Google firm poised to invest in high-tech Toronto neighbourhood
Toronto's push to become centre of innovation could get a boost from a Google company, which may be planning to build a ‘smart’ neighbourhood in the city's east downtown.
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Sidewalk Labs, a sister company of tech giant Google, is the preferred partner to build a high-tech “smart” neighbourhood on Toronto’s east downtown waterfront, the Star has learned.
The board of Waterfront Toronto, the federal-provincial-city agency overseeing the so-called Quayside project, is expected to vote at an Oct. 20 meeting whether to confirm the agency’s staff recommendation arising from a rigorous competitive bid process launched in May.
If confirmed by Waterfront Toronto’s board, the choice of a firm owned by Google holding company Alphabet Inc. would be a big high-tech feather in the cap of the city currently chasing the second headquarters of Amazon and other innovation opportunities.
Quayside is envisioned by the agency as a testbed for cutting-edge technology as well as a bustling, functioning neighbourhood, with homes, offices, retail and cultural space, near Queens Quay E. and Parliament St.
“This is very big news for more good jobs on our waterfront,” said Councillor Paula Fletcher. “Expediting plans for waterfront transit will be critical for its success.”
A source familiar with the outcome of Waterfront Toronto’s request-for-proposal told the Star on Wednesday that Sidewalk Labs is Waterfront Toronto’s “preferred proponent” to help build the “precedent-setting waterfront community.”
Waterfront Toronto, Google and Mayor John Tory’s office all refused comment Wednesday, citing confidentiality and the integrity of the bid process.
Sidewalk Labs is Alphabet’s urban innovation unit, with a stated goal of “reimagining cities from the Internet up.”
Dan Doctoroff, the company’s chief executive and co-founder, told a conference in New York City last May that his company was “looking into developing a large-scale district” to act as its smart city test bed.
The community would be universally connected by broadband and could have, Doctoroff said, prefab modular housing, sensors to constantly monitor building performance, and robotic delivery services to cut residential storage space, website The Architects’ Newspaper reported in May.
Improving transportation would be a focus, possibly with self-driving cars and design to encourage biking and walking, he told the conference. World-leading environmental sustainability could include thermal exchange systems to capture wasted building heat, and smart sensors to limit energy use.
Waterfront Toronto says the 4.9-hectare (12-acre) site will be “a testbed for emerging technologies, materials and processes that will address these challenges and advance solutions that can be replicated in cities worldwide.”
The agency said the winning bidder must propose plans to foster sustainability, resiliency and urban innovation; complete communities with a range of housing types for families of all sizes and income levels; economic development and prosperity driving innovation that will be rolled out to the rest of the world; and partnership and investment ensuring a solid financial foundation that secures revenue and manages financial risk.
Development of the three publicly owned blocks at the east end of Queens Quay will eventually include redesign and reconstruction of the intersection of Queens Quay and Parliament Street.
Toronto tech leaders at a Smart Cities event in Toronto last May said the city is on the cusp of a tech boom, noting talk of Google interest in the city and Uber’s decision to make Toronto a hub for driverless car research.