Building the City of the Future with Nicole LeBlanc

Nicole Leblanc, a CPA by trade, is the Director of Investment & Partnerships at Sidewalk Labs. She uses her accounting background to decide which companies should join their investment portfolio as they work to build the city of the future.

“If you think about city building, it’s a very complex problem and you can’t do anything in isolation. We needed to be an open platform that’s collaborative. When we are looking at technologies companies — we can do a number of things: One, Invest. Two, Partner with Them or Three, Be a Customer. We can be a catalyst for a lot of discussions.”

Their current efforts bring together diverse technologies to built a mixed-use, complete community in Toronto’s planned Quayside neighbourhood.

Sidewalk Labs: Changing the Future of Urban Living

“How do we change the future of urban living and urban life? There are transportation issues, affordable housing issues — all the things that have drawn us to the city are now making it unliveable. How can we utilize both a sense of community and technology to do that? Historically it’s always been about social policy and adding tech in. Or it’s been about tech and figuring out social policy later. Now it’s about working with those two elements from the very beginning.”

To tackle the problem, Sidewalk Labs has diligently built out cross-functional teams of architects, urban planners, engineers, and financial professionals who are working together to create a plan for the city of the future. Being backed by Alphabet, Google’s parent company, means they have both the luxury of being mission-driven and the time to be able to figure out how to truly solve these problems.

“We’re a subsidiary of a publicly traded company, so we are having to drive shareholder value. But the shareholders understand this is a long-term play. If we can truly solve the problems that need to be solved, then we’ll be able to build a business model over time and find the ROI.”

“One of the meetings I was at I was talking about tech and equity — meaning shares. But the other half of the room thought it meant social justice & gender parity. This is great! This warms my heart! But no, no, no…. we need to figure out how to make money. It’s really this interesting mix and neither one has priority. “

The team at Sidewalk Labs takes solving this problem to heart. Everything they build needs to be flexible and modular enough to adapt to the humans who will be inhabiting the space, and what their lives might look like. One seemingly strange consideration: is what they are building flexible enough to adapt from life with personal vehicles, to potential drone landing pads on balconies?

“We don’t like the term ‘Smart City’. Most cities are already smart, so it’s about bringing all these technologies together, seeing how it works together and finding efficiencies to reduce the cost of living, reduce transportation costs, and increase the quality of life and happiness” 

Interested in how this controller at a candy factory became director of partnerships at Sidewalk Labs and is using her CPA background to help build the city of the future? Listen to the rest of the conversation on the LumiQ app. Because it’s time to enjoy CPD!

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