Sidewalk Labs’ dreamy vision for Toronto includes huge raincoats and other weather mitigating tools, pavement that lights up and melts snow, apartments that grow with a family, mass timber sustainable buildings, construction innovations and much more. The project may never get built but we can dream, can’t we?
When Sidewalk Labs, an affiliate of Google, introduced its draft master plan for the Toronto community called Quayside, there was a long line of critics to shoot holes in the $1.3-billion proposal.
The company produced a plan that went far beyond the 12-acre Quayside site to include another 20 acres of city-owned land, where it would like to build the Google Canada headquarters. It also pitched plans for a total of 190 acres of Toronto’s waterfront.
Local politicians weren’t pleased, calling the proposal an over-reach and a “land grab”. It has a number of controversial elements, including an unfunded LRT line, a proposal that Sidewalk Labs become the lead developer of the site and the suggestion that many regulatory issues ñ ranging from local planning procedures to the national building code ñ would require changes.
Sidewalk Labs acknowledges that its motives “have been subject to speculation, even a fair amount of cynicism” but stresses that it is not seeking to sell personal information it collects about residents or people who would work on the site; that it is not “motivated by a desire to export Canadian talent or intellectual output to the United States” and that it isn’t trying to develop all of the Port Lands. Its mission, it says, is to “demonstrate the impact of urban innovation on the quality of life” and “earn a reasonable return.” The company says it has already invested more than US $50 million on the proposal.
So, there’s a lot of be done before any of this proposal becomes reality, but we can dream a little, can’t we? Let’s take a look at some of the innovations that are being proposed.
The live-work community would become the largest climate-positive district in North America, featuring low-energy buildings, active energy management tools, an advanced power grid, a garbage disposal chain with “pay as you throw” chutes to sort and cut down on waste, electric vehicles and tall timber buildings.
The company says Toronto’s waterfront is only comfortable about 30 per cent of the year. The rest of the time it’s either too hot, too cold or too wet. Sidewalk Labs is proposing to increase comfortable outdoor hours by 35 per cent, using a variety of techniques.
The Raincoat would be a large adjustable awning that could extend out from a building’s edge over the sidewalk. It would be made of a building material composite called ETFE, which “provides transparency without the heavy and expensive structure required to support glass and is uniquely customizable through printed patterns that can control light and opacity.”
The Fanshell would be a collection of large, temporary shelters capable of holding up to 100 people. They have an origami-style folded fabric construction, which would allow them to be deployed quickly and then packed away and stored “more easily than a tent,” says the proposal.
The Lantern Forest is envisioned as a collection of tall, lightweight structures that would be grouped together like a stand of trees or hung from buildings like paper lanterns. They would protect against wind tunnels that form between tall buildings and could provide a range of uses, including as warming stations or as kiosks for vendors. They also could be collapsed and stored during off-hours.
The proposal includes a number of street design innovations. Modular paving stones would be heated to melt snow. The design would include permeable pavement to direct storm water and melted snow to underground stormwater management systems. The paving stones could also include lighting and could be easily removed to provide access to infrastructure below.
Street designs would move away from wide lanes for cars and have narrow lanes that transit and self-driving cars would use, along with wider bike and pedestrian lanes. Sensors in the pavement could determine how many pedestrians need to cross the road and automatically change the timing for the traffic signals or could determine the pace a pedestrian is walking at and adjust the timing accordingly.
The proposal includes a parking garage, but it would be designed so that in future, if there was no demand for parking due to the proliferation of self-driving vehicles, it could easily be turned into an office or residential building.
The buildings would be made of mass timber ñ cross-laminated timber structures and glulam beams, made at a nearby factory that Sidewalk Labs proposes would be in operation by 2021.
Residential units would be built with flexible floor plans and wall panels, designed in such a way that an apartment could be expanded into the next unit or downsized as the need exists. Sidewalk Labs would design a low-voltage power system that would travel over ethernet cables hidden under the baseboard or crown moulding of these flexible walls. This would eliminate the need for a traditional “breaker box” and save power, but the company would also initially provide converter boxes for appliances designed for AC systems.
The company would also eliminate traditional sprinkler systems in favour of a mist-based fire protection system “that can be hidden along a wall surface or ceilings in one-centimetre tubing, reducing renovation time to less than an hour while improving fire protection.”
Co-living spaces would be offered and the proposal says more than 6,800 units of affordable housing could be created.
These are all innovations that are currently being developed and or that we’ll see in the near future. But whether we’ll see them on Toronto’s waterfront remains to be seen.