Jesse Shapins — Sidewalk Labs
I first visited Toronto almost a decade ago. I was blown away by this place — and the mix of people and ideas from all over the world. As a longtime New Yorker, Toronto felt familiar as a great global city, but also more liveable, with its many beautiful parks and neighbourhoods.
I’ve spent my career working to bring people closer together — in the physical and digital worlds. I joined Sidewalk Labs because of its mission to combine great urban design with technology to take on the major challenges facing cities today, including affordability, mobility, and sustainability.
When we were awarded the opportunity to develop a plan for a new neighbourhood on Toronto’s waterfront, I was so excited, remembering my first visit to the city. I knew the only way I could work on a project like this was to live and breathe the place. So, I moved to Toronto with my family and have become passionate about understanding this city — and how to make it even better.
Sidewalk’s approach is fundamentally rooted in creating inclusive neighbourhoods that improve quality of life for all. None of this is “tech for tech’s sake.” Let’s just get this out of the way: what we’re planning here is neither cheerful science fiction — like The Jetsons — nor dark and dystopian — like Black Mirror.
I’m proud to announce that we’re taking a big step in fulfilling Sidewalk’s mission. Today, we’re sharing the draft site plan for Quayside.
First, I want to back up a bit. For a little over a year now, we’ve been working to develop what is known as the “Master Innovation and Development Plan,” or MIDP for short. The MIDP is a set of documents Sidewalk is preparing for review by Waterfront Toronto, the City, other levels of government, Alphabet, and the public. What we’re sharing today is the first part of that much bigger plan.
Our proposed plan for Quayside leverages some of the world’s best urban design and emerging technology, but it is also a home-grown response to some of the challenges Toronto is facing as it grows — like traffic congestion, housing affordability, and job creation. We have worked to be as responsive as possible to the objectives Waterfront Toronto has put at the center of this project from the very beginning. Quayside sits at a remarkable location that is at a crossroads between the city’s downtown, the east end, and the Port Lands.
So, what will Quayside be like? Think of it as the newest, most exciting neighbourhood in a city of great neighbourhoods.
For starters, it won’t be all condos. We’re proposing that Quayside be made up of 50% purpose-built rental, 40 percent below-market rate housing, including a minimum of 20 percent affordable housing, making sure that this community reflects the full diversity of Toronto.
Quayside will also set a new standard for the environment by reducing carbon emissions by 75–85 percent. At the same time, it will create and support lots of jobs. We predict the Quayside project will create 9,000+ direct and indirect jobs as a result of the construction alone and will be home to 3,900 permanent jobs upon completion. And I’m particularly excited by the fact that our commitment to mass timber for the development of this new community will energize the Canadian timber industry.
Quayside will also feature some incredible new public spaces along the waterfront, providing waterfront access to all Torontonians — and new ways to experience that waterfront, too.
Flexible, safe streets will make Quayside among the most walkable neighbourhoods in Toronto. We’re putting pedestrians and transit first — including supporting the development of the LRT — and building in flexibility to prepare this neighbourhood for new modes of transit, like autonomous vehicles.
To protect people’s privacy and data, we have proposed that all data collected in the public realm will be made publicly accessible through published standards and managed by an independent Civic Data Trust.
All of this wasn’t just some plan we dreamed up by ourselves at Sidewalk Labs; we put this together after listening carefully to what Torontonians want — and don’t want — during a series of public consultations held this past year. And there will still be lots of opportunities to provide feedback, including our roundtable on December 8th.
A lot of care and attention has gone into making this new community something all of us can be proud of and look forward to living in. And so no … it’s not the Jetsons … but something much better, because this is going to be a real place and community. But don’t take my word for it — take a look at the drawings of the plan and decide for yourself!
Next, we’ll be coming back with our full plan and looking for your feedback in the new year. So stay tuned, there is more great stuff to come.
Jesse Shapins is the Director of Public Realm and 307 at Sidewalk Labs and is based in Toronto.