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5 things to know about the Sidewalk Toronto plan

24th June 2019

By Dan Doctoroff, CEO of Sidewalk Labs

Today, we publicly released our draft Master Innovation and Development Plan for Toronto’s eastern waterfront, titled Toronto Tomorrow: A New Approach for Inclusive Growth. The proposal is a product of 18 months of input from more than 21,000 Torontonians; all levels of government; dozens of meetings with local experts, non-profits and community stakeholders; and the research, engineering and design work of more than 100 Toronto firms. 

We are grateful for the opportunity to continue that conversation through this proposal. It hasn’t always been an easy journey to this point. And to their credit, Torontonians challenged us at every step—and that has made the plan better.

Every idea you’ll see in Toronto Tomorrow—and the thousands of iterations and refinements we have made to our thinking in response to the feedback we’ve gotten—stands in service of the bold ambition outlined by Waterfront Toronto: a groundbreaking project that generates extraordinary number of jobs and economic benefits for Torontonians, while achieving new levels of environmental sustainability, pioneering a 21st-century mobility network, producing record numbers of affordable housing, and establishing a new model for urban innovation. 

After a year and a half of intensive research, prototyping, design, and planning about these diverse pieces and how they fit together, we are proud to say with confidence that these aspirations are not merely dreams—they can be achieved. Toronto Tomorrow represents our best thinking on the path to creating the most innovative place in the world, one that sets a new standard for urban life in the 21st century.

Five things to know about Toronto Tomorrow

Toronto Tomorrow includes three volumes, plus an overview. Volume 1 takes a detailed look at the planning concepts and proposed operational systems. Volume 2 offers an in-depth exploration of the urban innovations, organized around the key areas of mobility, the public realm, buildings and housing, sustainability, and digital innovation. Volume 3 provides an explanation of the novel partnership that we hope could provide a model for future ambitious public-private collaborations in the service of improving urban life.

There’s a level of detail here that reflects the seriousness and complexity of what we are trying to achieve. But just in case you don’t have a chance to read every one of its 1,500 pages, here are five things to know about Toronto Tomorrow:

The Master Innovation and Development Plan reflects the engagement of tens of thousands of Torontonians and their public officials.

Since being selected Innovation and Funding Partner in October 2017, Sidewalk Labs has solicited an unprecedented range of feedback from residents, researchers, community leaders, and government agencies, including in-person conversations with more than 21,000 Torontonians.

That input has profoundly shaped this proposal, leading to dramatic changes, including a new focus on accelerating light rail extension, rethinking the way buildings are constructed to increase affordability, setting a new standard for data privacy and governance in cities, and scaling back the role of Sidewalk Labs so local third parties can lead most of the real estate and technology development. 

The successful execution of the highly detailed plan would produce the most innovative district in the world.

Across nearly every dimension of urban life — mobility, sustainability, public realm, buildings, and digital innovation — the plan breaks new ground. That includes the first neighbourhood built entirely of mass timber, dynamic streets that can adapt to a neighbourhood’s changing needs, weather mitigation systems, and a thermal grid for heating and cooling.

All together, more than five dozen innovations would be combined in a single place for the first time, creating a global model for combining cutting-edge technology and great urban design to dramatically improve quality of life.

The plan shows that inclusive, sustainable growth is achievable.

The innovations are designed to work together to create diverse, thriving, mixed-income neighbourhoods.

A new factory-based construction process would lead to faster and more predictable projects — unlocking billions in private funding that could be applied towards a precedent-setting housing program with 40 percent of units at below-market rates. New mobility initiatives — combined with expansions to public transit and cycling infrastructure — would eliminate the need to own a car, saving a two-person household $4,000 every year. Advanced energy systems would help create the largest climate-positive district in North America while keeping costs the same, or lower, for residents and businesses.

The resulting place would set a new standard for urban life in the 21st century.

The plan would generate an economic windfall for Toronto, Ontario, and Canada.

By its 2040 completion, the project would directly create 44,000 jobs and become a tremendous revenue source for government, generating $4.3 billion in annual tax revenue and $14.2 billion in annual GDP impact, according to an economic analysis conducted by urbanMetrics, a leading Toronto-based firm with extensive experience on the waterfront.

That is nearly seven times the economic impact projected to occur by that time under more traditional development in the area. But the benefits go beyond dollars. Accelerating the development schedule can also deliver critical public transit infrastructure and thousands of affordable housing units many years earlier than anticipated. 

Sidewalk Labs’ proposed role is designed to support the public sector and create the conditions for others to thrive.

This plan proposes a limited role for Sidewalk Labs with government in the lead, and milestones that must be met for each project phase. Working with local partners, Sidewalk Labs would develop less than 7 percent of the eastern waterfront — the minimum necessary to prove the market viability of its innovations — and spark economic growth through an innovation campus, featuring a new Google Canadian headquarters and Urban Innovation Institute.

For the rest of the project, Sidewalk Labs would advise on innovation planning, design, and implementation; deploy limited technology (sharing profits with the public sector in certain cases); and provide the option to finance critical infrastructure like the light rail expansion. Sidewalk Labs would earn profits on real estate development, fee income, and interest on infrastructure finance if used.

In aggregate, Sidewalk Labs and its partners propose to provide up to $1.3 billion in funding and financing, which would catalyze $38 billion in investment, primarily by third parties.

Moving forward

It is important to note that the proposal will now be subject to public consultations led by both Waterfront Toronto and the City, and to a rigorous evaluation by Waterfront Toronto that will inform the agency’s negotiations with us. Any agreement to proceed to implementation of a final plan will require the approval of Waterfront Toronto and Alphabet. We welcome this process, and we sincerely hope it will lead to the realization of what we believe represents a blueprint for the neighbourhood of the future.

Join us at  on June 29 at our Toronto HQ 307!

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