Seeking a “Unique Partner” to Help Set New Standards for City Building

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Waterfront Toronto’s RFP sought an Innovation and Funding Partner to help advance a new model of urban development that used emerging capabilities to help tackle the toughest urban growth challenges. After a global competition, Waterfront Toronto selected Sidewalk Labs as this partner, given the company’s unique mission to integrate urban planning, technology, and policy to radically improve quality of life for all.

Waterfront Toronto could have used a traditional model to develop Quayside: bidding out a series of development parcels, with market-rate condos dominating the mix. But in spring 2017, Waterfront Toronto issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for an Innovation and Funding Partner, recognizing an opportunity to establish a new global benchmark for inclusive growth.

Toronto boasts an exceptionally diverse population, top academic institutions, a rich legacy of urban planning, and a booming tech sector. But as the city continues to grow, it faces complex challenges. Home prices in the GTA have more than doubled since 2006. As households move farther from job centres, commute times and congestion have risen. Add to these challenges the urgency of climate change. All of these problems have disproportionate impacts on the most vulnerable populations.

Rather than seeking incremental improvements, the RFP sought to use Quayside as a demonstration for how advances in technology and design can yield substantial improvements in quality of life; instead of seeking modest sustainability gains, the RFP sought an extraordinarily ambitious goal: a climate-positive community.

The RFP also included a requirement for respondents to describe their “ability and readiness to take the concepts and solutions deployed on Quayside to scale in future phases of waterfront revitalization.”

Launching the Sidewalk Toronto Project and Robust Public Engagement Process

After Sidewalk Labs was selected by Waterfront Toronto as Innovation and Funding Partner, the Sidewalk Toronto project launched in October 2017. A few weeks later, the project teams began to solicit a wide range of feedback from residents, researchers, community leaders, and government agencies across the city. This unprecedented level of preliminary public input helped shape the plan.

  • 21,000+ people engaged in-person during Sidewalk Toronto events
  • ~1,700 total hours volunteered by Resident Reference Panel members
  • 100+ hours spent co-designing with communities

This planning work was informed at every step with a robust public engagement process. Over the course of 2018 and early 2019, Sidewalk Labs co-hosted large-scale roundtable meetings; attended dozens of community meetings; opened a workspace, 307, open to Torontonians; assembled a Residents Reference Panel and a Fellows program; convened six topic-specific advisory boards of local experts; engaged in co-design sessions and workshops with senior, youth, and members of the accessibility and Indigenous communities; conducted outreach to the business, academic, non-profit, and institutional sectors; and engaged extensively with public officials at all three levels of government.

November 2017

First Town Hall

More than 530 people attended Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto’s first town hall meeting, at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, with another 5,700 more participating via livestream.

February 2018

Public engagement plan release

Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto released its full public engagement plan, outlining dozens of ways for Torontonians to get involved across a variety of programs.

March 2018

First public roundtable

Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs host the first public roundtable. Roughly 800 people attend in person, with another 1,700 joining via livestream.

May 2018

Initial data framework and second public roundtable

Sidewalk Labs issues its initial Responsible Data Use Policy Framework, laying out the project’s proposed approach to data privacy, stewardship, access, and security, and raises the possibility of a data trust to ensure transparent governance over data issues. Sidewalk Labs presents the framework for feedback at the second jointly hosted public roundtable with Waterfront Toronto, which was attended by roughly 400 people, with another 1,300 joining via livestream.

June 2018

Opening of 307

Sidewalk Labs opens a Toronto office and experimental workspace at 307 Lake Shore Boulevard East, welcoming the public to learn about the project and participate in regular programs held in partnership with local vendors. About 2,000 Torontonians attend.

August 2018

Third public roundtable

Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs host the third public roundtable, focused on initial thinking for public realm, streets, and buildings. Roughly 460 people attend in person, with another 8,700 joining via livestream.

September 2018

Design jams

Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs hosts three “design jams”: full day sessions for local residents to help shape the project. Themes includes vertical living, water connections, and cycling.

November 2018

First look at the plan

Sidewalk Labs releases its Draft Site Plan for Quayside, laying out specific goals for the neighbourhood: 40 percent below-market housing, mass timber construction up to around 30 storeys, a 75 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and more.

December 2018

Fourth public roundtable

Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs host the fourth public roundtable. Roughly 400 people attend in person, with another 3,400 joining via livestream.

January 2019

Advisory Working Groups’ final meetings

After six months to a year of meetings, the Advisory Working Groups — which include 75 experts from across six critical areas: community services, sustainability, mobility, digital governance, housing, and public realm — meet for the final time.

February 2019

Draft accessibility principles

After participating in 70 hours of co-design sessions with the accessibility community and hosting 14 accessibility-related events, Sidewalk Labs releases a set of draft accessibility principles to guide the planning process for the Sidewalk Toronto project.

March 2019

Unveils new prototypes

At the fourth Open Sidewalk at 307, Sidewalk Labs unveils two new prototypes: the modular pavement and building raincoat systems. About 785 people attend.

May 2019

Reference Panel Recommendations

The 36-member Residents Reference Panel releases its 60-page final report. Across six sessions spread over nine months, and a collective 1,728 hours, the residents received an in-depth look at the project, provided feedback, and helped to shape the plan in the best interests of Torontonians.

June 2019

Draft MIDP Release

Sidewalk Labs submits its Master Innovation and Development Plan to Waterfront Toronto for consideration.

Creating the Master Innovation and Development Plan

As Innovation and Funding Partner, Sidewalk Labs embarked on an 18-month planning process to imagine a new kind of community on the waterfront. The result is this Master Innovation and Development Plan, proposed for consideration to Waterfront Toronto and the city, provincial, and federal governments.

Informed by the robust engagement process, Sidewalk Labs conducted an intensive planning process over the past 18 months, with input from the local community, Waterfront Toronto, the City of Toronto, and other levels of government. This effort turned Sidewalk Labs’ initial ideas, as expressed in the RFP response, into a development plan with the potential to serve as a demonstration for an inclusive community that puts urban innovation to work for better quality of life.

While this planning effort focused on the Quayside neighbourhood and surrounding parts of the eastern waterfront, the innovations applied to this project can make an impact in other communities along the waterfront, throughout the city, and around the world.

It is important to note that the opportunity to conduct this planning work came with no guarantee of approval and no exchange of land. On the contrary, Sidewalk Labs, Waterfront Toronto, and the city must all agree to move forward for the project to continue. Sidewalk Labs was willing to stake $50 million USD to developing this plan because we are confident that the resulting plan will not just be “good enough” to meet approval but will demonstrate a new path forward for inclusive urban growth in the digital age.

The result of this process is this Master Innovation and Development Plan (MIDP), submitted by Sidewalk Labs for consideration to Waterfront Toronto and all levels of government. Sidewalk Labs is honoured by the opportunity to present the MIDP, and by the prospect of working alongside Waterfront Toronto and the three levels of government it represents to advance this plan for the benefit of Toronto.

The submission of this MIDP is not the end of the process — far from it. Waterfront Toronto must evaluate the proposal and their Board of Directors will decide whether to pursue some or all of the components of the proposed MIDP. The proposal would thereafter also be subject to various approvals from the City of Toronto and be required to meet all federal and provincial policies and regulations to move forward. Should all parties agree to move the MIDP forward, there would be a series of additional agreements, and public consultations would continue.

Download the Master Innovation and Development Plan

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