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This is What Toronto’s Neighbourhood of the Future Looks Like

Sidewalk Labs’ Quayside project in Toronto has been nothing short of controversial. Questions surrounding housing affordability, data ownership, and digital privacy have swirled since the project was first announced, but a new site plan is looking to answer some of those questions—though, in the long run, it may end up raising even more concerns.

The Google-owned Sidewalk Labs today unveiled a site preview of their futuristic neighbourhood with a goal to “combine world-class urban design with cutting-edge technology to set new standards for sustainability, affordability, and economic opportunity for Torontonians of all incomes, abilities, and ages.” This plan is being announced in advance of a December 8 public roundtable where citizens will be able to ask questions to the organizations involved, such as Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs themselves.

Priorities listed on the site plan include job creation, affordable housing, and being climate positive, so Sidewalk Labs is hoping to address many of the existing concerns in one fell swoop here.

“A lot of care and attention has gone into making this new community something all of us can be proud of and look forward to living in. And so no … it’s not the Jetsons … but something much better, because this is going to be a real place and community,” wrote Jesse Shapins, the director of public realm at Sidewalk Labs.

quayside

There is a distinct plan laid out within the proposal that involves building “people-first” streets and walkways, along with several parks and public spaces. In terms of actual construction, a dozen new buildings will be built, ranging from 30 storeys to three. A distinct mix of retail, residential and office space is touted, and the new buildings will house 3,900 new jobs, 3,400 of which are office jobs. Google Canada has already pledged to move their headquarters to Quayside, but it is unclear if other companies have been in discussions with Sidewalk Labs.

In total, the buildings within Quayside would total 3.3 million square feet and be home to 5,000 residents occupying 2,500 units, with a ratio of 55 per cent rental and 45 per cent owned. Sidewalk Labs has not clarified if it would be the owner of these rental units themselves, or if they would contract them out to other property companies.

One of the more pressing issues of affordability was also addressed by Sidewalk Labs. According to the plan, 20 per cent of housing will be affordable, and 40 per cent will be below-market housing, meaning it is for low- and middle-income residents.

Sidewalk Toronto is also introducing something called Stoa, a ground floor strategy of open-air space that encourages community between retailers, residents and companies. Quayside will also be using mass timber, even to build the 30-story building. This would be the largest use of engineered wood in the world.

In total, Sidewalk Toronto is hoping to aim for between a 75 and 85 per cent reduction in greenhouse emissions through various uses of smart manufacturing, water control and sensor technology. Check out some of the other smart upgrades Quayside intends to feature below:

  • Last mile delivery: An urban consolidation centre will distribute freight and collect waste with underground robots, reducing truck traffic.
  • Street design: There will be no curbs in Quayside, and streets will be managed digitally to support shifts to automated vehicles and increased mobility during off-peak hours.
  • Reclaiming the streets: A Commons app will optimize space programming on Parliment and Queen Street, allowing for an expanded pedestrian-first realm.
  • Factory-constructed buildings: Sidewalk Toronto is hoping to save 15 per cent in the cost of building construction through the faster build times, digital design and lower costs brought by this method.
  • Water sensors: Digital tools will allow Sidewalk Toronto to retain stormwater for further use and actively manage it for greater resiliency.
  • Adaptive traffic signals: Depending on the size of a crowd or if someone crossing the street has a disability, signals could change dynamically.

Though these are all notably interesting smart city solutions, there is a question of ownership for these kinds of new technologies. Sidewalk Labs has stuck with its position that it will split IP ownership with the government, and more details will come when an innovation agreement is released in spring 2019.

Toronto Mayor John Tory called the push for affordable housing in Quayside “encouraging” in a statement and noted that discussion for more important questions still lies ahead. A fifth roundtable will be held in early 2019 to address more concerns from the public.

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