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Sidewalk Labs pulling out of Toronto's Quayside waterfront project

Sidewalk Labs cancelled their Quayside waterfront development in Toronto, citing "unprecedented economic uncertainty."
Jonathan Bradley Montreal, QC

Sidewalk Labs cancelled their Quayside waterfront development in Toronto on Thursday, citing "unprecedented economic uncertainty" around the world and in the Toronto real estate market.

Sidewalk CEO Dan Doctoroff said in a statement that the company will not be creating their smart city because they felt it was impractical.

"For the last two-and-a-half years, we have been passionate about making Quayside happen," said Doctoroff. "As unprecedented economic uncertainty has set in around the world and in the Toronto real estate market, it has become too difficult to make the 12-acre project financially viable without sacrificing core parts of the plan we had developed together with Waterfront Toronto to build a truly inclusive, sustainable community."

At one time, Sidewalk’s proposal involved spending $1.3 billion and adding affordable housing, an extension to Toronto’s light-rail system, public Wi-Fi, and other innovations to the neighbourhood.

The cancellation marked an end to the strained relationship between Sidewalk and Waterfront Toronto, because the project has been met with criticism around privacy protections and intellectual property concerns from business leaders and security experts.

Sidewalk agreed to reduce the size of their project to a 4.8-hectare site rather than the 77 hectares they were hoping for in October 2019. The company agreed to abandon their proposal that a new agency be established to manage data collected from the project after Ontario's privacy commissioner raised concerns over the lack of independent public oversight.

Waterfront Toronto had been considering Sidewalk’s proposal since the October 2019 agreement and was planning on deciding in March whether the project could go ahead. Their decision was pushed back to May to provide more time for public consultations. If Waterfront had given permission to Sidewalk, municipal, provincial, and federal approvals would be needed.

Doctoroff said that he is disappointed the project did not work out.

"The Quayside project was important to us, and this decision was a difficult one," said Doctoroff. "I believe that the ideas we have developed over the last two-and-a-half years will represent a meaningful contribution to the work of tackling big urban problems, particularly in the areas of affordability and sustainability."

Waterfront Toronto Board Chair Stephen Diamond said in a statement that it was not the outcome they were hoping for, but he thanked Sidewalk for their effort.

"Our collective efforts have given cities around the world new pathways to creating affordable, inclusive and climate positive communities," said Diamond.

Mayor of Toronto John Tory said in a statement that while he regrets the decision made by Sidewalk, he noted the "tremendous new opportunity" this opens up to develop Quayside.

"Our goal remains to ultimately build a neighbourhood focused on innovation in Quayside that will be the envy of cities around the world and a beacon for the future," said Tory.

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