• Kevin Murphy

Toronto: Sidewalk Labs Update

The new 'smart neighbourhood' is looking to become a reality as Sidewalk Labs has submitted the plans by Snøhetta and Heatherwick Studio for the Quayside waterfront in Toronto. The new all-timber development will be as the Sidewalk Labs describes the plan in Archpaper.com:

"The arrangement would allow the neighbourhood to rise years, if not decades, sooner than it would otherwise. This would unlock the potential of the Eastern Waterfront, and the jobs, housing, and economic growth that will come with it.”

"The neighborhood will also become a testbed for innovative urban technologies. Other than the weather-responsive “skirts” deployed at the open-air bases of each building, the entire project will be networked with high-speed Wi-Fi. A civic data trust would be responsible for removing identifying markers from a information gathered and aggregating it."

Plans for Sidewalk Toronto were first shown in October of 2017 with the goals of achieving new ideas and technologies for urban living including traffic, affordable housing and the environment as well as a blueprint for future inner city developments. As a result the decision was to have the construction made with more affordable and environmental sustainable timber made from a factory in Ontario which will employ 4,000 new jobs. As part of an environmental strategy there will be comprehensive composting and recycling systems and robotic underground rubbish disposal.

The 12 acre site will feature 12 towers and to adhere to local zoning rules will be 90% for residential use. This will bring 2,500 new units with 1,000 planned priced at below-market rates with 50% of those described as “purpose-built rental apartments" or affordable housing and a quarter priced at “deeply affordable” and the rest aimed at middle income wage earners.

Also being planned and designed by Heatherwick Studio is the new 600,000 to 1 million square-foot Canadian headquarters for Google on the west side of Villiers Island.

Public spaces will be be built with "modular kit of parts" that can re-arranged for a variety of uses when necessary.

Designs by Michael Green Architecture will be featuring 'scalloped balconies' throughout the residential developments and open-air 'stoas' made of post and beam construction at the base of each tower.


Just announced by Sidewalk Labs are new building products featuring raincoats made for buildings, heated pavement and object-classifying cameras for possible use in its Toronto project. The raincoat for buildings is described as being an awning of lightweight transparent material essentially ethylene tetrafluoroethylene that can withstand the weather elements of rain, wind, and sun. The awnings are attached to the sides of the buildings with street paver anchors extending outward over the sidewalks.

In a Sidewalk Labs blog post reported in VentureBeat says:

“The weather plays a big role in determining how much time we spend outdoors."

“While the seasons drive the character of how we live in Toronto — trips to the island during the summer or pumpkin parades in the fall — it is no secret that outdoor activity is concentrated in the six-month period from April through October when the weather is pleasant. [These are] some of ideas … [to] make outdoor public space the social default year-round.”


Like so many large urban developments there are routinely critics of the plans and Sidewalk Labs and its proposals have been under local scrutiny.

In a recent survey by Environics Research commissioned by the Toronto Region Board of Trade found that 55% supported the Quayside project with 11% opposing it. Additional sentiments found that 76% believe that the Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs partnership continue "if the public interest can be safeguarded as the process unfolds".

A report in Smart City World Jan De Silva, President & CEO,Toronto Region Board of Trade says:

“The Board of Trade is glad that Sidewalk Labs is here, and glad the company has a shot at bringing innovative development ideas to Quayside alongside our growing smart cities sector in Toronto.”

“But our support isn’t unconditional. There’s a process for Sidewalk Labs to confirm approval for their ideas with Waterfront Toronto and no less than three different levels of government. Public policy issues like data governance must be resolved as that process unfolds."

Just announced in the Toronto Sun the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) has said it will begin litigation on the Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto’s plans the new high-tech neighbourhood. In a just released letter sent to the Prime Minister, the premier of Ontario and the mayors office of Toronto the CCLA wants to have a 'reset' with privacy protections legislated before any partner. Court action is being threatened in the event the request is not processed by government or an elected assembly.

The concern is over possible constitutional issues of “non-consensual, state-authorized mass capture of Canadians’ personal information.” The privacy concerns are due to the amount of information that could be collected by phones, sensors and other devices planned for use in the neighbourhood.

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