Public Realm

VISION

A system of streets, parks, plazas, and open spaces that encourages people to spend more time outdoors, together.

Artist's illustration of a happy sun with a smile.

Benefits of Implementing the Vision

The Innovation Plan

Plentiful, accessible, and exciting public space filled with people all day and all year is a fundamental element of urban life, not an exclusive amenity. Our three-part strategy to the public realm incorporates new design practices and emerging digital tools to help people spend more time outdoors, together.

 

First, Sidewalk Labs plans to deliver more space. Increased walking, cycling, and transit options — coupled with ride-hail services and eventually self-driving vehicles — create an opportunity to reclaim street space for the public realm. This expansion of open space not only enables more public activity but also creates more room for green landscaping and urban nature. To make the most of this space, Sidewalk Labs plans to design flexibility into parks and plazas and to use a digital planning and evaluation tool that can help maximize access to open space while preserving the dense downtown development that creates housing and jobs.

 

Second, Sidewalk Labs plans to enable open space to be activated more of the time. Adaptable ground-floor spaces could evolve throughout the days, seasons, or years and accommodate a much wider variety of uses than conventional developments — from traditional retail, to social or community initiatives, to production work. A digital leasing and operations system would enable easier set-up for short-term pop-ups and co-tenancy arrangements among businesses with diverse operating hours. A carefully engineered outdoor comfort system could respond to real-time weather patterns to provide shade on sunny days and protection on rainy or snowy ones.

 

Finally, Sidewalk Labs plans to make space more responsive to the needs of the community. Shared physical infrastructure (such as communal access to projectors or power) would empower the community to program public spaces, making it easy to stage events, such as art installations or local gatherings. A real-time map of park assets — from drinking fountains to garbage bins to utility pipes — would help managers operate and maintain these spaces in ways that keep them active and detect infrastructure issues early.

Key Goals

More space.

Reclaim space for the public realm.

More time.

Design open spaces that can be activated more hours every day and during every season (even Canadian winters).

More responsive.

Empower the community to shape and program public spaces in ways that better meets people’s needs.

Key Innovations

Sidewalk Labs proposes an array of digital, physical, and policy innovations for the eastern waterfront, with the ultimate goal of improving people’s lives. The following examples are just some of the public realm innovations proposed in the Master Innovation and Development Plan.

Dynamic curbs.

These flexible pick-up/drop-off zones can provide ride-hail passenger loading zones during rush-hour and quickly become public spaces during low-traffic periods.

Modular pavement.

These hexagonal pavers can be replaced or repaired quickly, dramatically reducing the amount of time streets spend closed down for road or utility work and increasing flexibility of street uses. Plus, we can embed capabilities like heating (to melt snow and ice), lighting (so streets can signal new uses), and permeability (critical for resilience). And their hexagonal shape means they’re more resistant to wear and tear (goodbye potholes).

Shared physical infrastructure.

Things like projection screens, lighting mounts, and utility hook-ups can empower the community to easily transform a public space.

Outdoor comfort system.

Lightweight architectural interventions (such as Raincoats to shelter sidewalks; Fanshells to cover open spaces; and Lanterns to block wind) could respond in real time to changing weather and dramatically increase the amount of time it is comfortable outside.

Stoa.

The central squares of Ancient Greece were not just places for merchants to sell things but also civic centres, framed by covered walkways called “stoa.” We’re proposing a 21st-century stoa space designed with flexible interior walls to accommodate a wide range of uses beyond traditional retail, ensuring that the community has a lively mix of shops and restaurants, community spaces, maker studios, pop-ups, and small businesses. Retractable facades enable stalls to be moved outside easily. A new incubator program would be designed to help small businesses open up shop.

Seed Space.

This digital leasing platform would help small businesses and other retailers book a wide range of stoa sizes for short- or long-term uses, making it easier for small businesses to establish a physical retail presence.

CommonSpace.

This app helps public space managers collect reliable data on how people use public spaces, enabling these spaces to better respond to changing community needs.

Try CommonSpace