New York. Portland. San Francisco. Seattle. The debate rages on about the most innovative city in America. But if Google parent company Alphabet has its way, there soon may be a new contender.

Sidewalk Labs, which Google created last June and has since spun off as a subsidiary--is reportedly scouting locations to build an entire city, a highly connected utopia that will make the aforementioned cities look obsolete. Think: self-driving cars, high-speed Wi-Fi, internet of things-enabled everything.

According to The Information, the  Denver and Detroit areas, so far, look like the frontrunners. Sidewalk Labs has consulted with more than 100 urban planning experts and forward thinkers, such as Anthony Townsend, research director of Institute for the Future. Sidewalk Labs already has some heavy-hitting city planners in its own ranks, including its CEO, Dan Doctoroff, a former New York City deputy mayor.

Google created Sidewalk Labs to confront the problems plaguing cities: traffic congestion, pollution, lack of public transportation, limited connectivity, to name a few. Its mission statement is to "accelerate innovation in cities around the world." What could that mean? Maybe a city with exclusively self-driving cars, clean energy sources, world-class transit hubs, and high-speed wireless, for starters.

The plan would tie in well with the massive Google Fiber project the company has hinted at more and more recently, which potentially will create a new broadband provider to compete with Goliaths like AT&T and Verizon. 

Sidewalk Labs' first project was to help convert New York City's outdated phone booths into touchscreen internet browsers that provide Wi-Fi in a 150-foot radius--not exactly world-changing, but a good start. The venture, known as LinkNYC, could be a small glimpse into what sort of innovations Sidewalk Labs wants to bring to already existing urban areas.

If built (and if successful), the still unnamed metropolis--Alphabet City, anyone?--could serve as a model for other cities as to how to introduce technology into highly populated areas. 

Denver and Detroit are interesting picks--one is growing steadily and at the forefront of one of the country's most progressive new industries; the other recently saw its population plummet by 25 percent in one decade. Wherever Alphabet chooses, it's hard to imagine any startup wouldn't want to settle down in a city that exists solely to drive innovation.

Published on: Apr 15, 2016