Google affiliate Sidewalk Labs abandons Toronto waterfront project
TORONTO -- Sidewalk Labs has scrapped a controversial plan to develop a new multi-use neighbourhood dubbed “Quayside,” along Toronto’s eastern waterfront, citing the “unprecedented economic uncertainty” brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The subsidiary of Google parent-company Alphabet had sought to transform a 12-acre swath of the Port Lands into a high-tech neighbourhood complete with public wi-fi, heated and illuminated sidewalks and so-called “raincoats” for buildings.
Their proposal, however, had drawn criticism from privacy experts over its potential use of data.
Sidewalk Labs also had to scale back its plans after at one point trying to widen the project to encompass 190 acres rather than 12.
In a blog post on Thursday morning, CEO Dan Doctoroff said that Sidewalk Labs had hoped to build a “fundamentally more sustainable and affordable community resulting from innovations in technology and urban design” but regrettably has to walk away from the project due to economic uncertainty, a decision he said was made with “great personal sadness.”
“For the last two-and-a-half years, we have been passionate about making Quayside happen — indeed, we have invested time, people, and resources in Toronto, including opening a 30-person office on the waterfront. But as unprecedented economic uncertainty has set in around the world and in the Toronto real estate market, it has become too difficult to make the 12-acre project financially viable without sacrificing core parts of the plan,” he said.
Sidewalk Labs had committed to investing $1.3 billion in the project in the hopes of spurring billions more in private sector investment.
Its decision to walk away comes ahead of a May 20 deadline that Waterfront Toronto had set to decide whether it would move forward with the company’s vision.
“I will be pushing Waterfront Toronto – along with our provincial and federal partners – to make sure the new Quayside that emerges will create new jobs and economic development opportunities, a carbon-neutral neighbourhood with more housing including affordable housing units and better transportation and sustainability features,” Mayor John Tory said in a statement released on Thursday morning.
Sidewalk Labs was chosen to develop a vision for the Port Lands site back in October, 2017 following a request for proposals. It released its 1,500 page proposal nearly one year ago in June, 2019.
Speaking during a news conference at Queen’s Park on Thursday, Premier Doug Ford called Sidewalk’s decision to step away “unfortunate” but suggested it would provide an “opportunity for some other people to do something spectacular on Toronto’s waterfront.”
Ford, however, did not offer any specific ideas. As a city councillor in 2011, Ford famously mused about a monorail, a Ferris wheel and a “megamall” along the waterfront.
“It is a little premature right now. We just found out last that Sidewalk was talking a walk, excuse the pun. But we have some of the best minds anywhere in the world and I really look forward to getting some great ideas and working with the city on this.”
Waterfront Toronto said in a subsequent statement that while the outcome is not the one it had “hoped” for it is confident that Quayside remains “an excellent opportunity to explore innovative solutions for affordable housing, improved mobility, climate change, and several other pressing urban challenges.”