Sidewalk Labs Impact on Toronto Real Estate

Focused on Toronto’s eastern waterfront, Sidewalk Labs tried to convince Toronto it could create the lifestyle of the future. Unfortunately, their vision for the Quayside project was met with much skepticism and even fear when privacy concerns were raised over the planned data collection in the area.

The original 1,500-page Sidewalk Lab’s proposal called “Master Innovation & Development Plan” was released earlier this year. With the backlash the plan received, a new document was recently released with amendments that Sidewalk Labs hopes will put an end to such fears. So, will this project prove to be a good thing or a bad thing for Toronto and the real estate market?

The Innovation That Shocked the City

The original plan targeted 20 acres of Villiers West where development will create Villiers Island to help reroute the mouth of the Don River to reduce the risk for flooding. Sidewalk Labs was approached by Waterfront Toronto, a development agency comprised of city, provincial and federal governments that will oversee the project. They wanted Sidewalk to bid on the project with a focus on urban innovation.

At the heart of the issues for the government-funded project, was the use of digital technology to collect personal data. The new plan will avoid using “tech for tech’s sake.” Considering Sidewalk is owned by Alphabet, the parent company of Google, concerns over privacy are not surprising. Despite the fact there will still be personal information collected, Sidewalk Labs is assuring everyone the content will not be sold to third parties, nor will it be used for the purposes of advertising.

Approval will be good news as such an innovative urban community plan will help raise Toronto’s tech community even higher in the eyes of the tech industry in North America. Toronto will be primed for job creation, economic development thanks to growth in the tech industry and also attract top talent to the city. With this potential, more housing developments will be needed as well as prime commercial real estate.

Taking Up More Prime Waterfront Property

Sidewalk Labs originally targeted Quayside but is looking to expand the waterfront area with another 62-hectares across five neighbourhoods including Keating East, Villiers West, Villiers East, Polson Quay, and McCleary. Included in these plans would be 8-hectares dedicated to a new Google Canadian headquarters. This is somewhat of a bribe, as such a building would bring plenty of jobs to Toronto.

However, Waterfront Toronto chair Steve Diamond thinks it is a little early to be requesting that much more land. In a letter to Sidewalk Labs he stated:

“Waterfront Toronto must first see its goals and objectives achieved at Quayside before deciding whether to work together in other areas. Even then, we would only move forward with the full collaboration and support of the City of Toronto, particularly where it pertains to City-owned lands.”

Partnering with Real Estate Developers

The project is an obvious opportunity for Toronto/Canadian developers who could bid for the project. However, Sidewalk Labs’ actually originally proposed they would be the lead developer. This was another bone of contention with the city, and there is now a commitment for Sidewalk Labs to undergo what they called a “competitive, public procurement process” instead.

Sidewalk Labs will partner with other real estate developers, ensuring the project remains collaborative. They plan to look for appropriate opportunities to integrate municipal and advanced high tech infrastructure innovations. “We are looking forward to the next round of public consultations, entering the evaluation process, and continuing to develop a plan to build the most innovative neighbourhood in the world,” says Dan Doctoroff, CEO of Sidewalk Labs.

In an open letter, Diamond stated: “… We are pleased that we are now able to move to the evaluation stage on a project that has the potential to create new jobs and economic development opportunities, a carbon-neutral neighbourhood, and more affordable housing units.”

Discounted Waterfront Real Estate

According to the Globe and Mail, Local City Councilor Paula Fletcher, feels the project would be a massive “sole source contract.” Sidewalk Labs would be sold the land at Villiers West at a discount, while the land itself is a highly desirable piece of Toronto waterfront real estate. The land in question is valued at an estimated $590-million.

“The community has created a vision for the waterfront together over many years, and we should not abandon that vision because one of the biggest corporations in the world…want to do it their way,” says Ms. Fletcher.

Luckily, at minimum, the project must provide 20 percent of the residential units for the project at a 20 percent discount to provide affordable housing. That means based on current Toronto rents, some units would be available at $1,016 a month. As a result, Sidewalk Labs will make at least a quarter of the allotted 20 percent available for those with pronounced affordability needs with another 20 percent for middle-income households.

3C Waterfront Project

Meanwhile, Alfredo Romano’s 3C Waterfront development is offering a solid plan for an area where people of all incomes will find homes despite the high-priced real estate. “I don’t want to create exclusive neighbourhoods,” says Mr. Romano, president of Toronto-based Castlepoint Numa. “Toronto is so tightly woven that unless you integrate housing types across the city you end up creating ghettos. Urbanistically, it’s better to have mixed neighbourhoods.”

3C Waterfront will be neighbouring Sidewalk Labs’ smart city, with 2.5-million-square-feet of commercial, residential and public buildings being added to land abutting Keating Channel. Included in the extravagant plans will be residential finger buildings with 225 affordable homes for lower-income families and professionals as well as beautifully designed public space.

“What will be transformative for the area is incremental, high-quality development from a variety of players,” Mr. Romano says. “Sidewalk Labs could become a part of that constellation.”

Some believe that had just 10 percent of development that took place 25 years ago used the inclusionary zoning mandated by Waterfront Toronto, the city would now have an additional 50,000 affordable homes, improving urban living for many less fortunate Torontonians.

“Both projects have major roles to play in the extension of Queen’s Quay East as the public spine of the eastern waterfront,” says Bruce Kuwabara, founding partner at Toronto’s KPMB Architects, also involved in 3C’s master plan. “They should complement one another by creating centres of gathering that serve both precincts.”

Despite the controversy over the project, in the long run, the Quayside project will increase waterfront property values, create affordable housing and even contribute to job creation for Toronto.

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