Sidewalk Labs recently released its draft Master Innovation and Development Plan for the ambitious “smart city” project on Toronto’s east waterfront, Sidewalk Toronto. There are hundreds of pages to go through, but we took a closer look at the housing component.
The Toronto Tomorrow: A New Approach for Inclusive Growth plan outlines a three-part strategy for developing and building new housing in the Sidewalk Toronto area.
Sidewalk Labs is putting a lot of stock in “mass timber,” a relatively new material that is easier to manufacture and more sustainable than steel and concrete, but is just as strong and fire resistant.
The mass timber approach embraces factory-based construction. The Plan calls for a “library” of approved building parts, so the idea is that building design and construction would be streamlined, potentially accelerating timelines by 35%.
With all of the buildings consisting of mass timber, Sidewalk Labs is proposing establishing an Ontario-based mass timber industry, which they estimate would create 2,500 jobs over the course of 20 years.
Building design innovations
The goal is to create mixed-use buildings that adapt easily to a variety of live/work lifestyles. Sidewalk Labs says there will be adaptable loft spaces that have interior panels, making the spaces modular. Floors 3 to 12 will feature these flexible loft spaces.
As mentioned above, there will be a library of approved building parts. This dramatically changes the approach to building design. We wonder if architects would still be required for the design of these buildings or if it’s just a matter of snapping the approved parts together? While having a limited selection of building parts may sound like it will result in bland design, it could also force designers to think even more creatively.
There’s also the mention of using something called shikkui plaster, which is like drywall, but is made of natural ingredients like seaweed and eggshells. It also has a fire-resistance rating comparable to drywall.
Sidewalk Labs’ plan for housing calls for 40% of the units to be below market value, and 50% of the units to be purpose built rental. There’s also the idea to have a variety of housing and ownership types, like co-living and shared-equity mortgage options.
Sidewalk Labs says that a quarter of the affordable units would be designated for households with “deep” affordability needs. We’re not sure what “deep” means, but we assume it applies to households with relatively low incomes.
There is a ton of controversy surrounding the Sidewalk Toronto plan, so there’s a chance that none of this will even happen. From a housing perspective, it seems like a great opportunity to explore faster, more sustainable design and construction methods, plus there’s a ton of potential to create more affordable and rental units.