A controversial digital neighbourhood planned for Toronto's waterfront is one step closer to reality. Waterfront Toronto's Board of Directors announced yesterday a unanimous motion of approval—aside from one board member who resigned due to concerns—of a Plan Development Agreement (PDA) that unlocks up to $50 million (USD) in investment for the 12-hectare Sidewalk Toronto project.

Public realm vision for the Quayside neighbourhood, image courtesy of Sidewalk Toronto

The new agreement with Sidewalk Labs, an Alphabet company and sister to Google, clarifies and governs the relationship between the government agency and the developer as they work towards a Master Innovation and Development Plan (MIDP) for the site, implementation of which would require several separate approvals. 

“We are excited to take this next step with Sidewalk Labs to set the stage for delivering a truly transformational project on the waterfront that addresses many critical urban issues faced by our City and other cities,” reads a statement from Helen Burstyn, Chair of Waterfront Toronto’s Board of Directors. The PDA replaces an initial agreement with Sidewalk Labs that had been criticized as too vague in many aspects. Former CEO of Waterfront Toronto, Will Fleissig, was let go owing to Board dissatisfaction with the original agreement.

Concept art for the Quayside neighbourhood, image courtesy of Sidewalk Toronto

The new PDA outlines a number of stipulations, roles, and responsibilities, replacing an earlier Framework Agreement from 2017. The document specifies that Waterfront Toronto will act as revitalization lead and Sidewalk Labs will provide urban innovation and digital technology expertise, and forbids the transfer of ownership or sale of land.

Goals outlined in the agreement include "fostering economic development, job creation, and prosperity by catalyzing a world-leading cluster focused on urban innovation on the waterfront", as well as a focus on sustainable energy use, housing affordability, and access to transportation. Addressing the privacy concerns that remain a hot discussion topic, the establishment of a framework to ensure personal privacy, data sovereignty, and data security and usage, is covered in the PDA.

“The Plan Development Agreement was crafted to reflect the aspirational goals and ambitions we set out for Quayside when Waterfront Toronto issued its RFP last year,” reads a statement from acting CEO Michael Nobrega. “A central goal was to serve the public interest and to lay the groundwork to achieve these goals in the Master Innovation and Development Plan. Our Board and management team took the time necessary to ensure that the agreement reflects both Waterfront Toronto’s enduring vision and mandate, and the aspirations we share with Sidewalk Labs for the transformational nature of the project.”

Concept art for the Quayside neighbourhood, image courtesy of Sidewalk Toronto

The in-development MIDP will guide in shaping the final development plan for the Quayside neighbourhood, and is required to be approved by the Waterfront Toronto Board of Directors and Sidewalk Labs by September 30, 2019. Meanwhile, work towards a final agreement between the two parties is in progress with future public consultations planned, and a goal to sign the final agreement next spring.

We will return as additional information about the Sidewalk Toronto project as new details emerge. In the meantime, you can join the discussion in our dedicated thread for the area, or by leaving a comment in the field provided at the bottom of this page.