Thoughts on the Sidewalk Labs Vision for Waterfront Toronto

If you’re an urban planner, city official, or just an aspiring urbanist like me, you’ll no doubt have heard the big news from Toronto – Waterfront Toronto recently chose Sidewalk Labs as their partner to redevelop Quayside, a neighbourhood with enormous potential right to the east of the downtown core.

I’ve followed Sidewalk Labs for some time as they sought a site to build out their vision for the future of cities, and I’m a fan of Canadian cities overall – so this is a particularly exciting development for me. Canadian cities already rank astoundingly high for livability (Toronto recently came in 4th in a global livability report), and this new endeavor is likely going to solidify their place for decades to come.

As an active student of modern urbanism (who should have pursued a minor in planning when I had the chance), I’m always eager to stay abreast of all the current trends and best practices in city planning. I knew that Sidewalk’s response to Waterfront Toronto’s RFP would contain a forward-thinking vision that could push the field of urban innovation in new directions, and it did not disappoint.

I went through the 196-page (!!) public vision document and found quite a few intriguing ideas – some that were new applications of existing technology (e.g. self-driving taxibots) and some that were radically ambitious (e.g. overhauling building codes to be metric outcomes-based). I’ll share some of my feedback for the vision below, including questions I’d raise with Sidewalk regarding the feasibility/scalability of some of their proposals.

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