Blog

Sidewalk Toronto project update

14th February 2019

By Dan Doctoroff, CEO of Sidewalk Labs

We came to Toronto because we want to build great things and innovate in ways that improve urban life — and this is the only city in the world that has the mix of talent and tenacity to make this happen.

You’ve been hearing about our plans and vision for well over a year now. We’ve led and participated in lots of great conversations with Torontonians — more than 18,000 so far — that have helped shape and refine a shared vision for the waterfront.

Recently, some of what we’ve been working on has made its way into the media and so we wanted to share directly with you some of these key concepts as they are coming into focus: about our role, Sidewalk’s business model (ways we would invest in the project, and ways we would recoup that investment), and questions of scale — when it comes to innovation, infrastructure, and economics — that were raised in Waterfront Toronto’s RFPand with which we’ve been wrestling ever since.

From the beginning, this project has presented for us — and for the city — an immense opportunity to think about new technology, innovative infrastructure, and forward-thinking urban design. But much of what’s possible is only viable when different aspects of the project — particularly related to infrastructure — incorporate portions of the Eastern Waterfront. In other words, only when specific project elements reach a certain scale are they able to achieve the objectives shared by Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs to meaningfully improve the lives of the people who will live there.

The concepts are here in this presentation along with some new images of the project here. And the Master Innovation and Development Plan, a full draft of which we are hard at work completing and seeking the necessary approvals from our owner, Alphabet, will provide the details necessary for Waterfront Toronto, the three levels of government, and all Torontonians to examine and make informed decisions about what we’ve proposed. That, of course, is many months away.

We are excited about what’s coming together and we think Torontonians will be too. This project is for them and ultimately, it will be up to residents, Alphabet, Waterfront Toronto and all three levels of government to decide if it should go forward.

Here are some of the key concepts:

  • A core component of this is a concept to help finance the Waterfront LRT — which would be operated by a public agency — 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. (Check out this report by the Waterfront BIA on the potential benefits of accelerated Waterfront LRT.)
  • We would also build 2,500 units of housing in Quayside alone — 40 percent of which would be below market, and 50 percent of which would be purpose-built rental apartments. The result would be more affordable housing, more rentals and affordable ownership opportunities, and more living options for singles, seniors, and families.
  • We would build a tall-timber factory in Ontario to supply wood that will be used to build the Quayside neighbourhood — and other neighbourhoods as well. This innovative and sustainable initiative could create 4,000 new jobs in manufacturing, sawmill, transportation and logging sector. Sidewalk Labs would help jumpstart this next-generation Canadian industry.
  • Our proposed involvement in real estate development would be limited to Quayside and the western edge of Villiers Island — in large measure to prove out our belief that timber construction can help make a more affordable, sustainable, vibrant neighbourhood, and to deliver on our affordable housing goals. We intend to undertake this development in tandem with local development partners, while recognizing that we will likely have to bear the primary risk for much of the innovation embedded into the plans.
  • The creation of an Innovative Development and Economic Activation (IDEA) District, publicly administered by Waterfront Toronto, in which a unique set of policy tools would be used to spur inclusive growth, including the creation of a value-capture zone in which development charges, incremental property taxes, and increased land value stemming from the project would be used to finance enabling infrastructure.
  • As Waterfront Toronto’s Innovation and Funding Partner for the IDEA District, Sidewalk Labs would help finance this infrastructure — including LRT, next-generation utility systems, and parks — in advance of when those funds would normally be available. We would then recoup those investments through sharing in those revenue streams if and when they materialize.

We are working toward achieving these and other goals by bringing people together as partners, collaborators, and investors. We see our role as leaders in making that interaction happen — which is why we use the word ‘catalyst’ a lot. Catalysts drive change.

We are excited about that role in Toronto’s future — and the vision we’ve developed through our conversations and consultations. We think Torontonians will be excited, too.