Toronto can create a new model of urban development

Toronto can create a new model of urban development

Dan Doctoroff is the CEO of Sidewalk Labs

Cities are the sum of choices we’ve made over decades and centuries. New chapters in a city’s history often begin with a single big idea that changes a thousand times through controversy and compromise. People argue about cities because they care so much. And nowhere in the world are people more passionate about their city than in Toronto.

That’s why Sidewalk came here: because Toronto wanted to do something important and, yes, difficult in its next chapter. Toronto is one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, with an exceptionally diverse population and an openness to new arrivals. As the city has grown, it’s become less equipped to provide the opportunities that powered this growth in the first place. Toronto’s challenges make it the perfect place to demonstrate how forward-thinking urban planning can create inclusive growth.

The big idea—to create a new model for development on the eastern waterfront—first came from Waterfront Toronto, which recognized that the same old approaches to development were doing little to tackle rising challenges to urban mobility, affordability, economic opportunity, and environmental sustainability. They believed the eastern waterfront could be the place where solutions to problems facing cities around the world were pioneered.

Our plan demonstrates that the ambitious goals outlined by Waterfront Toronto are achievable. We can lower carbon emissions by at least 85 per cent through a suite of sustainability initiatives, such as energy-efficient building designs, battery and solar-based electricity, and clean thermal heating and cooling. We can provide unprecedented levels of affordable housing on the waterfront. We can save a family $4,000 a year on transportation costs by expanding trip options for walking, cycling, and public transit, enabling households to give up a car. And most importantly, we can produce thousands of jobs at all income levels, building on the city’s fast-growing tech ecosystem in areas such as AI, mass timber and clean technology.

The weekend after we released our proposal, more than 1,500 people visited our Toronto headquarters on Lake Shore Boulevard. As they interacted with the model of the plan, as they stood under a tall timber structural prototype, as they took the time to learn about our ideas, it was clear that Torontonians are hungry for something new in their city — and not just another boxed set of condos along the waterfront.

It won’t be easy. There are important issues that need to be resolved, as well as the complex politics that always come with big new ideas. I’m optimistic because people want more. I’ve seen it and heard it in hundreds of conversations I’ve had over the past two years. They want to be part of a new and inspiring chapter in the story of Toronto. And so do we.

This story originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Toronto Life magazine. To subscribe, for just $29.95 a year, click here.

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