River District: Creating an Innovation Ecosystem to Build on Quayside’s Impact

Anchored by the relocation of Google’s Canadian headquarters to Villiers West, the proposed River District would consist of five distinct neighbourhoods — together creating a new hub for urban innovation with the potential for global impact.

The River District

As an extension of the Quayside innovation framework and development approach at scale, Sidewalk Labs proposes Waterfront Toronto and the City of Toronto also apply this approach to a larger geography identified as the “River District,” an area spanning 62 hectares with five distinct neighbourhoods: Villiers West, Villiers East, Keating East, McCleary, and Polson Quay. The River District program overall is shaped by the need for enough density to achieve Waterfront Toronto’s priority outcomes and make the development financially sustainable.

By moving Google’s expanded Canadian headquarters to Villiers West, establishing an Urban Innovation Institute, and planning and financing innovative systems across the district, Sidewalk Labs can create the foundation to attract private development that would fully unlock the waterfront’s potential as a global hub for urban innovation. The River District proposal does not include Sidewalk Labs undertaking detailed planning or leading development in this area. Instead, it aims to help create the conditions that enable both the public and private sectors to make great things happen.

Villiers West: Building an economic cluster around urban innovation  

The 7.75-hectare western half of Villiers Island has the potential to catalyze economic development across the region, anchored by the new Google Canadian headquarters and an Urban Innovation Institute, a new non-profit applied research institute designed to bring together academia, industry, entrepreneurs, advocates, and public agencies to collaborate on tackling urban challenges. Sidewalk Labs proposes to act as the lead developer for this area, in concert with local development partners, and catalyze an economic cluster focused on urban innovation there.

Villiers Island is uniquely situated to foster this kind of development. The proposed innovation campus would be located on the dramatic western edge, next to a new light rail stop, with enough space to accommodate new companies, start-ups, and institutions as the cluster grows. To the east, thousands of units of housing could be interlaced with retail, community, and cultural spaces, attracting companies seeking a high quality of life for their employees, who would be able to walk to work along the island’s innovative and intimate pedestrian-first street grid.

Extraordinary public spaces would define the entire perimeter of the island. A planned 16-hectare park will curve around the southern edge, culminating to the west in Promontory Park, which will offer spectacular views of the harbour and downtown skyline. To the north, Sidewalk Labs proposes to reinvent the Keating Channel — an artificial waterway lined with a series of industrial buildings — with repurposed historic structures and new pedestrian, public transit, and cycling bridges stitching together both sides of the canal, supporting a new creative economy centred around the arts, production, and exploration.

Creating a connected innovation campus. This jobs hub on Villiers West would become a true live-work neighbourhood through a set of features that include a new street network and a light rail connection that provide access to the surrounding city, an extensive park system, and mixed-use blocks.

Beyond Villiers West

Villiers East

The 11.5-hectare eastern half of Villiers Island offers an exceptional opportunity to create an inviting, walkable live-work community, all encircled by a magnificent new park created as part of the flood protection work.

 

In this area, and for the rest of the River District, Sidewalk Labs would play a supporting role as innovation and funding partner, while Waterfront Toronto and the City of Toronto work with other partners to undertake development.

 

A conceptual illustration of a Villiers East Accessway and plaza, made possible by the IDEA District’s innovative approach to development. (Planning for this neighbourhood would be led by Waterfront Toronto and the City of Toronto.)

Keating East 

The planned relocation of the Gardiner Expressway will create the opportunity for a new six-hectare neighbourhood along the reclaimed Keating Channel. The Port Lands Planning Framework envisions the channel as the centrepiece of the surrounding neighbourhoods. Sidewalk Labs embraces this vision.

 

A Keating Channel exploration zone could become a dynamic, water-focused spine that showcases groundbreaking work across arts, culture, and production. Multiple new pedestrian and bike bridges are proposed across the channel, creating a character similar to the canals of Amsterdam.

McCleary

Consistent with the Port Lands Planning Framework’s direction as a mixed-use area focused on production, interactive, and creative industries, the 14-hectare McCleary District could integrate dense housing with commercial space that complements East Harbour and the Film District.

 

Located within short walking or biking distance of the Film District, East Harbour, and the innovation campus on Villiers Island, McCleary could become an ideal residential location for people with jobs in the neighbourhood and nearby. In addition, a new light rail stop located on Commissioners Street would ensure access to major transportation hubs and downtown Toronto.

Polson Quay

Polson Quay is a 23-hectare neighbourhood located south of Villiers Island and along the south side of the newly naturalized Don River. As in Villiers Island, a series of bridges in Polson Quay could form important links to the surrounding city, including space for a light rail extension with a new stop in the centre of the neighbourhood.

 

With these key investments in place, Polson Quay can take full advantage of its geography and dramatic views of the harbour and city skyline to become a place where production, interactive, and creative uses can coexist in an integrated way with housing, commercial activity, community spaces, and an accessible public realm — achieving a unique live-work-make waterfront neighbourhood.

We have made important updates to the Sidewalk Toronto project. Learn more.