A measured, collaborative approach to building infrastructure can result in a better quality of life and a lower cost of living. During research and development of a new part of Toronto, Sidewalk Labs has outlined what the cost is to get there.

A convergence of digital technologies—location services, sensors, the Internet of Things—is reaching critical mass of acceptance in the digital world such that they will soon be deployed in physical spaces. But many barriers exist—including “not in my backyard” mentalities, bureaucratic misalignment, privacy concerns, a lack of funding that is only intensifying, and a lack of understanding of what’s possible. In this Q&A, former New York City Deputy Mayor and current Sidewalk Labs Chairman and CEO Dan Doctoroff discusses what it will take to improve future cities—from political courage to flexible infrastructure that acts as a platform for development.

McKinsey: Sidewalk Labs is working with cities to develop ideas through teams of urbanists and technologists. What promising or exciting learnings can you share from these endeavors?

Dan Doctoroff: Our hypothesis is that a combination of technologies, thoughtfully applied and integrated, can fundamentally alter nearly every dimension of quality of life in an urban environment. To get there, we’ve surveyed innovations across a range of domains—mobility, infrastructure, buildings, public space, social and community programs, even governance—that are available today or will be soon. We’re convinced that by implementing a set of technologies—autonomous vehicles, modular building construction, or new infrastructure systems—we can, for example, reduce cost of living by 15 percent. With new mobility services and radical mixed-use development that brings homes near work, we can give people back an hour in their day. With new materials and weather-mitigation technology, we can improve the usability of outdoor space in a cold climate. With adaptable loft structures and outcome-based codes, we can make buildings dramatically more flexible.

McKinsey: How will Sidewalk Labs bring this future to bear?

Dan Doctoroff: We have just announced a new partnership with Waterfront Toronto to develop the city’s Eastern Waterfront in a way that could serve as a model for what this set of technologies across all these different dimensions could actually produce in a real place.

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