Toronto is preparing to use technology to tackle the challenges of urban growth, and it will have some help from one of the world’s leading tech giants.

Waterfront Toronto has teamed up with Sidewalk Labs, Alphabet Inc.’s urban innovation group, to design and build a forward-thinking urban community called Quayside on Toronto’s eastern waterfront that emphasizes new digital technology as well as sustainability, affordability, mobility, and economic opportunity.

The Toronto waterfront area that will be developed into Quayside.

The neighbourhood will be built on a 325-hectare (800 acres) area of primarily publicly-owned land. Waterfront Toronto recently received a $1.25 billion (CAD) investment by federal, provincial, and municipal governments to revitalize the area with critical infrastructure and flood protection.

Sidewalk Labs has committed $50 million (USD) for the initial phase that involves planning and pilot project testing. The company has also released its initial proposal to encourage transparency and conversation. While the project was first revealed in March 2017, this announcement marks the first details made public about it.

“Waterfront Toronto has made remarkable strides in revitalizing the waterfront with forward-looking new neighbourhoods and reconnecting Torontonians to their waterfront,” Will Fleissig, president and CEO of Waterfront Toronto, says in an Oct. 17 press release. “Today, we are expanding our know-how by partnering with Sidewalk Labs to create a progressive, innovative community; one that addresses significant challenges and sets new standards around sustainability, affordable housing and community engagement.”

Quayside is to be “the global hub of a new industry focused on urban innovation to improve the quality of city life, tapping into Toronto’s already-thriving tech sector and developing innovations that could benefit communities and neighbourhoods elsewhere in the city,” Waterfront Toronto says.

Designs from Sidewalk Labs’ initial proposal.

The neighbourhood will encourage innovation around energy, waste, and other environmental challenges, as well as become a space enhanced by digital technology and data. It also plans to embrace adaptable buildings and new construction methods to reduce costs, and provide more affordable, safe, and convenient public transportation options.

To help this kick off, Alphabet, Google’s parent company, will be moving its Canadian headquarters to the area.

“Successful cities around the world are wrestling with the same challenges of growth, from rising costs of living that price out the middle class, to congestion and ever-longer commutes, to the challenges of climate change,” Dan Doctoroff, CEO of Sidewalk Labs and former Deputy Mayor of New York City, adds in the release. “Sidewalk Labs scoured the globe for the perfect place to create a district focused on solutions to these pressing challenges, and we found it on Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront—along with the perfect public-sector partner, Waterfront Toronto. This will not be a place where we deploy technology for its own sake, but rather one where we use emerging digital tools and the latest in urban design to solve big urban challenges in ways that we hope will inspire cities around the world.”

The next year will be dedicated to extensive planning and consultations with stakeholders and the surrounding community on how exactly to improve infrastructure like transportation systems, affordable housing, and flexible retail space. It will also establish clear policies on data protection and privacy.

This process will begin with a community town hall meeting on Nov. 1.

Sidewalk Labs’ plans to turn Toronto’s waterfront into a digitally-enabled, sustainable community.

“There is no better city in the world as a partner for Sidewalk Labs,” Toronto Mayor John Tory says. “We need to harness the talent and ambition of urban technology to help serve the people of Toronto and keep our city affordable, liveable and vibrant.  Sidewalk Toronto will help us test new ideas and new solutions to everything from transportation to affordable housing, benefiting our residents and drawing more talent, investment and jobs to our City.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne were both on hand for the project’s unveiling at Corus Quay on the Eastern Waterfront on Oct. 17.

“Today’s announcement is about creating a new type of neighbourhood that puts people first,” Prime Minister Trudeau explains. “Sidewalk Toronto will transform Quayside into a thriving hub for innovation and a community for tens of thousands of people to live, work, and play.  This project offers unprecedented opportunities for Canadian innovators and will create thousands of good, middle class jobs. The new technologies that emerge from Quayside have the potential to improve city living – making housing more affordable and public transit more convenient for Canadians and their families.  I have no doubt Quayside will become a model for cities around the world and make all of our communities even better places to call home.”

Premier Wynne adds that this is “an opportunity to apply all of that talent to one of the biggest challenges faced by cities here and the world how to build urban spaces that are inclusive, sustainable and responsive to the needs of the people who call them home.”

“This project will be a true collaboration between the community and some of the brightest minds in urban development, generating thousands of new jobs and new opportunities for the people of this province,” she concludes.

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