Google's city offers a smart solution to urban issues

Nick Myall
02 Nov 2017

A new kind of complete, mixed-use community is set to emerge in Toronto

Google's parent company Alphabet has revealed plans to build a new district on Toronto’s eastern waterfront, which will use cutting-edge technology to create a blueprint for future urban developments across the globe.

Sidewalk Toronto is a joint effort by Waterfront Toronto and Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs to design a new kind of mixed-use, complete community. The project will bring together forward-thinking urban design and new digital technology to create people-centred neighbourhoods that achieve new levels of sustainability, affordability, mobility, and economic opportunity. 

Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto’s vision is a neighbourhood that would incorporate high-tech systems to help solve a range of current urban problems, like a lack of affordable housing, traffic congestion and safety, and environmental issues.

Digital infrastructure will connect neighbourhoods in the district, offering residents internet connection and providing a way to collect data on the surroundings. Total connectivity will also enable systems within the city, such as a network of self-driving vehicles, and digital navigation tools that aim to make all modes of transport – including cars, bicycles and trains – safer and more efficient. 

Sidewalk Toronto will begin with a new neighbourhood, called Quayside, located at Parliament Slip, just southeast of Downtown Toronto. Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto aim to bring the innovations advanced at Quayside to scale across the Eastern Waterfront, more than 325 hectares (800 acres) that represent one of North America’s largest areas of underdeveloped urban land. 

After exploring opportunities all over the world, Sidewalk Labs responded to a Request for Proposals issued in March 2017 by Waterfront Toronto that sought an innovation and funding partner for the Eastern Waterfront, beginning with the creation of a new neighbourhood called Quayside. Through this international call, Waterfront Toronto sought a partner with innovation ingrained in its culture to help re-imagine the conventional approach to city-building. Several local and international firms submitted responses to Waterfront Toronto’s RFP, describing their vision, team strength and experience, and financial capacity. Following a rigorous evaluation process, Waterfront Toronto selected Sidewalk Labs. In Sidewalk Labs, Waterfront Toronto found a kindred partner, one that has been deeply engaged in exploring solutions to the challenges in urban environments, including how to build inclusive, climatefriendly communities, improve quality of life and reimagine public spaces, and how technology can play a role in achieving these goals. Importantly, they recognize the value Toronto’s local tech sector brings to the aspirations of the project and the role the community will play in shaping the neighbourhood of the future.

The key objectives of the project are... 

  • Establish a complete community that provides a superior quality of life for a diverse population of residents, workers, and visitors. 
  • Create a destination for people, companies, startups, and local organizations to advance solutions to the challenges facing cities, such as energy use, housing affordability, and transportation options. 
  • Make Toronto a global hub in a rapidly rising new industry of urban innovation. 
  • Serve as a model for sustainable neighbourhoods throughout Toronto and cities around the world.

Toronto is the world’s most diverse city, a place where 51% of the population is foreign-born and 140 languages are spoken. That remarkable spirit of openness has made the city a beacon the world looks to, more with every day. It’s also led to incredible growth. Toronto is the fourth-largest city in North America, with a population of 2.9m people in the city limits that is expected to grow by 35 percent in the next 25 years, and 6.7m in the metro area expected to grow 42% over the same period. It has enjoyed enormous economic prosperity in recent years, including the rapid rise of its technology sector, which today employs 212,000 workers, with an emerging focus around artificial intelligence.

But Toronto’s growth has brought with it substantial challenges. Housing prices have more than doubled over the last 10 years, with average sales now exceeding $750,000. Its transit system has been unable to meet the demand created by the revitalization of neighbourhoods throughout the city. And like all cities, Toronto must find ways to reduce local energy use and greenhouse gas emissions and help address the global threat of climate change. For these reasons and more, it’s the perfect city to advance solutions to common growth challenges. And it has the perfect place to do it: the city’s underdeveloped Eastern Waterfront, where Waterfront Toronto has the opportunity to align all three levels of government and the public around a visionary plan that will make Toronto a global leader in urban innovation.

The Eastern Waterfront will be a new type of place that combines the best in urban design with the latest in digital technology to address some of the biggest challenges facing cities, including energy use, housing affordability, and transportation. It will be a place that embraces adaptable buildings and new construction methods to make housing and retail space more affordable. A place where people-centred street designs and a range of transportation options make getting around more affordable, safe, and convenient than the private car. A place that encourages innovation around energy, waste, and other environmental challenges to protect the planet. A place where public spaces welcome families to enjoy the outdoors all day and all night and where community ties are strong. A place that’s enhanced by digital technology and data, without giving up the privacy and security that everyone deserves. 


Nick Myall

News editor

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