News / Canada

From garbage robots to gondolas, inside the Sidewalk Labs vision for rebuilding cities

Spoiler alert: it's pedestrian-centred, green and full of lofts.

Another sneak peak at what Sidewalk Labs has in store for Quayside.

Sidewalk Toronto / Contributed

Another sneak peak at what Sidewalk Labs has in store for Quayside.

Sidewalk Labs, a sister company to Google, wants to “rebuild cities from the internet up” — and it has selected a Canadian city to begin the grand experiment.

Metro takes you inside the vision for the people-centred, green community with a look at their 196 page request for proposal.

It's far from the end of the conversation. The company will spend a year consulting on Sidewalk Toronto, a joint venture with Waterfront Toronto.

But a deep dive into the document shows some big dreams and radical ideas on how to rethink the 12-acre site at Queens Quay East. and Parliament St. — and by extension, modern urban life.

The car is not king:

The neighbourhood will put pedestrians, not cars, first and create streets that are a "throwback to the past" reminiscent of "an Italian hill town, a medieval city core, or a Moroccan souk," based around the speed and scale of people, according to the vision document.

Stalls with food trucks, pop-ups and even live music performances will bring life to the streets and the area will be set up so that it's a five minute walk to groceries, coffee and other essentials, with transit and plenty of bike-shares nearby.

Sidewalk wants to get the percentage of trips made by residents in privately owned vehicles to 15 per cent.

Sharing is caring:

This is where car sharing comes in. Sidewalk's vision is that all residents would have access to a fleet of electric vehicles and charging stations.

Robots will deliver stuff, drive you and collect garbage:

"Pellet shaped robots" would make deliveries, and taxi-bots will combine ride-share with self-driving vehicles. Robots would also be able to move waste underground off the street. The neighbourhood would also "immediately be open for controlled pilots of self-driving cars, including a shuttle between Quayside and Cherry Beach."

Underground utilities:

Infrastructure for utilities would be underground, tucking them out of sight off the street.

Fighting the elements:

Controlling the weather is out of scope even for Google, but the new 'hood would have design aspects built in that make it easier to be outside for longer, like awnings to block rain, and sunshades to make it cooler. In the winter, heated sidewalks and bike lanes would cut out shoveling.

High in the sky:

Why sit in traffic when you can zip across the sky? Sidewalk wants to pilot a "personal rapid transit sky-way system" on the Eastern Waterfront. The gondola-like pods might even be able to carry small self driving vehicles or bicycles.


About 20-30 per cent of housing units will be "affordable" according to the proposal. Sidewalk Toronto also wants to embrace micro-units (250 and 350 square feet), co-housing, modular housing and lofts, which are more flexible than traditional houses and apartments.


Sidewalk wants Quayside to become as green as possible, through things like energy efficient buildings and district heating and cooling. The big dream is to contribute to making the Eastern Waterfront the first "climate positive" community in the world.

Digital dreams:

A "digital layer" is a huge part of the neighbourhood. It would allow flexibility and improvements to the area, including a "network of sensors to collect real-time data about the surrounding environment."

Of course, privacy concerns come to mind. The proposal says Ann Cavoukian, former Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner and currently the executive director of the privacy and big data Institute at Ryerson University has already agreed to serve on the project's advisory board.

Neighbourhood 2.0: Digital tools connect neighbours to one another as well as social and care services, including peer-to-peer marketplaces and neighbourhood groups to crowd-source community needs.

Sensitive trash: An array of sensors will alert workers to overflowing garbage bins or broken benches to get street furniture fixed promptly.

Adaptive traffic lights: Signals will prioritize pedestrians and cyclists to move them through busy intersections.

Parking butler: To cut down on circling and congestion, drivers will be directed to available parking spots.

More on