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Sidewalk Labs

Sidewalk Labs Unveils a Comprehensive Look at Their Toronto Waterfront Project

On Tuesday night a third public roundtable was held to show the latest iterations of the Sidewalk Labs Quayside (apparently pronounced kay-side) project. The meeting has been released in this video that clocks in at just over an hour and a half and is accompanied by this presentation that consists of one hundred and eighteen slides. If you don’t have the time to go through all of this, don’t worry, we are here to summarize what at least we think are some of the most interesting aspects of the project.

First, it is important to understand what the purpose of this project is. The Plan Development Agreement between the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation and Sidewalk Labs states that:

  • Both Parties believe in the potential for technology to improve urban life and to create people-centered communities that are more liveable, connected, prosperous and resilient.
  • Both parties seek to establish a complete community that serves as a model for sustainable and resilient neighborhoods throughout Toronto and cities around the world
  • Both Parties aim to create a destination for people, companies, startups, and local organizations to advance solutions to the challenges facing cities, such as energy use, housing affordability, and transportation, and make Toronto the global hub of a rising new industry focused on urban innovation.

So, with those ideals in mind Sidewalk, like any good designer, started by doing their best to understand the needs of the local community. They did this by polling and interviewing a variety of residents in the area. The feedback that they got informed them that, among other things, residents wanted: a complete community with opportunities to live, work and play; promote active transportations while maximizing convenience and choice; have a place that is welcoming and inclusive to everyone; be connected to the rest of Toronto; and provide a good mix of housing options for households of different incomes. Sound easy enough, right?


The partnership will attempt to achieve all of this with a number of innovative design features. One is the layout of the streets themselves. They area will be cut into a grid pattern with the outside edges having larger boulevards and higher speed limits for cars and public transportation. Crossing the area will be “accessways” that will be streets designed primarily for bikes and the entire area will be divided by a “laneway” that will be mainly for pedestrian traffic.One of the main design themes throughout the entire project is flexibility through modularity. To do this they are using polygonal pavers that have lights that can be used as movable lane markers and changed to create a huge variety of different usage options.They will also be heated to ensure another important design element for the project, year-round use. This is obviously not the easiest objective for a waterfront area in a Canadian city so to do so Sidewalk plans on using expandable clear canopies that can block the elements and let in the sun’s warmth.

They are proposing using timber as the main construction material. This will help them meet their sustainability goals since timber is renewable and requires much less foundational infrastructure than heavier materials like steel and concrete. Plus, it is something that Canada has in abundance, which is becoming more and more important with the current trade war climate.

The entire area will be monitored to help understand the main ways that it is being used so adjustments can easily be made. With a well defined set of design principles, built-in flexibility, and a constant feedback loop, the Quayside project feels a lot like it is being done by a technology developer. This, of couse, is the case as Sidewalk Labs is a part of Alphabet, Google’s parent company. These plans are obviously still in development but from what they have shown so far, this is a completely different approach to landscape architecture that could be the benchmark for all other modern developments that come after it.

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