Published April 18, 2019
Last month, students in UB's real estate development program spent the day in Toronto exploring first-hand one of North America's largest urban developments, the 800-acre Sidewalk Toronto project.
The tour, which included meetings with project leaders, was arranged by real estate development faculty member V. Jeffrey LiPuma for his market analysis and feasibility course.
According to LiPuma, Sidewalk Toronto (owned by Alphabet Inc. which also owns Google) is reinventing the process of large-scale urban real estate projects. Envisioned as the “neighborhood of the future," the project incorporates smart city technology, public participation and immense private investment. A collaboration between Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs, Sidewalk Toronto will begin with a new neighborhood, called Quayside located just southeast of Downtown Toronto, and then fan out across 800 acres of urban land. The project represents one of North America’s largest areas of underdeveloped urban land. Among its aspirations is to create a complete community that advances solutions to the challenges facing cities, such as energy use, housing affordability and transportation.
“Our presenter noted that over 50 countries have contacted Sidewalk Labs for information on what they are doing in Toronto. For us it’s a short drive to find out," says LiPuma, former managing director of commercial real estate firm CBRE-Buffalo, a CBRE affiliate.
The site visit draws from the real estate development program's focus on practitioner-led instruction and research in the field, from Buffalo to New York City to Toronto.
LiPuma says the Sidewalk Toronto visit brought this to a much higher level. “Sidewalk Labs is not only developing a real estate project but an 800-acre city. With this comes new innovation that students would not easily see elsewhere. In addition, Sidewalk Toronto's offices and public arena allowed students to speak with the people behind the development and to see the unique tools and methods being incorporated.”
LiPuma's course - a core offering in the 1.5-year MSRED curriculum - builds facility with tools for market analyses and financial feasibility studies for potential real estate projects. The course also provides practical information on negotiating to buy, sell or hold a commercial real estate asset.
Students were were impressed with the methodologies employed to envision a project of this size starting from a blank slate.
Of particular interest to students was the public engagement process behind Sidewalk Labs. Says MSRED student Lyndsey Hook: “They open their space to the public on weekends for comments and concerns from people all over Toronto. They also open their space for events to help spread the word of what this project is.”
Others were taken by the project's material innovation., including its use of Canadian tall timber and newly developed outdoor pavers. Student Sean Oliver noted, “I wasn't aware of the positive environmental impact that tall timber can have compared to other building components used in large developments.”
MSRED student and Western New York native Joseph Quinn appreciated the opportunity to connect Buffalo to world-class development activity in Toronto. “It was great to see how much is happening in Toronto; there are cranes everywhere. And to get a tour of the site, what they’re attempting to do is so bold.”
Sidewalk Labs' development plan for the entire Waterfront Toronto site is due out this summer.