Sidewalk Labs was created in 2015 as the urban innovation arm of Google and now Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOG). Since then, its planning work has led to spinoffs that now focus on such issues as curbside management, transportation planning, community healthcare, and tech-enabled infrastructure.
And now, add a commercial development advisory business called Sidewalk Urban Development, which the company says will offer strategy support from design through planning, construction, and management.
The company says it’s already working with developers on projects in or around Las Vegas, Miami, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon, which Sidewalk Labs says spans a range of downtown infill and suburban retrofit projects, such as a mixed-use project in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood.
Former Hudson exec takes over with eye on sustainable, innovative, equitable projects
“We’re working with developers across the U.S. to create more sustainable, innovative, and equitable projects,” says Alison Novak, the new head of Sidewalk Urban Development at Sidewalk Labs.
Novak’s landing page on the Sidewalk Labs website says she has more than 15 years of real estate development, overseeing “the acquisition, design, financing, construction, and completion of a wide range of housing developments ranging from affordable to high-end, homeownership to rental, single-family to high-rise.”
Most recently, she was a principal at The Hudson Companies, a prominent New York City residential developer, where she led the launch of its “commitment to green building, its first equity investment funds, and its internal committee for equity, inclusivity, and diversity.”
Growing an operation that looks like something different
Novak is leading a team of 25 to 30 people with CRE experience in investment, development, and management, and that number is expected to grow, according to Bisnow, while the operation also leverages for its clients its access to the technology products from its sister operations within Sidewalk Labs.
Google, meanwhile, is building on the trend of America’s masters of the virtual realm expanding their role in physical real estate that extends well beyond their massive corporate offices and warehouses.
Just two examples are Amazon’s $2 billion-plus commitment to affordable housing near its corporate campuses and Tesla teaming up with Brookfield Asset Management on a sustainable community initiative in Austin, Texas.
And it’s tempting, and reasonable, to think of some of those big retail operations that own a lot of their own land and buildings as real estate companies, too, such as Macy’s, McDonald's, and Walmart.
But the Sidewalk Urban Development operation is something different.
The Millionacres bottom line
“I always thought of real estate and urban development as a collaborative industry, but Sidewalk Labs’ level of collaboration is kind of like that on steroids,” Novak told Bisnow.
The most obvious competitors for Sidewalk Urban Development may well be the big, often publicly traded real estate brokerages and servicers like CBRE Group and Jones Lang Lasalle, operations that are keenly aware of those new social imperatives themselves.
Local economic development agencies and major investors and developers taking on complex, forward-looking projects -- there are good examples right now in Chicago and Boston -- also could be potential clients moving forward.
And since it’s backed by the resources of one of the most successful technology companies in the world, Sidewalk Labs has a significant leg up as it moves into the fast-growing section of that Venn diagram where profit, purpose, DEI, and sustainability meet.