Toronto’s digital ambitions have put the city in the spotlight, prompting leading names from the worlds of technology and real estate to express interest in helping build a tech-inspired city of the future.
Waterfront Toronto, a Crown corporation which oversees the revitalization of the city’s waterfront, may reveal this month its chosen partner for the long-discussed Quayside development. Quayside is a 12-acre development site along Toronto’s eastern waterfront, earmarked to build what is often described as a digital city.
To make that a reality, Waterfront Toronto — which was established by the Government of Canada, the Province of Ontario, and the city of Toronto — is seeking a partner to "create, realize and fund an unparalleled vision for sustainable urban development.”
“The story about Quayside is about looking for solutions that cities all over the world face.” Andrew Hilton, Waterfront Toronto’s director of communications, told BNN in a phone interview.
Waterfront Toronto has yet to speak publicly about its potential partners. And unlike traditional proposals for real estate projects, it has left plenty of wiggle room for applicants to outline what they think a digital city might look like. “This is not going to be a traditional process,” Hilton said.
Beyond creating a futuristic mini-city (think high-tech housing and self-driving cars in a hub fueled by a high-speed Internet hub and, of course, free WiFi), the hope is to attract startups and create another tech hub for Toronto. “One of the challenges Canada has with innovation is the ability to scale up. We are hoping Quayside will allow for emerging Canadian companies to scale up,” according to Hilton.
As for the potential partners, much of the attention to date has been on Sidewalk Labs. Owned by Google’s parent Alphabet, Sidewalk’s bills itself as “reimagining cities from the Internet up.”
Sidewalk, which has been scouting locations worldwide for opportunities, has impressed many traditional players. “We do follow Google’s Sidewalk Labs closely and we’ve had conversations with them,” Scott Stewart, CEO of IBI Group said during a recent interview on BNN. IBI is a Canadian-based engineering and architecture firm which specializes in high tech projects.
Dan Levitan, a spokesperson for Sidewalk Labs, declined to comment on its potential involvement in the project.
Meanwhile, leading players in Toronto’s backyard have spoken enthusiastically about the potential for projects like Quayside.
“I’m very familiar with the project on the waterfront,” John Ruffolo, CEO of OMERS Ventures, told BNN in a recent television interview when asked about Quayside.
OMERS Ventures is the pension fund’s venture investing arm. “The great thing about these projects is that finally, from a public policy perspective, innovation is what’s differentiating us in the 21st century. Real estate has traditionally been viewed as passive, but the combination of innovation and real estate has transcended that sector. I think it’s just exciting what is happening,” Ruffolo said.
Beyond settling on an official partner for the project, it’s expected a range of industry players could play a role in helping to roll out the digital city.
“There will be opportunities downstream when we start building," according to Andrew Hilton, who says he expects a preliminary blueprint to be unveiled by Waterfront Toronto and its development partner “in the fall.”