Toronto needs exciting new architecture

Toronto needs exciting new architecture

Alexander Josephson is the co-founder of PARTISANS, which is a paid consultant for Sidewalk Labs

In 2017, Sidewalk Labs approached PARTISANS to design facade and public-realm architecture for Quayside. Like most Torontonians, I met the opportunity with excitement but also a healthy dose of skepticism. But my business partners convinced me to be open-minded about the project. We knew that Sidewalk Labs had inspired a litany of concerns around data privacy and anti-American NIMBYism. We had a choice: we could align ourselves with a globally significant project or we could sit on the sidelines. PARTISANS chose to support Sidewalk’s vision. Without risk, there is no return. Without risk, Toronto will continue to be a footnote in the age of urbanism, on a planet desperate for new and beautiful sustainable solutions.

It is difficult to wade through the 1,524 pages of research, design and rhetoric that comprise Sidewalk Labs’ Master Interim Development Plan. Fundamentally, it is just a vision, not an application for development. It involved contributions from some of Canada’s and the world’s most revered architects, designers and consultants. It is precisely the kind of feasibility study that we should have demanded from our city leadership, staff and developers years ago. From my perspective, we have two options: either we embrace an ambitious holistic vision while developing the regulation to hold all parties accountable, or we throw all this good work out, and dole out each site along Lake Shore East piecemeal to the highest bidders. The consequences of choosing the latter will be a huge loss to our city and the future of the free world.

City of Toronto staff and the local development community have had 30 years of building boom to create an architecturally great metropolis that seeks to reinvent the way neighbourhoods function. If you remove the CN Tower and a couple of other notable buildings from our skyline, you’re left with a totally banal city. Sidewalk offers us a chance to address the only property left in the city that really matters: our waterfront. We must be bold. We should act now.

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

More Sidewalk Essays