- Google parent company Alphabet announced it will launch an infrastructure holding company known as Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners (SIP) alongside smart city subsidiary Sidewalk Labs and the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan.
If you missed the news last week... We announced our latest spinoff company: Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners. SIP will work with cities, companies, and others to develop advanced infrastructure systems that are more sustainable, flexible, & efficient. https://t.co/94hkYeZ1bS— Sidewalk Labs (@sidewalklabs) September 3, 2019
- SIP will invest in "technology-enabled infrastructure" to spur development across verticals such as digital infrastructure, energy, mobility and water. The Wall Street Journal reports that it will invest in large-scale projects that require more than $100 million of equity.
- A Sidewalk Labs spokeswoman told The Globe and Mail that while SIP is a standalone company, it may become involved in efforts to build a smart city development on the Toronto waterfront.
Sidewalk Labs' planned Toronto development has been mired in criticism from opponents, who worry about its data collection practices, with others questioning if its decision to use mass timber as its primary construction material is wise. Despite that criticism, Sidewalk Labs has looked to press ahead with a $1.3 billion master plan and proposals to assuage some doubts over privacy with a "visual language" to let people know when and how technology is being used to monitor them.
A new partnership focused on North American infrastructure is perhaps unsurprising, as it has been the subject of much debate at the city and national level, especially with dire warnings on the state of U.S. infrastructure from the likes of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Amid those warnings about the conditions of roads, tunnels and bridges, there have been calls to seek forward-looking improvements that make use of technology.
As Sidewalk Labs looks to get its Toronto project off the ground, it may need some creative investment options from groups like SIP to help with capital costs.
SIP may raise questions, however, among those who are unnerved about the investment of a teacher pension plan. In a tweet thread, University of Toronto Assistant Professor Lilian Radovac noted that technology companies are often very anti-union. She said that with teachers in Ontario and elsewhere "bracing against provincial budget cuts, there needs to be a serious conversation about how their pension funds are being invested, and the potential impact on their classrooms and jobs."
As cities like New York City make a big show of divesting public servant pension funds away from questionable sources, the onus is on SIP to show that it is acting in good faith and investing in the right kinds of projects.