By Dina Graser and Vanessa Pfaff
Diversity, equity, inclusion — everyone uses these words, but what do they mean, and how do they come to life at a neighbourhood level? Those are the questions we asked in developing our Toronto Tomorrow proposal, outlining plans for the eastern waterfront to become a place that welcomes and offers opportunity to people from all walks of life.
We started by learning from the work of various communities who have long been working to advance notions of diversity, equity, and inclusion in Toronto. They generously shared their feedback, recommendations and collaborated with us as we strived to create a new approach for inclusive growth.
To further develop our thinking, we reached out to communities and individuals to solicit advice, hear concerns, and gather ideas about what they thought an inclusive neighbourhood should offer, in terms of accessibility, amenities, economic opportunity, or other considerations. We held over 100 meetings with a wide range of stakeholders: non-profit and community organizations, workforce and employment agencies, members of the Indigenous community, people with lived experience of poverty, activists in the community benefits space, private-sector companies, post-secondary and training institutions, and government representatives, among others.
One of the messages we heard loud and clear was that it isn’t enough to have aspirations — we needed clear, concrete commitments. So we worked through a set of principles that could be used by Sidewalk Labs staff to inform all of the planning in this project, weaving them into initiatives throughout the proposal.
We’ve highlighted these principles below, along with some examples of how they would come to life in Quayside and beyond.
Our principle: Diversity is foundational, and we apply it to all our activities in all areas: to the people we hire; to the people we collaborate, consult, and co-design with; and to the spaces and programs we design. Sidewalk Labs recognizes and honours the vibrant diversity of Toronto, and strives for a place where people of all ages, abilities, incomes, and backgrounds can thrive and belong.
How it’s brought to life: The public realm. Toronto is famous for its parks and green spaces: on a sunny summer’s day, there is no better place than a public park to see a microcosm of the city. In Quayside, we’ve intentionally designed an expansive and inviting public realm to welcome residents, workers, and visitors of all ages, backgrounds and abilities.
The design of Parliament Plaza, at the heart of Quayside, is a great example. This flexible and accessible space would feature direct access to the water; ground-floor spaces for small businesses; a lively mix of recreational facilities, cultural events, and community programming; affordable amenities; and play features that are friendly to children, seniors, and everyone in between.
A “slow zone” along Queens Quay, running through Parliament Plaza, also ensures safety and accessibility by requiring traffic to travel at pedestrian speeds.
Our principle: Sidewalk Labs prioritizes accessibility of place, transportation, services, and opportunities to ensure Quayside is physically, digitally, socially, economically, and culturally accessible for all, including residents, workers, and visitors. Sidewalk Labs designs spaces, systems, and services for 100 percent of the population, including people who face multiple barriers.
How it’s brought to life: Accessible streets and buildings. A series of workshops conducted in collaboration with the accessibility community in Toronto led to 22 accessibility principles to guide planning in Quayside. Just as importantly, this process also led to a long list of tangible commitments.
Accessible street design is a great example. Quayside’s streets will not only meet but strive to exceed the requirements of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, featuring heated pavers that melt snow to ease passage in the winter; wider sidewalks to allow enough room for two people using mobility devices (wheelchairs, scooters, white canes) to ride or travel side by side; wayfinding beacons that are especially useful for people who are blind or partially sighted; and more.
Our principle: Sidewalk Labs includes options for housing, retail, programming, and amenities that are affordable for people of all income levels, including those who are low income.
How it’s brought to life: Housing. Quayside’s housing program includes a range of options that will make living in the neighbourhood accessible and affordable for people of all incomes.
Of the 2,600 or so total housing units, 20 percent will be traditional affordable housing. At least a quarter of these units would be “deeply” affordable units, and we plan to collaborate with a non-profit operator to deliver lower-income affordable units in Quayside.
Another 20 percent of units would go towards middle-income households that can’t afford to pay market rates. These units would include opportunities for a “shared equity” program for households that want to pursue ownership, enabling them to put a down-payment on part of a unit and rent out the rest, earning some equity if the home value increases.
Half of all the units would be rentals, and 40 percent of units would be sized for families, at two, three, or four bedrooms.
Equity of opportunity
Our principle: Sidewalk Labs works to identify and remove systemic barriers to participation so everyone can exercise the right to fair and respectful access to economic, social, and cultural opportunities, paving the way for equitable outcomes.
How it’s brought to life: Economic opportunity. Building on the Waterfront Toronto Employment Initiative, Sidewalk Labs plans to work with the City of Toronto and a range of partners in the workforce development and education sectors to ensure economic opportunities for all. This focus includes making commitments from the point we start building, by requiring that a guaranteed percentage of all construction hours be worked by members of historically disadvantaged and equity-seeking groups and setting targets for local, social and diverse procurement — consistent with recent community benefits agreements on large transit and casino projects in Toronto.
Our economic development proposal also focuses on creating high-quality work opportunities for all Torontonians, with an inclusive talent pipeline called Sidewalk Works that’s designed to support on-site employers in filling real-time needs. Working with a range of partners in the education, training, and workforce sectors, Sidewalk Works would combine digital recruitment tools, training, and work-integrated learning focused on technology and urban innovation — aiming to build awareness and opportunities for a diverse workforce, including newcomers, women, low-income and racialized youth, and Indigenous people.
Our principle: Designing neighbourhoods that everyone can access means planning for the full spectrum of people’s circumstances: physical, digital, economic, social, or cultural. Quayside would create the conditions that bring people together to help create an inclusive community — a group of people who share a sense of belonging, trust, safety, and collective stewardship in a place where everyone feels welcome and has an opportunity to flourish and thrive.
How it’s brought to life: The Civic Assembly. Building community starts with spaces where people can interact, learn, meet each other, and play a role in how their neighbourhood grows and evolves. In Quayside, the Civic Assembly would be a central hub for community, arts, and cultural gatherings.
Housed in bookable, flexible space in the ground and second floors, the Civic Assembly could host space for community collaborations and workshops, a tech bar staffed by digital experts who can teach digital literacy and provide ongoing support, pop-up learning labs together with partners, workforce training and informal meeting spaces that encourage social interaction and foster a sense of stewardship among community members.
Dina Graser is a specialist in community benefits, policy, and engagement, and Vanessa Pfaff is a diversity, equity, and inclusion expert. They are consultants to Sidewalk Labs, based in Toronto.