Inside Quayside, the hyper-modern, tech-friendly development coming to Toronto's waterfront

An unassuming piece of industrial land on the eastern Toronto waterfront has been earmarked to become a development of the future.

Waterfront Toronto seeking a ‘world-leading,’ innovative partner to help build community from ground up

A still from a Waterfront Toronto animation that shows a developed eastern waterfront. To the right of the frame, brown buildings demarcate the area where Quayside, a new 'complete community,' will be built. (CBC)

An unassuming piece of industrial land on the eastern Toronto waterfront has been earmarked to become a development of the future.

Called Quayside, the new community is meant to be a collaboration between Waterfront Toronto, created by all three levels of government to oversee transformation of waterfront land, and an as-yet unnamed "funding and innovation" partner.

"Quayside is really meant to be a kind of testbed: a place in the city where we can look at trying new approaches, new technologies, new solutions to solve some of the big urban challenges that Toronto and other cities face," said Andrew Hilton, director of communications and public engagement at Waterfront Toronto.  

Waterfront Toronto's Request for Proposals (RFP), released in March, laid out the hopes for the nearly five-hectare plot, which is located near Bonnycastle Street and Queens Quay East.

It described a sparkling "complete community," where the latest technology is showcased and incorporated into every aspect of life, work and commerce.

The future Quayside area, seen here from Queens Quay East, is currently dominated by low slung industrial buildings. The bulk of the land is owned by Waterfront Toronto and the city. (Google)

In an interview with CBC's On the Money, Hilton said they will likely announce who the chosen partner is in the fall.

On Tuesday, Bloomberg reported sources had confirmed that Alphabet Inc.'s urban innovation subsidiary, Sidewalk Labs, had thrown its hat in the ring in a bid to be chosen to re-make the land.

Waterfront Toronto would not confirm whether or not Sidewalk Labs, whose vision is to "re-imagine cities from the internet up," were in the race.

Quayside meant to be 'transformative'

On Quayside's futuristic laundry list are making use of analytics, artificial intelligence, and the so-called "internet of things" to "support data-informed decision-making for residents, visitors, investors."

The community will have homes, businesses, retail and cultural spaces, and is intended to become a hub for tech industry jobs.

It also sets lofty environmental goals, targeting carbon emissions to clock in under zero, making it a "climate positive" community that approaches energy-use, waste and transportation through a green lens.

Andrew Hilton of Waterfront Toronto said the outlines of the project are flexible to allow plenty of input from the partner they end up choosing to collaborate with. (CBC)

The RFP also stipulates that 20 per cent of Quayside's new rental housing will be designated as affordable.  

"The intent is to be transformative," said Hilton. "We've got challenges [in Toronto] with affordable housing, we've got challenges with transit and accessibility, we want to try to find a way to build a community that will be a home and a place to work for anybody, whether you're old or young, regardless of your income."

The community could also turn out to be a test-run for future developments on waterfront land, more than 300 hectares of which have yet to be revitalized.

The RFP said that if "deemed successful," any technology, approaches or even the partner themselves used in Quayside could be used again in the future.

Using that land comes with its own challenges because of potential flooding from the Don River.

Quayside itself is safe thanks to flood protection measures built in the late 2000s, but the neighbouring Port Lands area is still in the floodplain.

Though all three levels of government committed $65 million in September to protect that land, Hilton said that they will need to get to $1.25 billion to complete the protective measures, which include creating a new mouth for the Don River.