With its 1,500 page plan, Sidewalk Toronto's neighbourhood of the future is one step closer to reality

More than 18 months after introducing its plan to redevelop a priority piece of Toronto’s eastern waterfront, Sidewalk Labs has released a master plan of its ideas to create a neighbourhood of the future.

Sidewalk Toronto is a spinoff of Sidewalk Labs and was formed in 2017, after responding to an open call from Waterfront Toronto to revitalise a 800-acre site east of downtown Toronto.

Dubbed Toronto Tomorrow, the plan is the most detailed and in-depth look at the company’s plans for Toronto — spanning more than 1,500 pages in length and detailing designs for the Quayside site. The MIDP is being promoted as a blueprint for how technology companies and governments can build a new type of neighbourhood using sensors that track things like air quality, pollution and vehicle traffic — going as far as to talk about futuristic tunnels where autonomous carts will drive around to deliver packages.

But the plan raises just as many questions as it answers and includes plans for the remaining 190 acre IDEA District, including the Quayside area near Parliament St. and Queens Quay St. and an area in the Port Lands called Villiers West.

There are a lot of benefits that Sidewalk is boasting about its plans:

  • Help funding the Waterfront LRT, which has an estimated cost of at least $1.2 billion but remains unfunded by the government

  • Generation of 44,000 jobs and $4.3 billion in annual taxes from 21,000 residents

  • Creation of 1,700 affordable housing units in the area (50 percent of all housing would be purpose-built, 40 percent of this would be 2+ bedroom units; half this would be affordable housing ($1,492 or less for a two-bedroom, according to city standards, and 5 percent would be “deeply affordable” — at or below 60 percent of average market rent)

  • Possible agreement to 10 percent profit share with the government for 10 years for certain technologies developed in the space

  • The Toronto Tomorrow plan will cost $3.9 billion, with the company providing up to $1.3 billion of

The master plan establishes that there will be hundreds or thousands of sensors throughout the neighbourhood, measuring everything from rainfall to road usage. Sidewalk will develop these technologies itself when other options don’t exist, but will attempt to use off-the-shelf products for as much of the plan as possible.

QuaysideNeighbourhood_SidewalkLabs.jpg

All this will be powered by a fibre internet connection — a coincidence since Sidewalk’s sister company, Google, offers that service via Google Fiber. There is reassurance, though, that all companies will have to undergo a competitive process.

There are still several issues with the plan:

  • Sidewalk CEO Daniel L. Doctoroff was unable to tell Vice whether Sidewalk Labs would have ISP-level insight about web traffic in the internet-connected neighbourhood

  • Waterfront Toronto doesn’t have the authority to approve the company’s plan in some cases and its chairperson sent a letter to Sidewalk Labs outlining several concerns

  • The company will collect huge amounts of data but it could lead to breaches — or a whole new definition of — personal privacy

The goal of the masterplan and futuristic neighbourhood is to improve how people work and live, Doctoroff said at a media presentation on July 22.

But Sidewalk would like a couple things in return for its part in developing Quayside:

  • For meeting sustainability and development targets, Sidewalk wants performance payments from the government

  • Sidewalk Labs wants to lead development of Quayside, but Waterfront Toronto says that wasn’t a point on in the initial agreement

Waterfront Toronto outlined some concerns about the project and voted to delay a vote on the proposal until the end of 2019, or later. Plus, for the smart community to be expanded to a larger area, the City of Toronto would need to support and approve it — alongside possibly the provincial government.

The whole concept still faces much backlash from the #BlockSidewalk movement but to shake off some of the protest, Sidewalk is hosting a series of Reddit AMA sessions.