By Becky Loi, University of Waterloo
The following is a recap of one of the 11 city tours that made up ULI Toronto’s Symposium 2018. On November 7th, hundreds of urban professionals from the region and beyond came together to explore the leading edges of North America’s fastest growing metropolis, exposing the contemporary tensions and innovative approaches to building a global city region.
Blockchain, machine learning, big data analytics — to most Torontonians, these are not words typically associated with the real estate or property sector. However, in recent years, billions of dollars of venture capital have been flowing into PropTech, which is the term for any technology developed for the real estate space. PropTech does not only refer to software or apps, but also manufacturing advancements like 3D printing or off-site manufacturing. Organizations and start-ups like R-Hauz, Ratio.City, View Glass, and Sidewalk Labs are poised to leverage the potential of technology to push the boundaries of innovative development. The participants in the ULI Symposium 2018 City Building Disruption tour managed to get an inside look at how these trailblazers are changing the rules of the real estate industry in Toronto.
LEVERAGING NEW TOOLS AND TECHNOLOGY TO CATALYZE INNOVATIVE CITY BUILDING
After an introductory presentation by George Carras, CEO, R-Labs, tour participants were bussed to R-Labs’ headquarters on Front Street. The team of Leith Moore and Michael Barker, both Principals and Co-Founders of R-Hauz, were the first to present. R-Hauzaims to help people solve their family housing needs through their products that are customized for properties on avenues and laneways in the City of Toronto. For example, the V2 is a rear lane secondary suite that has been designed to work within the City of Toronto Laneway Housing guideline and are produced in pre-finished modules and assembled onsite, representing significant time and cost savings. R-Hauz has created a process in which they can create the design in a building information management technology, so that it is a virtual design coordination. Barker explained that this way, problems are discovered and dealt with in the simulated 3D virtual environment and not on site.
Next, the participants heard from Monika Jaroszonek, Co-founder & CEO of Ratio.City. Its online mapping and analysis tools aim to quickly unlock potential development locations, helping urban redevelopment projects get through the municipal approvals process faster. Jaroszonek demonstrated features on Ratio.City to show what policies could look like when applied in 3D. On the generated site construction area, Jaroszonek applied Tall Building guidelines and customized and adjusted the settings, including front setback and tower setback from the property lines. Jaroszonek explained that Ratio.City, could be a tool to make complex negotiations easier. “How can we work with municipalities to make their zoning and their regulatory framework more transparent? How can we work with developers to get through that process faster? And how can we help the visionaries, the architects and urban designers, focus on their skills – creative problem solving and building beautiful buildings? We see technology augmenting human expertise, and not replacing it,” she added.
TECHNOLOGY AS A TOOL TO ENHANCING CO-OPERATION
In the following panel discussions, tour participants learned how technology brings the public and private sector together in the realm of city-building. The first panel discussed the implementation of View Glass products at Canada Lands’ new office space as a pilot project. The panel was moderated by Derek Goring, SVP Development, First Gulf, with participants, Guthrie Cox, President, View Canada; Mark Hao, Director, AssetManagement, Oxford; and Matt Tapscott, VP, Finance and CFO, Canada Lands Company. View Dynamic Glass is a smart window with energy-efficient building technology. This allows for windows to be manually tinted or cleared, allowing natural light to enter buildings while deflecting heat when tinted. Hao explained that while location is important in terms of acquiring tenants for their buildings, incorporating amenities, like co-working spaces, health-related elements and new technology like View glass is something they are mindful of.
Next, the participants were brought to Sidewalk Labs for another panel discussion titled “Balanced Disruption” with Meg Davis, Chief Development Officer, Waterfront Toronto and Josh Sirefman, Head of Development, Sidewalk Labs. The panel was moderated by Joe Berridge, Partner, Urban Strategies. Regarding Sidewalk Labs, Davis told the participants that Waterfront Toronto was thinking of how “can we push the envelope and find ways to solve some of the huge challenges that we are facing, like congestion, affordability, mobility, sustainability? How we can take the next leap forward?”
“It is easy to default back to saying, here’s all the answers, and the whole point to this way of thinking is that we don’t know all the answers and to create an environment in which can constantly adapt and take out on new strategies,” said Sirefman, echoing Davis’ sentiment.
It is apparent that technology is moving fast, and the industry has to keep up with it. With all the innovation that is happening locally, many agree that Toronto’s real estate market is ready for change.
Jaroszonek, who was also the program lead for this tour, shared some important insight. “Our urban challenges keep getting bigger and more complex. We are going to need to come up with new ways of thinking about the problems to be able to have any chance of solving them,” she said. “It is very exciting to be able to look at the macro and micro problems we are seeing here in the City of Toronto and consider how the tools we use as professionals might be able to create new ways to collaborate across the industry and, ultimately, build denser and more liveable neighbourhoods for all of us.”