Atlassian backs massive new Redfern-Waterloo tech precinct

Inner Sydney housing badlands slated for massive new tech precinct.

Sydney’s long-running saga of where a state government-backed technology hub and innovation precinct will be developed has taken yet another turn, this time into social housing heartland.

The gritty ‘Central to Everleigh’ redevelopment corridor has been flagged by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian as the new location just a day after the state government unveiled options for the redevelopment of the Waterloo public housing estate that is slated for demolition.

Atlassian has been named as a co-creator of the new project, along with incubation co-working space Fishburners and industry body Tech Sydney.

“A NSW Government taskforce, headed by Jobs for NSW chair David Thodey, will be created to lead design and development of the new technology and innovation precinct, stretching from Central to Eveleigh,” Bereklian said.

“This will cement Sydney as the technology capital of Australia and create more secure jobs. Central to Eveleigh is already home to Australia’s largest cluster of start-up firms. We want to use that as a base to grow new jobs and new businesses.”

An artist’s impression for one of the options of the redevelopment, the Waterloo Village Green. Photo: NSW government

However much of that activity is in already gentrified Surry Hills, a spread that seems to be bounded by Sydney’s version of the hipster proof fence, Cleveland and Regent streets.

Atlassian had initially pinned its hopes on taking over the part of the Everleigh rail sheds redevelopment after the state government put the lease to the market, but was trumped by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia – a decision which provoked sharp criticism from the software developer.

However Australia’s biggest tech company now gets a box seat on the committee for the new development which is arguably a far more ambitious undertaking because of the government’s stated plans to blend commerce, retail, social, affordable and market priced housing together.

What remains to be seen is whether Atlassian and other tech participants will be able to draw on the creation of new affordable housing stock to accommodate students or people on lower salaries as part of the revitalisation, especially if linked with job creation and education initiatives.

The NSW government says the initiative is expected to create 10,000 new jobs by 2036.

The NSW government’s White Bay Power Station redevelopment in Sydney’s inner-west has attracted 13 proposals.

Conspicuously absent from the project is Google or Alphabet which had been flagged by the NSW government as a potential cornerstone redeveloper of the asbestos-riddled and derelict White Bay power station in Balmain.

With that plan now parked as too hard for the time being, Google’s next major property move in Sydney is up in the air, despite its property related ventures like Sidewalk Labs making big redevelopment moves in Toronto.

That certainly doesn’t worry Atlassian Co-Founder and co-CEO Scott Farquhar who is talking up the new Sydney technology precinct.

“If you look at every successful innovation hub in the world, from Silicon Valley to Tel Aviv, they all have a centre of gravity – a place the start-up community calls home,” Mr Farquhar said.

“Sydney has the potential to be of one of the world’s leading tech cities and the creation of a tech hub sends a very loud signal – not only to the country, but to the rest of the world – that we’re in the race.”

An artist’s illustration shows Sidewalk Labs’s Quayside redevelopment of the Toronto waterfront. ILLUSTRATIONS COURTESY OF SIDEWALK LABS

A unit of Google’s parent company, devoted to urban innovation, has signed a deal to map out a new kind of neighbourhood on Toronto’s waterfront that could demonstrate how data-driven technology can improve the quality of city life.

On Tuesday, Sidewalk Labs, a division of Alphabet Inc., and the government agency Waterfront Toronto announced a partnership in which Sidewalk initially will invest $50-million (U.S.) in a year-long planning process for Quayside, a 12-acre district on the waterfront, and the company has signalled its intentions to pursue a much larger area. This is the first such project for Alphabet, and for Sidewalk Labs.

If the initiative proceeds, it would include at least 3.3 million square feet of residential, office and commercial space, including a new headquarters for Google Canada, in a district that would be a test bed for the combination of technology and urbanism.

“Sidewalk Toronto” would represent North America’s largest example of the smart city, an urban district that is built around information technology and uses data – about traffic, noise, air quality and the performance of systems including trash bins and the electrical grid – to guide its operation. Access to those systems and the use of that data, in this private-public partnership, will raise novel policy questions for governments about privacy and governance.

The Quayside development would be the first step in a larger, 750-acre redevelopment.

Overview of Toronto Quayside redevelopment project by Sidewalk Labs.

Sidewalk’s initial ideas – in a 220-page document made public Tuesday – show the company with an agenda that represents significant innovation in architecture, construction and urban design. Within the area it develops, private cars would be banned; streets would be served by autonomous vehicles and freight robots moving in underground tunnels. Intelligent signals would manage traffic on pedestrian-friendly streets; buildings would be designed to be highly flexible, constructed using modular units that are produced nearby. These would be home to what Sidewalk describes as a “radical” mix of offices, retail, residence and maker spaces, a blend which would challenge existing zoning and building-code regulations.

Those buildings would be linked by an energy system that would reduce the district’s energy consumption by 95 per cent below city regulations. And a digital layer would measure movements of people, energy, traffic and goods through the district.

In a video conference last week, Sidewalk Labs CEO Daniel Doctoroff – who also attended Tuesday’s announcement in Toronto – explained the company’s aim: “We believe that by … leveraging technology and combining it with really smart, people-centric urban planning, we could have really dramatic impacts on quality of life,” he said.

“But you need to do it in a place – ideally a place large enough to be a laboratory for an integrated approach to innovation and planning.”

Self-driving taxibots and buses

Sidewalk proposes “taxibots” as the transportation backbone of the neighbourhood: small self-driving cars controlled by app-based services such as Waymo and Lyft. Larger self-driving buses would be the next larger scale – and the company proposes piloting that technology early in the project.


Through an app developed by the Sidewalk company Flow, Sidewalk would “pilot a program that keeps parking prices high, but offers discounts to people who are coming from areas, or at times, when transit options are limited. Technology will enable pricing to vary in real time based on transit availability.”

Garbage robots

Industrial robots, moving in an underground network of utility tunnels, would manage the collection of trash and recyclables.

Underground tunnels let Quayside’s garbage robots and autonomous vehicles travel the area out of pedestrians’ way.

Deeply flexible buildings

With a concept they call “The Loft,” Sidewalk aims to reinvent how buildings are constructed and divided. Like the manufacturing lofts of a century ago, these buildings would have a strong structure but their interiors would be designed around a standardized five-by-five-foot grid and standardized building components, allowing “ongoing and frequent interior changes.”

The way buildings are constructed and divided will be redesigned in Quayside.

Modular building

Picking up on a widespread dream in the architecture world, Sidewalk would establish a program of modular construction, creating sections of a building in a controlled factory setting before bringing them to the construction site for quick assembly. The company says it would combine three-dimensional units with two-dimensional pieces, such as structurally insulated panels and units of cross-laminated timber, to create a “versatile product library” that would allow quick customization – and reduce the time required for “home production” to one-third of what conventional construction requires. The promise is “whole neighbourhoods of lower-cost, quicker-to-build housing.” (Sidewalk suggests that the Hearn Generating Station, a former power plant in Toronto’s Port Lands, could become a manufacturing plant for these units.)

Sidewalk Toronto’s buildings would be modular units home to a mix of offices, retail, residences and maker spaces.

New materials

Sidewalk will pilot the construction of “tall wood,” using new types of wood technology that allow for safe construction of large and tall buildings – a set of ideas that is already being explored by Canadian architects and builders.

‘Weather mitigation’

By arranging buildings carefully to produce comfortable microclimates – sheltered by canopies, protected from wind – the company suggests it can double the time in which it is comfortable to be outside in Toronto’s climate.

Outcome-based code

Sidewalk suggests that using building sensors could allow governments to loosen up use restrictions: If temperature, light, sound, structural integrity and other characteristics are constantly monitored by sensors, there will be no need for zoning as it exists today. This, Sidewalk says, would allow “radical mixed use” within buildings and neighbourhoods.

Flexible and walkable streets

Sidewalk proposes a heavily pedestrianized district; the company calls for narrow streets that privilege the pedestrian and “an intimate human scale.” Three scales of streets – from large to very narrow – would serve increasingly private uses. Retail, including pop-up retail, would come and go within the spaces in the district’s modular buildings.

The streets would be pedestrian-friendly, with private cars banned in the area.

Source: Julian Bajkowski, “Atlassian backs massive new Redfern-Waterloo tech precinct”, Itnews, August 7, 2018. Alex Bozikovic, “Google’s Sidewalk Labs signs deal for ‘smart city’ makeover of Toronto’s waterfront”, The Globe and Mail, June 12, 2018.

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Atlassian backs massive new Redfern-Waterloo tech precinct