March 22, 2018
By Arianne Robinson
At a public roundtable event at the Metro Convention Centre Tuesday, representatives from Sidewalk Toronto described the inspiration for the design of the futuristic technological neighbourhood they are planning.
“We started by studying all of the efforts to create smart cities, utopian communities, planned developments,” Rohit Aggarwala, chief policy advisor at Sidewalk Labs, said during the presentation. “We’re hardly the first people to think that you could do a great neighbourhood if you thought it all up at once, and most of those haven’t turned out that well, so we started by learning the lessons from the past.”
Aggarwala, policy adviser for the City of New York between 2006 and 2010 under then-mayor Michael Bloomberg, detailed the higher level priorities for Sidewalk Toronto (affordable housing and mobility), while also making public the home of Sidewalk Toronto’s new digs.
“I’m also pleased to announce that later this year, in fact in the summer, we’re going to open our physical embodiment of Sidewalk Toronto’s presence at a location, 307 Lake Shore [Blvd.], right opposite Quayside itself, and Sidewalk will have its offices here in Toronto there. You’ll all be welcome to visit – we’re going to make it a great place to come and learn more about what we’re doing, but this is also really where we’re going to be day in and day out, doing the work that will lead to the plan… and hopefully lead to a proposal that the people of Toronto embrace.”
Jesse Shapins, director of Public Realm and Culture at Sidewalk Toronto, said they first got into the 15,000-square-foot space last week and it was most recently used by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment for media production. It will eventually be headquarters to Sidewalk Toronto.
“It will be our office but it’s a large warehouse space and so part of that will be the ability for us to test and build out some mock ups of some of the experiences for the city at scale. And so we’re able to, again, bring the public into that process to show and work through a lot of the ideas that we’re developing.”
Shapins said Sidewalk Toronto has leased the building for the next three years, but as of Thursday afternoon, sandwich boards advertising availability were displayed around the outside. Signal Toronto contacted Cushman & Wakefield to inquire about the status of the property, but received no response.
Many of the details for what exactly Sidewalk Toronto has been given to develop are not clear.
Former city councillor and MP Adam Vaughan (Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Intergovernmental Affairs, from December 2015 to January 2017) spoke with Signal Toronto after the presentation. Asked whether he is concerned about the nature of the deal between Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs (owned by Alphabet Inc., which also owns Google) and the amount of information that has been made public, Vaughan said he doesn’t think there is anything to fear.
“Look it, there are parts of every business deal that need to remain private, especially when you have a major land developer like Waterfront Toronto who’ve got a number of parcels of property that they need to take to market,” Vaughan said after the presentation.
“From a price perspective, I understand why there’s a bit of concern, but I think when you’re doing something like bringing Google to Toronto, and you’re bringing technology that is going to monitor people, you’ve got to be more transparent than transparent… I think you’re going to see this is not the, sort of, evil empire landing on the shores of Lake Ontario and sucking all the data out of the city and then taking off again… This is about how you build cities and use technology to adapt to a century where change is going to be the norm.”
The public details in the agreement between Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs involve a joint planning process and a commitment of up to $50 million (US) from Sidewalk, that will result in a proposal to be released in 2019.
In the meantime, the old Toronto Maple Leafs Network Ltd. sign on the front door of Sidewalk Toronto’s new headquarters isn’t the only vintage that comes with the project. An interactive archival photo website by Sidewalk Labs called OldTO was also launched this week. It pins photos taken between 1850 and now to locations on a map, reminders of how the city has changed over time.