For almost two years now the plans for Sidewalk Labs to build a Toronto Smart City in the city’s east waterfront has been a constant in the headlines. While the public is divided, many with concerns about the data governance that would be a large component to the Toronto smart city project, let’s take a moment to look at the value such a project would bring to Toronto.

The opportunity to be the home of such a large urban tech lab is pivotal to our growing reputation as the Silicon Valley of the North. Already the fastest growing city in the U.S and Canada, the development of a Toronto Smart City could mean more progress and more job opportunities for those living in the GTA.


The way it came to be for Google building a smart city in Toronto was spearheaded by Waterfront Toronto’s request for proposals for the undeveloped land in the East Bayfront and Port Lands area.

Since the original proposal by Sidewalk Labs, the plan has evolved in response to 18 months of public engagement and alongside some other necessary city development plans including Toronto’s new island, which is already underway as a solution to frequent flooding in the Port Lands area.

Toronto Smart City map of IDEA District

Image: Sidewalk Labs


Originally, Sidewalk Labs Toronto had planned to develop a 12-acre area along the waterfront at the base of Parliament, now known as Quayside. In the 20 months since the initial proposal, the Toronto Smart City plan now spans 190 acres of land being referred to as the Innovation Development and Economic Acceleration District — or IDEA for short. 

There will be seven different phases of the IDEA District and the plans released by Sidewalk Labs have focused largely on the first two phases as they would be the lead developers of these two areas.

quayside toronto location in Toronto

Image: Sidewalk Labs


The western edge of the IDEA District is Quayside. Already so closely connected to several Toronto neighbourhoods, it makes sense that Quayside Toronto would be the first area to be developed.

Quayside will be a people-first lively public realm with a mix of housing, parks, plazas and new retail along the Toronto waterfront. “As the world’s first all-mass timber neighbourhood, Quayside would become a global model for showcasing this sustainable, beautiful building material.” [1] The development of Quayside alone would bring 39,000 jobs to the immediate area and roughly 9,000 jobs across Ontario.

Toronto Smart City Quayside Map

Image: Sidewalk Labs

Affordable Housing at Quayside Toronto

Part of Sidewalk Labs’ plan includes bringing much needed affordable housing to Toronto. The design proposes “The Loft” concept, which is housing that is both affordable and adaptable, using mass timber and prebuilt components made off-site which reduces the home production costs.

“The Loft” concept would have a strong exterior frame built around a standardized grid that would allow for these prebuilt components to be added, customized, and easily changed.

The Toronto Smart City would have a mix of different income housing with a commitment to include 40% affordable units. Among the affordable units, 20% of which would be below average market rent, one quarter of that would be “deeply affordable,” meaning at or below 60% average market rent. The other 20% would be designated as middle-income housing.

There would be another 15% of residential units that would be traditional purpose-built rentals and 45% of residential units at Quayside Toronto would be condos.

Quayside Housing Plan Highlights:

• 40% affordable housing (50/50 below market and middle-income)
• 5% deeply affordable
• 15% purpose-built rentals
• 45% condos
• 40% of housing would be family-sized units (2 bedroom+)
• some co-living units for individuals, multi-generational families and seniors

The projected timeline, should the plan move forward, would have the Quayside Toronto plan finalized by 2020 and building would begin the following year, with a 2026 occupancy date.

Related: Can Mass Timber Buildings Help Resolve Housing Affordability?


The second phase of the Toronto Smart City would be Villers West, a 19 acre parcel of the new Villiers Island. It’s here that Google plans to put their Canadian headquarters. In addition to the Google HQ they also have plans to develop a non-profit Urban Innovation Institute that would bring over 10,000 urban innovation focused jobs.

“[The] research institute [is] designed to bring together academia, industry, entrepreneurs, advocates, and public agencies to collaborate on tackling urban challenges.” [2]

As we mentioned in our blog last year regarding Toronto’s new island, there will also be a large park that wraps around the southwest edge of the island where you could enjoy breathtaking views of the Toronto city skyline from a mix of trails and greenspace.

The projected timeline for Villers West would be to have the plan finalized by 2022 and building would begin the following year, with a 2027 occupancy date.

Toronto Smart City Quayside to be all mass timber

Image: Sidewalk Labs


A large focus for the Google Toronto Smart City is on designing a community that uses a people-first approach and reduces the need for cars. Though proper urban planning, the focus on mobility allows residents to save money on owning a car while also promoting healthy living by prioritizing cycling and walking.

“Taken together, transit extensions and walking and cycling improvements should allow almost all residents of Quayside to meet their daily travel needs without a car.” [3]

Sidewalk Labs, as the Innovation and Funding Partner, will develop and create an “Infrastructure and Transportation Master Plan” that is fundamental to connect the Smart City to the rest of Toronto. They’re even offering a $400 million loan towards the $1.2 billion Waterfront East Light Rail System.

Read a quick recap of the exciting innovations planned on our original Toronto Smart City blog. If you’d like to get lost in the exciting details, head over to the Sidewalk Labs website.

While this is only a snippet of highlights and details from the Sidewalk Labs’ 1,500 page Master Innovation Plan, there is much to be excited about regarding this incredibly well planned Toronto Smart City. Data concerns aside (we’ll allow the pros to sort out those logistics) to be the first Smart City gives Toronto the opportunity to be the home base of real urban change on a global level.