Toronto developer Dream Unlimited Corp. has hired two urbanists previously affiliated with Sidewalk Labs to join its impact-investment division, which is ramping up with the purchase of two office buildings in the city’s west end this month.
The company said impact investment in the property sector places an emphasis on green buildings and affordable and inclusive housing and offices, all while gaining local support and ensuring that the supply chain draws from diverse sources.
Dream said Wednesday that Pino Di Mascio would become its head of strategy and delivery for the division. Mr. Di Mascio will leave his role as director of planning and delivery for Google sister company Sidewalk Labs, which spent two and a half years developing a plan to redevelop a portion of Toronto’s waterfront for a community to test new urban technologies and building methods. A former partner at the design and planning firm Urban Strategies, he was a key local Toronto hire for New York-based Sidewalk, which abandoned its Toronto plan in May, 2020, saying the COVID-19 pandemic had upended its business case.
Richard Florida, meanwhile, is set to become vice-chair of Dream’s impact group. The University of Toronto School of Cities professor is the co-founder of the CityLab urban-affairs publication, founder of the Creative Class Group consultancy, and author of numerous books including 2002′s The Rise of The Creative Class.
The book launched Mr. Florida into academic superstardom by prompting cities worldwide to reinvest in their cores, but was later met with accusations of accelerating gentrification, which Mr. Florida examined in the follow-up book, The New Urban Crisis. Mr. Florida began advising Sidewalk in 2015, shortly after its inception, and was part of an advisory panel of local luminaries after it began working in Toronto.
Both men have long known Dream president Michael Cooper, who stressed that their hirings have nothing to do with trying to build a technology-laced community, as Sidewalk had hoped to do.
“Our focus isn’t smart cities,” said Mr. Cooper. “We will use technology to help make buildings greener, but we are not focused on the principle of smart cities. All the technology that we use are to achieve our other goals.”
This month, Dream spent $31.8-million for two low-rise office buildings on side streets near Trinity Bellwoods Park – one of downtown Toronto’s highest-demand residential neighbourhoods, which has also become a destination for startups. Mr. Cooper said his company will be overhauling the buildings so they are more energy efficient and use less water, as well redesigning the ground floors to be more welcoming.
Mr. Di Mascio was one of just a handful of Toronto-based Sidewalk Labs staff to avoid being laid off last summer after the local project ended.
In an interview, Mr. Di Mascio said that he hoped to help Dream’s portfolio go beyond traditional environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) investments and rethink how urban spaces are created in an inclusive, climate-positive way.
The pandemic has helped people better understand that cities need to better resolve issues around climate change and social inequities, Mr. Di Mascio said, adding that he recognized Dream wants to take a role in doing so. “The real place I want to have my impact in is in bringing this to life,” he said.
Mr. Florida did not respond to an interview request as of Wednesday afternoon.
Dream also owns property adjacent to the 4.8-hectare Quayside site where Sidewalk had planned to develop its community. Since that project ended, Waterfront Toronto, the government agency that manages the site, has said it would change direction for the area, putting greater emphasis on priorities such as affordable housing.
Mr. Cooper, who along with other Canadian real estate companies had expressed interest in helping Sidewalk with the development, said there was no indication that Waterfront Toronto would be interested in smart cities.
On Wednesday, Waterfront Toronto also launched a new website for businesses to contact the agency about potentially participating in the new Quayside project in various capacities. A formal request-for-proposals is expected later this year.
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