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Sidewalk Labs said Thursday it will make room for nearly 4,000 jobs and commit to 20-per-cent affordable housing in its proposed technology-driven neighbourhood on Toronto’s waterfront – but stopped short of revealing specific plans for ownership of real estate or innovations it would develop in the community.

After more than a year of floating ideas, the Alphabet Inc.-owned Google affiliate revealed the site plan it hopes to implement in the Quayside community it is planning with public agency Waterfront Toronto. The site plan will be presented to public roundtables on Dec. 8; the entire project on the city’s downtown lakeshore is subject to approvals from both the agency and the municipal, provincial and federal governments.

The 12-acre site, designed by Beyer Blinder & Belle Architects with landscape architects Public Work, would be occupied by a dozen separate buildings, ranging from three to 30-storeys tall, mixing residential, office, retail and other uses. Sidewalk says that of the 3,900 people it expects will be employed there, 3,400 will be office-based; Google Canada has already promised to move its Canadian headquarters to the site. Sidewalk intends for all these buildings to to be made of engineered wood – which would be the largest known use of this building technology.

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The Quayside buildings would include 3.3 million square feet in total, including nearly 400,000 square feet of open-air ground-floor space that Sidewalk calls “stoa.” These zones would be occupied by retail, small-scale manufacturing shops and community spaces such as libraries. Just over two-thirds would be residential space, accommodating 5,000 or so residents, occupying units that would be 55-per-cent rental.

New public spaces would include a “water plaza” as part of a lake inlet on the site. And Sidewalk is proposing a new pedestrian bridge to link its site to a new park in the Villiers Island neighbourhood to the southeast that is still being developed.

In a media briefing Thursday, Sidewalk management also said that the company might wind up as the landlord of the rental apartments on site, but did not commit to this, saying private developers might also buy in.

The company plans to develop valuable technology from data collected from sensors in the community on everything from traffic signals to garbage bins. But while some technology was unveiled Thursday, the extent to which sensors might collect information on civilians – and the extent to which Sidewalk might use the technology it develops in other cities for a profit – remains unclear.

Sidewalk won a request-for-proposals (RFP) from Waterfront Toronto in late 2017 to explore building Quayside. Both have said the development has the potential to be a world leader in rethinking urban development but have faced intense criticism and questions about how data would be collected and who would financially benefit from the intellectual property created. There have been four high-profile resignations from both Sidewalk and Waterfront Toronto since mid-summer, including renowned privacy expert Ann Cavoukian.

Two others – former digital-strategy panel member Saadia Muzaffar and Julie Di Lorenzo, a developer and former Waterfront Toronto board member – have joined open-government advocates and technology leaders such as Jim Balsillie, the former co-CEO of Research in Motion (now BlackBerry Ltd.), in criticizing the partnership. Many have concerns about the implications for Canadian-generated data in a long-term partnership with an affiliate of data-hungry Google.

Among the technology Sidewalk proposed to use Thursday would be adaptive traffic signals that could adjust the length of time for pedestrian crossings for large crowds or people with disabilities.

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Privacy has been a major concern for project critics. For the traffic signals, the company said it would use sensors focused on the speed of pedestrians, rather than sensing their age or ability, and not identify them. It has not developed proprietary technology for this yet, spokesperson Lauren Skelly said, but is studying technology currently used in London.

Asked about how intellectual property (IP) would be split with government, the company said Thursday that nothing had changed since it released its latest agreement with Waterfront Toronto in July, which said that they would develop a plan to share in IP ownership. Further details are expected when the partners releases a “Master Innovation and Development Agreement” next spring.

The company provided greater detail on a key technological development first proposed in its response to Waterfront Toronto’s RFP: a robotic sorting system that could sort and divert waste. Calling it an “urban consolidation system,” Jesse Shapins, Sidewalk’s director of public realm, said that such a system would also deliver freight and packages for companies and residents with such a system, using robots and a network of tunnels to move goods and reduce on-road delivery traffic.

The costs of developing and deploying such systems would fall outside a typical real estate business plan. Andrew Winters, Sidewalk Labs’s chief operating officer for development, suggested that the company would be willing to absorb unusual expenses as well as the risk associated with new technologies and business models in the Toronto project. “Our goal is not to lose money,” Mr. Winters said in an interview, “but we recognize that proving new technologies can be expensive.”

Both Mr. Winters and Mr. Shapins echoed previous comments made by Sidewalk chief executive Dan Doctoroff, a former deputy mayor of New York City, that it would seek a role in real-estate development to encourage other investors to join in the project. They said Sidewalk was willing, when necessary, to take an ownership role, such as with the rental apartments.

The most unusual aspects of the project, so far, include the extensive use of mass timber. Mr. Winters said that the company is studying the use of wood for buildings as tall as 30 storeys, including for the cores of those buildings. (The tallest wood structure in Canada today is actually a hybrid of wood and steel.) Sidewalk pledged to make substantial investments in the fabrication of wood building components.

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Sidewalk also said it would seek to keep greenhouse-gas emissions at Quayside between 75 and 85 per cent less than traditional developments and would include solar panels and battery energy-storage in its buildings, while optimizing energy use with artificial-intelligence technology.

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john sopinski/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: sidewalk toronto

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