Sidewalk Labs’ Plans for Toronto Development Beyond Quayside

One of the most ambitious technology and construction projects Canada has ever seen is reportedly even more grandiose then first imagined.

The Google-owned Sidewalk Labs announced their futuristic neighbourhood project Quayside in late 2017, and now a new report from the Toronto Star reveals details that this is only the first step of a plan to build infrastructure in Toronto’s Port Lands and collect revenue along the way. Sidewalk Labs wants to develop the land with underground infrastructure and a light rail and in turn be “entitled to…a share in the uptick in land value on the entire geography,” according to an internal report.

The Port Lands is the largest undeveloped piece of land in a major North American city, which means it is a massive opportunity for both the city as well as outside contractors to take advantage of. Ground broke this past November on a government-funded $2.5 billion flood protection project for the area, which would also bring in walking paths, public parks, and a small amount of developed mixed-use land. Once the Port Lands is fully developed, there will be an estimated increase in land value of $6 billion over 30 years.

Sidewalk Labs wants a portion of this increased value, even though they do not intend to build on a majority of the Port Lands. One of the only buildings related to Sidewalk Labs will be the construction of the new Google Canada headquarters on Villiers Island.

sidewalk labs portland
A map of Sidewalk Labs’ potential reach into the Port Lands.

The idea is for Sidewalk Labs to finance the expansion of an LRT line through the Port Lands as well as horizontal infrastructure such as power and thermal grids and waste removal, which is very similar to some of the technology currently planned for Quayside.

“We don’t think that 12 acres on Quayside has the scale to actually have the impact on affordability and economic opportunity and transit that everyone aspires to,” Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff told the Toronto Star. “We’re going to be spending a lot of money in advancing the infrastructure. And where we do that and there are new property tax revenues or developer charges, we only want to get paid back a reasonable return for our investment in that infrastructure.”

Doctoroff went on to say that the Port Lands and Quayside land is stubbornly resistant to development, and Sidewalk Labs is ready to “take the risk” of developing on the land and get paid back when they have demonstrated it can be successful. He was quick to state that the LRT will be publically owned.

This new report of further expansion is another hit to Sidewalk Labs in terms of privacy and transparency. A slew of major officials tied to the Quayside project have resigned over issues related to privacy and keeping the public aware, and this latest report seems to detail that Sidewalk Labs has been having closed-door conversations about further expanding their development role.

After the report was published, several politicians in Toronto and Ontario have voiced their concerns with this possible expansion, with a top aide for Ontario premier Doug Ford saying there would be no way the provincial government would sign off on the project. Several Toronto councilors also chimed in, such as Ward 13 rep Kristyn Wong-Tam tweeting “A tech giant never having built transit + city infrastructure anywhere, or even pitched a dime for the $1.25B for Port Lands flood protection, has the audacity to stake claim for future land value, property taxes + development charges on land they don’t own.”

Most of the Port Lands is owned by the city (78 per cent) while 11 per cent is owned privatley and the other 11 per cent is owned by the province.