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Larry Page just moved one step closer to building his magical dream city

Larry Page has cities on his mind. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

There’s outside the box thinking, and then there’s whatever goes through Larry Page’s head.

One day the Google chief executive read online that someone a few decades ago had launched a hot-air balloon that circled the world a few times. Why can’t we do that today, he wondered. Soon after his company launched Project Loon, an attempt to provide Internet access via balloons. What once seemed like a harebrained project with a fitting name, now may be only a year away from commercial deployment.

As a Stanford grad student Page famously had the crazy idea to download the whole Internet to a computer in his dorm room. That led to the Google search engine we all know, and made Page a billionaire with the chance to take on even more daring projects.

For fun, Page will sometimes meet up with his Google co-founder Sergey Brin and SpaceX founder Elon Musk to bat around wild ideas, such as a commuter plane that constantly circles the earth.

“It’s kind of our recreation,” Page told author Ashlee Vance in his page-turning book on Musk. “It’s fun for the three of us to talk about kind of crazy things, and we find stuff that eventually turns out to be real. We go through hundreds of thousands of possible things before arriving at the ones that are most promising.”

In October 2014 Page had his deputy Sundar Pichai assume day-to-day responsibilities for most of Google products. That freed up the visionary Page to ensure Google remains innovative.

Not long before that move the Information reported that Page envisioned a Google 2.0, in which his company would wrestle huge challenges such as building a model airport and city. While Google already has a plate full of moonshots, including self-driving cars, we’re now seeing the first signs of Page embracing his interest in rethinking cities.

Google announced late Wednesday that it’s launching an independent company to incubate urban technologies and improve city life. Dan Doctoroff, the former Bloomberg chief executive and deputy mayor of economic development in New York City, will lead Sidewalk Labs.

Page shared the news on his Google+ page, an indication of how personal and meaningful the effort is to him. For comparison sake, in April Google launched a mobile phone network. Project Fi is no small undertaking, but there was no personal note from Page, as is custom with most of the new products Google launches.

Page described Sidewalk Labs as 10X bet, meaning its solutions should be 10 times as good as existing city services. He mentioned housing, public transit, pollution and biking safety as areas city residents would want to see improvement in.

“As more and more people around the world live, work and settle in cities, the opportunities for improving our urban environments are endless,” Page wrote.

The University of Michigan, where Page went as an undergraduate, happens to be building a 32-acre miniature city for testing self-driving cars and more. It will open this summer.

We’ll see if Page aims for something even bigger. He’s previously said he thinks a part of the world should be set aside to test ideas without government regulation.

In an interview with Charlie Rose last spring Page spoke of wanting to encourage biking near Google’s campus. He showed a video of cyclists on wires perhaps a hundred feet above the ground.

“I was like thinking, how do you cost effectively separate the bikes from traffic. And I went and searched and this was what I found,” Page explained to Rose. “We’re not actually working on this but it gets your imagination going.”

Now Page has a canvas for his urban creativity. We can be certain whatever he produces won’t be ordinary.