Sidewalk Toronto rendering

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UPDATE: Sidewalk Labs Cancelled

Sidewalk Labs, a Google-affiliated company, is abandoning its plan to build a high-tech neighbourhood on Toronto’s waterfront, citing what it calls unprecedented economic uncertainty.

The project, dubbed Quayside, still didn’t have all of the government approvals it needed to go ahead. Many had raised concerns about the privacy implications of the project and how much of the city’s developing waterfront Sidewalk Labs wanted to control.

The so-called “smart city” was set to feature a range of cutting edge technology, from residential towers made of timber to the use of autonomous cars and heated sidewalks.

“As unprecedented economic uncertainty has set in around the world and in the Toronto real estate market, it has become too difficult to make the 12-acre project financially viable without sacrificing core parts of the plan we had developed,” company CEO Dan Doctoroff said in a statement.

Sidewalk Labs Cancelled

You may have heard the phrase “Sidewalk Toronto” in the media recently, as it has been getting quite a bit of coverage lately. There is plenty of buzz on both sides of the pros and cons debate, so we wanted to break things down for you and give our insights on this major project proposed for Toronto’s Waterfront Community.

What is Sidewalk Labs?

Directly from their website, we learn thatSidewalk Labs mission is to reimagine cities to improve quality of life. As growing cities face many challenges such as longer commutes, higher rents and fewer opportunities, new technology can help, but people can’t afford to wait for digital advances to transform the urban environment.

So, they promise a new type of place to accelerate urban innovation and serve as a beacon for cities around the world.

What does this actually mean? Sidewalk Labs is designing a district in Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront to tackle the challenges of urban growth, working in partnership with the tri-government agency Waterfront Toronto and the local community. This joint effort, called Sidewalk Toronto, aims to make Toronto the global hub for urban innovation.

What Will Sidewalk Toronto Be?

After breaking down many articles and the actual website, we’ve been able to determine a few things about Sidewalk Toronto.

Sidewalk Labs says it will spend $1.3 billion on building its neighbourhood of the future in Toronto with an eventual goal of creating some 44,000 jobs, $4.3 billion in annual tax revenues and spurring at least $38 billion in private sector investment by 2040.

Economically, it sounds great, and most people are jazzed about the promise of cool new technologies such as intelligent sidewalks, autonomous vehicles and tall-timber residential developments becoming available within our city.

Those who’ve had a chance to read through all the of the draft plan’s details (1,500 pages), on the other hand — chiefly members of the federal, provincial and municipal government-run Waterfront Toronto consortium, who received the draft last week — are wary.

Sidewalk Toronto Plan

Government officials and watchdog groups are already crying foul over everything from how citizen data will be stored to how large an area Alphabet intends to transform.

What was originally pitched as a 12-acre plot of land in what’s come to be known as Quayside has reportedly blossomed into a 190-acre “Innovative Development and Economic Acceleration (IDEA) district” along Toronto’s waterfront, just east of the downtown core.

The concept of the IDEA District is apparently quite premature, and Waterfront Toronto must first see its goals and objectives achieved at Quayside before deciding whether to work together in other areas.

Quayside Sidewalk Toronto

Quayside will be the first phase of this gigantic proposed development. Sidewalk Labs proposes a plan for Quayside that would create a diverse live-work neighbourhood, connect to the GTA, generate new economic opportunity for more people, and explore new innovations to dramatically improve quality of life.

The plan for Sidewalk Toronto begins in Quayside, located just southeast of downtown at Queens Quay, Parliament Street, Lake Shore Boulevard East, and the Inner Harbour.  Literature on the Sidewalk Toronto website includes plenty of fluffy language to make you feel all sorts of way – we particularly liked how Quayside will make the eastern waterfront more accessible to Torontonians and better connected to the city fabric.

Essentially, Quayside will be the gateway to the rest of this massive development – the petri dish of exploration of what’s possible. It will include people-first streets, walkable street designs, enhanced cycling options, accessibility initiatives, and new mobility services that encourage shared trips. Light rail transit would be extended through the neighbourhood to improve connections with other parts of the city.

Public spaces, housing, buildings and sustainability are all top of mind for this project, making this seem like a place you’d really want to live. A neighbourhood with a true community feel and living among like-minded individuals.

Sounds Good….But

After reading about all of these great highlights it kind of sounds too good to be true. It makes you think what could possibly be the issue behind all of this goodness putting people and community first?

But after digging deeper, we realize that there is one other spoke in the wheel of the Sidewalk Toronto DNA that are giving some people something to think about. And that’s Digital Innovation. What could be wrong? Apparently, plenty.

The Sidewalk Toronto promise is that of “widespread digital infrastructure and ubiquitous connectivity would be incorporated in the plan through a fast and secure fibre optic network and through standardized mounts designed to enable digital innovation by a range of community and entrepreneurs. These tools are designed to support innovation while also adhering to the appropriate guidelines, policies, and protocols to ensure privacy protection and responsible data use”.

Sidewalk Toronto: Privacy and Data Use

The issue of how data would be collected and stored has been a key criticism of the project. Sidewalk Labs has recommended in recent months that an independent, government-sanctioned trust be set up to oversee data collection, while also committing not to sell personal information or use it for advertising.

But this has people worried – those who think about privacy each day and how it impacts everything they do. We have clients who wouldn’t consider this area due to privacy and data issues, and some others have no issues whatsoever and think it’s the way of the future.

Sidewalk Toronto: Next Steps

All eyes are on October 31st. Sidewalk Labs’ role in remaking Toronto’s east waterfront could end Oct. 31 if the Google sister company and Waterfront Toronto cannot resolve fundamental disagreements over plans for the globally watched project.

The waterfront development agency representing the city, province and federal government and Sidewalk Labs have agreed on the Halloween deadline to address stumbling blocks on turning a 12-acre site dubbed Quayside, and possibly another 178 acres of public land to the east, into a living laboratory for the sustainable neighbourhood of the future.

If agreement proves impossible on sticking points including a new transit line and the amount of land involved, the agency’s board would have to decide how to proceed. Sending Sidewalk Labs packing and restarting a global search for a new waterfront development partner, is among the options.

If Sidewalk Toronto is approved, the surrounding area is going to be HOT – this goes without saying. We recommend keeping your eye on River & 5th Condos which is very close to the proposed Sidewalk area. It would be very smart to get into this development now, and watch your profits rise, should this go through.

We’ll be keeping an eye on this one come October 31st, and will report back.

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