Toronto is building towards becoming a leader in the field of urban innovation, starting with a new high-tech neighbourhood designed by Google’s sibling company.

Waterfront Toronto, established by the Government of Canada, Province of Ontario, and the City of Toronto, aims to lead the renewal of the city’s waterfront into a world-class, innovative urban development. It launched an initial request for proposal in March 2017, and selected the vision of Sidewalk Labs, an Alphabet company that brings together the urbanists who led New York City’s post-9/11 revival with the technologists that bred Google’s success.

Sidewalk Toronto’s plans include a mixed-use community on Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront, combining forward-thinking urban design and new digital technology to create people-centred neighbourhoods that address the major challenges of a growing city, from energy use, to housing affordability, sustainability, and economic opportunity.

As well as delivering a new neighbourhood, Kristina Verner, vice president of innovation, sustainability and prosperity at Waterfront Toronto, said the project would position Toronto as a leader in urban innovation. She told local newspaper The Toronto Star: “From a very practical perspective on an economic development basis, the smart cities or urban innovation area is a booming area that some would say is a $25 trillion dollar opportunity worldwide.”

Sidewalk’s innovations would eventually cover more than 325 hectares in one of the largest underdeveloped urban spaces in North America. It aims to become a working laboratory for a range of smart technology. Concepts include: new prefabricated construction methods and flexible building designs promise to reduce the cost of housing; transport planning including dedicated lanes for self-driving cars, and real-time parking and navigation information; and infrastructure to support energy-efficient building, clever recycling and green vehicles.

The community would also provide economic opportunities, tapping into Toronto’s already-thriving tech sector. To help get started, Alphabet plans to move Google’s Canadian headquarters to the Eastern Waterfront.

Sidewalk Labs says the global test bed will make Toronto the hub of a new industry focused on urban innovation to improve the quality of city life.

Micah Lasher, head of policy and communications at Sidewalk Labs, told The Star: “We see an extraordinary foundation of talent and innovation and support from all three levels of government and the citizenry for a thriving technology sector already here in Toronto.”

Alongside opportunities for its existing tech sector, Toronto also has an academic core leading in urban design. This includes Mark Fox, distinguished professor of urban systems engineering, and director of the Enterprise Integration Laboratory at the University of Toronto, a specialist centre that investigates building smarter cities through the use of information and communications technologies. He called Sidewalk Toronto a “grand experiment.”

“What’s unique is the opportunity to bring all these ideas from around the world and put them to work in one physical location.”

Throughout 2018, Sidewalk Toronto’s Master Innovation and Development Plan will undergo extensive public consultation prior to agreement and implementation.

(via Sidewalk, WEForum, The Star)

Featured Image: Sidewalk