Published on: October 11, 2018
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Hi, Kevin Coupe here, and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.
I’m reporting to you this week from Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs in Toronto, which I’m visiting during GMDC’s excellent Retail Tomorrow conference. This is a fascinating place, situated on about 12 acres close to downtown, but adjacent to hundreds of acres just aching to be developed.
But it isn’t just going to be another urban development. The Sidewalk Labs, which is a sister company to Google, is working with local city officials to both reimagine and reinvent this corner of Toronto.
It is a fascinating experiment that is in early days, but that shows a lot of promise based on what I’m seeing. Toronto was chosen by Alphabet to be the focus of this project in part because officials here were willing to engage in a public-private partnership.
The project has some ambitious goals for the area - a 14 percent decrease in the cost of living, 30 percent more green space, a 67 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, even zero traffic fatalities. If these goals can be achieved on a small scale, the idea is that on a larger scale, the positive impact can be enormous. And Toronto, in many ways, seems like just the place to see if this can work.
Toronto is a truly international city - more than half of the people who live here weren’t even born in Canada, much less locally, but the city has embraced this phenomenon as a source of diversity and strength as opposed to weakness. It also is a city facing its own infrastructure issues - specifically stress on its housing and transportation systems.
What they’re trying to do here is approach these issues from a bottom up approach … designing a corner of the city as if they are designing a city from scratch. The digital component of this is critical, because the Sidewalk labs have been developed with an internet-up approach; it is baked into the city’s DNA, as opposed to being retrofitted.
That’s a great metaphor for the current retail environment, I think. Amazon has enormous advantages because it is a company engineered from the internet-up … that gives it the ability to be faster, with less friction, because this 21st century way of doing business is built into the company’s DNA. Legacy companies - from Walmart and Kroger all the way down to a single store independent - struggle with this because they are trying to impose a digital sensibility onto a traditional infrastructure. It is just harder.
That doesn’t mean that companies shouldn’t do it. In fact, they absolutely must try. But they have to recognize the cultural and economic challenges they will face as they move forward and, I think, understand that as they move forward, they need to identify their differential strengths and emphasize them to shoppers whenever and however possible.
That’s what is on my mind this morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.
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