Innovation is in Leaside’s DNA

The Business of Leaside

Sign of Leaside Business Park.
Leaside Business Park. Staff photo.

Once again, I draw inspiration from our Leaside gardener Debora Kuchme. Last month she wrote, “In 1913, like a mindful gardener, Frederick Todd planted the seed for Leaside to become a Garden City. …He set out to create a live/work town that was socially, economically, and ecologically sustainable.” She goes on to reference Connor Turnbull, who noted that “change is afoot and there is a fear that Leaside will change in drastic ways. But we think that there is a thoughtful path available rooted in the DNA of Leaside’s design.”

Yes sir, indeed. Today, I would like to emphatically argue that, firmly rooted in Leaside’s DNA is the spirit of INNOVATION. Invention, modernization and revolution are all synonyms for innovation. From the prescience of Canadian Northern to embrace the idea of live/work, to the ground-breaking design of Frederick Todd, to the first air mail flight in Canada, to the cutting-edge technology developed on Research Road by Research Enterprises Limited, Leaside has been the embodiment of innovation. More so than at any other time, that spirit of innovation is just what Leaside needs if we expect to successfully navigate the impending onslaught of disruption and change that the coming of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) will bring.

Navigating 4IR’s disruption

4IR refers to a rapidly coming ‘age’ characterized as a world that will be transformed with the fusion of technologies, blurring the lines among the physical, digital, and biological spheres. Think robotics, the “Internet of Things,” artificial intelligence, and remarkable advances in science and health that will allegedly benefit us all. It is said that the first industrial revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production, the second used electric power to create mass production, and the third used electronics and information technology to automate production. About the fourth, to quote the World Economic Forum, “We stand on the brink of a technological revolution [4IR] that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before…[and] one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.”

Hmm, an integrated and comprehensive response involving all stakeholders? Well let’s start with Leaside as a model of evolution. Why? Because Leaside has an obvious opportunity to get ahead of the 4IR curve and be the model neighbourhood if we: (1) reenergize our spirit of innovation, (2) rethink the importance of the underappreciated Leaside Business Park that, thanks to Frederick Todd, sits at our doorstep, and (3) leverage the considerable amount of ‘talent’ already residing in the ‘hood (i.e. professional, creative, technologically savvy, entrepreneurial). In doing so, I feel we as a community have more to gain than lose from the coming revolution.

So, how do we start? Like most everything that grows, we start with a seed.

“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”
—Warren Buffett

The seed was planted in Leaside Life last month by Geoff Kettel when he identified two examples of differing visions of development playing out in the Business Park. He wrote, “the 154 Wicksteed project appears to reflect a desirable evolution on Employment Lands…maintaining technically skilled and well-paying jobs.” This alternative was compared with further retail development. There exists an extensive literature supporting an established framework for estimating the effect of commercial development on communities. Indeed, of the three broad categories – retail, office, and industrial – office space is known to create more jobs per square foot of usage. This would be in line with the City’s growth directive tied to the new Laird station (i.e. add 12,000 more jobs). More importantly, Geoff’s nod to skills-oriented jobs is on point in terms of the types of employment expected to grow in the future. However, the promise of live/work benefits resulting from Leaside’s proximity to the Business Park remains unrealized since there appears to be a mismatch between the type of jobs Leasiders excel at and the jobs that might currently be on offer.

We need to take an active interest in Leaside’s employment lands

Curious to learn more about the newly proposed ‘Leaside Innovation Centre’ planned for 154 Wicksteed, I spoke with developer Charles Goldsmith, the visionary behind the project that just might be the sign of a commercial rejuvenation that benefits our community in the long run. Incidentally, Leasider Marcus Gillam is the builder. Fittingly modern in architecture, with a state-of-the-art tech-friendly infrastructure, the space was designed not only for tenants in IT/science-related fields, but also creative design, studio production, and advertising. Assuming one worker for every 200 square feet, that would result in 400 new future-proof higher paying jobs coming to Leaside. Hoo-ha! Although my teenager might think all part-time jobs paying $11 per hour are the same… the fact is, the same menial job at one of the myriad storage centres in Leaside would not yield the same sort of career-projecting experience as a similar role in a tech development lab, a start-up in an incubator, a design studio, or even getting coffee for a robotics engineer. And it’s not just about our kids. Existing local businesses would benefit from an influx of high-spending workers, and I for one, should the right type of jobs appear, would love the opportunity to be able to realize the live/work dream by simply crossing the east-west divide at Laird. Here lies our challenge.

Residents and our City representatives need to take a proactive interest in how the coming 4IR will play out in Leaside. Is there anyone calling the shots for the Leaside community? If the prognosticators are to be believed, our evolution will come sooner rather than later and having a ‘playbook’ at the ready would put our community in a stronger position to manage the change in a way that maximizes the benefits for those that live here well into the foreseeable future.

Playbook, you say? Yes, I intend to periodically write about how key initiatives or ideas proposed by groups, companies, and government players will affect the value of Leaside’s ‘neighbourhood equity’ score. One I can think of immediately is learning from and building links to the ‘Tech North’ or ‘Toronto-Waterloo Innovation Corridor’ supercluster idea – an idea which might be our best chance to be part of a top-tier innovation ecosystem. In the meantime, it would be prescient to build your awareness of the coming change, consider ways Leaside should best prepare itself, stroll through the Leaside Business Park, reimagine Leaside’s employment lands, and support the LPOA in its effort to strike the right balance between smart, mutually beneficial development and our community.

Will Leaside be better or worse off as a result of 4IR? What type of commercial activity is the best fit for Leaside’s employment lands? Let us know at leasidelife@gmail.com.

About Glenn Asano 15 Articles
Leasider Glenn Asano is a partner and principal consultant for the strategy and business development practice at Centred Performance. He is also an Instructor with the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University.