It all started as someone’s very good idea, dealing with the cold and wet conditions that seem to dominate any infrastructure situated next to Lake Ontario. Google’s designers hired for Toronto’s Sidewalk Labs may have been stretching the truth when they said that walking along that section of the  Lake was manageable only 30 percent of the year. That really translates into three summer months.

However the concept that the Toronto shoreline is inhospitable brought a “raincoat covering the sidewalk “design solution that juts from existing buildings and was intended to protect the sidewalks from weather.  This was breathlessly supported for Google’s Toronto Quayside project, and was basically a mylar like plastic film that was anchored into the public sidewalk. Surprisingly there was even a prototype installed. But as in so many things, a good 360 degree review had not been done on this sidewalk cover, and no one had talked to the City of Toronto’s team at Waterfront Toronto or to the City’s  accessibility experts.

If you are in Toronto you can see the prototype which is installed at Sidewalk Lab’s headquarters at 307 Lakeshore Drive. You can also look at the angles, how it is anchored, and see why this was a nonstarter right from the beginning.

As Toronto Star’s Donovan Vincent  reports, Toronto’s head of Waterfront Toronto was not happy, nor had  the design been  vetted through that tri-governmental agency in advance of the prototype being installed. As lead planner Chris Glaisek noted:

“Generally public sidewalks you try to keep free of obstructions so that pedestrians can move freely. Those structures on any sidewalk in Toronto potentially constrict pedestrian flow — and the angled structural brackets (that fasten to the sidewalks) also pose challenges to the visually impaired.

But Sidewalk Labs were thinking less of pedestrian safety and comfort as much as the mechanics of how their new tarp raincoat design would work on sidewalks. They even had sensors developed to open and close the canopies to allow for rain and snow.

Sidewalk Labs for some reason did not undertake the basic conversations about the concept with municipal authorities to establish that their “very big idea” was a non-starter straight from its conception.

Here’s a YouTube video that describes a bit of Google Sidewalk Lab’s work in Toronto and the expansion of their realm along Toronto’s shorefront.


Images: Michael Green Architect



  1. It looks like a flimsy version of a colonnade.

    I understand the intent, though, as the winter winds off Lake Ontario are brutal – that’s why Harbourfront is/was always deserted in winter.

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