if it were never damaged. That means the thousands of dollars of damages caused by pot holes can be significantly diminished. Additionally, drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists alike would be safer using dynamic blocks.

However, where problems are solved new problems always seem to appear in their place. Several individuals question the feasibility of implementing this technology. Replacing streets with heated lighted smart blocks might be an economically daunting task. Others are concerned that this technology would become another factor furthering the divide between low and high income neighborhoods. Seeing as implementing new technology would be costly for any community, it may be increasingly difficult for low income communities to gain access to these beneficial yet expensive technologies[4]. Areas that would benefit the greatest from this technology may not be able to obtain it. With society’s growing reliance on technology, a greater demand for data privacy and safety have followed suite. Before implementing dynamic streets, it may be worthwhile to question who is collecting the data, what they will be collecting, to what extent are they going to be collecting it, and how might the data be used in the future [4].

Dynamic streets present an opportunity to solve many of the issues that cities have faced for decades, but it is essential that this technology— and similar smart city technologies—are properly executed with the security of all users in mind.

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