Navigating the Innovation Gap: Toronto's Becoming Google’s New Experiment

October 19, 2017 Sara Audisho

Toronto is officially set to be a new testing ground for a Sidewalk Labs ‘smart city’ – a neighbourhood that aims to demonstrate how data-driven innovation can improve the quality of life for city residents.

Government agency Waterfront Toronto initially reached out to Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., for a partnership to develop Quayside, a lakefront district on the east side of the city. Looking to initiate its smart city pilot project, Sidewalk Labs proposed that the area be used as a testing ground for new and bold solutions to problems that cities face today.  

In addition to placing Toronto on the map globally, since it will now be home to North America’s most poignant example of urban innovation, the city will reap direct benefits from having what is essentially a giant research lab on its doorstep.

Sidewalk Toronto, as the project has been named, is meant to deliver long-term answers for a city’s economic, environmental and social sustainability.



The new Quayside neighbourhood will consist of residential, office and commercial space. The objectives of the community, according to the project website, will include the following:

  • Establish a complete community that improves quality of life for a diverse population of residents, workers, and visitors.

  • Create a destination for people, companies, startups, and local organizations to advance solutions to the challenges facing cities, such as energy use, housing affordability, and transportation.

  • Make Toronto the global hub of a rising new industry: urban innovation.

  • Serve as a model for sustainable neighbourhoods throughout Toronto and cities around the world.

In becoming the global hub of urban innovation, Quayside will embrace “adaptable” buildings, new construction methods and transportation options that are more affordable, safe and convenient than private cars. Energy consumption, waste and other environmental concerns will be addressed on an equal plain with economic and social challenges.

Smart cities are meant to be more than their physical components. They’re driven by a great body of ideas – a spirit, really – to upend traditional city planning. According to Sidewalk Labs, “great neighbourhoods aren’t planned from the top down.” Plans to build the ideal community must intimately include the residents themselves. By facilitating collaboration between people, companies, startups, academic centres and local organizations, innovative “people-centred” neighbourhoods can “achieve precedent-setting levels” of sustainability and opportunity.

Innovation hubs in cities also promise a new era of cooperation and cohesion between the public and private sector. Not only will Quayside be an effective testing ground for solving societal challenges, but also for the embracement of data-driven policy.

Sidewalk Toronto is only in its preliminary stages, but promises many useful insights to come.

Find all the details on Toronto's new innovation hub at

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