Cities Lead Way: 12 C40 Members to Buy Zero Emission Buses while Toronto-Alphabet Collaboration to Build Quayside

October 23, 2017 – Cities around the world are taking climate change seriously and implementing policies that can help us all get closer to a low-carbon future. London, Paris, Los Angeles, Cape Town, Copenhagen, Barcelona, Quito, Vancouver, Mexico City, Milan, Seattle, and Auckland, representing 80 million people, have made a fossil-fuel-free streets declaration. They have pledged to procure only zero-emission buses as of 2025, and in addition, ensure major areas of each of their cities to be zero emission by 2030.

What does the latter mean? More parks, more trees, more bicycle paths, and restricted roads where only electric or fuel-cell vehicles will have the right of way. it means buildings with green roofs and solar panels.

In my city, Toronto, not a current party to this latest C40 pledge, the urban innovation division of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, called Sidewalk Labs has entered into a partnership with Waterfront Toronto to create a people-centered neighbourhood focused on urban innovation. The mission of this new urban oasis, called Quayside, is to create a community where sustainability, mobility, affordability, and economic opportunity drive development. Quayside covers 325 hectares (800 acres) of an area of underdeveloped urban land near the waterfront. It is next to a much larger parcel of waterfront land in Toronto known as the Port Lands, and if successful will become the model for the redevelopment of the latter.

Quayside will include Google’s Canadian headquarters. It will feature adaptable modular buildings that combine housing and retail space. And underlying the entire community will be digital infrastructure to provide democratic participation in development decision making. Alphabet intends to provide much of the digital infrastructure and has pledged to provide connectivity that also guarantees privacy and security. The data collected from Quayside will be studied and analyzed so that the community can continuously adjust to the needs of its residents and businesses while fulfilling its environmental sustainability mission. A self-driving test shuttle will be a Google featured service, described as the next-generation transit system that will replace private car ownership. Renewable energy, new materials, and design will focus on creating climate-positive buildings that it is hoped will serve as a blueprint for cities around the world.

This will not be a wealthy, high-tech enclave. Affordability, accessibility, and diversity are part of the Quayside mission statement. In an opinion piece that appeared in the October 17, 2017, issue of The Globe and Mail, the Chair of Sidewalk Labs and the Executive Chair of Alphabet write, “we don’t claim to understand local needs, as well as Torontonians…..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….Working together…on this great site….we can demonstrate….that a cleaner planet is our future.”

On climate change and sustainability it shouldn’t be a surprise that cities are attempting to lead the way where other levels of government are failing.


Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery.