Toronto's Waterfront Case Study

Through the IwB's partnership with Waterfront Toronto, we researched the relationships and connections that exist in waterfront regions around the globe and the Greater Golden Horseshoe Region (GGH). We then applied collaborative design thinking and strategy to develop and implement design projects that enhance the lives of people across the region by facilitating the six living connections.

Waterfront Context

How can a waterfront move beyond the edge of a city and into an entire region?
What if the waterfront was a facilitator for all the living connections that make up a region?
How can we build our own living connections into our process to design an integrated strategy to make this happen?

These were some of the questions that we asked ourselves throughout our partnership with Waterfront Toronto, the organization with the extraordinary task of redeveloping and revitalizing Toronto's massive waterfront. Through a process of research, collaboration, prototyping and a hefty desire to understand and improve the region that we live in, the Institute without Boundaries developed an integrated design strategy and three design projects that connect Toronto's Waterfront to the wider Greater Golden Horseshoe Region. This is the story of how it happened and how it works.

The Process

The Integrated Design Strategy for the Waterfront was developed from a nine month process.

Our vision, strategies, and goals were further developed during an intensive four day charrette. This multidisciplinary process was a forum for collaborating with 150 students, faculty, and industry advisors from around the world on new ideas that diverged from our own ways of thinking. This collaboration led to the development of twelve projects that can be applied at different scales of the region. At the heart of each project lies a central theme: a local, regional, and global waterfront.

Integrated Design Strategy

When Waterfront Toronto presented the team with their vision of creating a waterfront belonging to, including, and reflecting everyone using newly refined strategic objectives (Waterfront+), we applied our global insights, and regional research to reinterpret the five pluses. The result were five strategies that have guided the conceptualization, development and implementation of projects and prototypes along the shores of Toronto. We applied design research and thinking, and collaborated with students from different parts of the world to develop twelve projects.

The development of the projects were guided by five main strategies, and three goals to create a regionally connected waterfront that facilitates the living connections. Although all twelve projects can be implemented at different scales of the region, Hello Lake, Path Perks, and Downtown Entrepreneur Collective were chosen as three prototypes that best represented our overall vision.


Five design guidelines have driven the development of twelve projects. These guidelines led to the identification of three main goals and the development of twelve projects over the past nine months. This process led the team to prototype three final projects: DEC, Path Perks, and Hello Lake. These projects have the potential to be implemented at different scales across the region.


Equally distribute opportunity and access to growth

True prosperity comes from equal access to economic opportunity for all; close structural gaps to enable growth in communities and the region. The interconnectivity of the region represents a unique opportunity for economic growth.


Design infrastructure and programming that embraces and adapts to change

Change is the only constant; designing for transition stabilizes communities during technological shifts, environmental uncertainty, and changing social structures.


Implement action through co-creation

Leverage participation to amplify conversations into strategic actions, reflective of the diverse voices and values within the region. For a project to be successful, it must incorporate participation from local and regional residents and businesses.


Prompt meaningful interactions

Interactions are key to vibrant spaces; dynamic neighbourhoods must leverage the influences of nature, infrastructure, and technology to encourage exchange and connections between people and their surroundings.


Create positive moments along different journeys

Journeys and destinations are inseparable; the fulfillment of a destination first requires a seamless and enjoyable journey. The waterfront experience does not begin upon arrival; it begins when the decision is made to visit a given site.


Over the course of the past nine months, the IwB team has used regional thinking and research with a focus on human centered designs to achieve three main goals. Throughout the year, the IwB team has focused on proposing, developing and implementing regionally relevant design projects that achieve these three goals.


Create complete communities by designing the fine grain details of a neighbourhood


Showcase actionable sustainable innovation to the region


Enhance every part of the journey

Downtown Entrepreneur Collective (DEC)

How can a developing waterfront create opportunities for its region's entrepreneurs?

Once Toronto's waterfront has redeveloped, it will be home to many large scale, mixed use buildings that will provide thousands of individuals with places to work, live, and play. During the redevelopment period, however, there are many goods and services that are not available to those already living in waterfront neighbourhoods.

We have designed a new ground-floor-strategy that will help meet the basic needs of current and future residents, and to act as a regional destination. The Downtown Entrepreneur Collective (DEC) will be a cooperative organization that will bring together community organizations, service providers, and businesses to create small retail centers in temporary, adaptable kiosks. The result will be an animated streetscape filled with everything from restaurants and bakeries, to library outposts and daycares, to bike repair shops and stationery stores.

DEC will provide unique opportunities for the region's entrepreneurs by giving them a low-risk chance to test their concept in an emerging waterfront neighbourhood. Our aims are that it will help forge long term relationships between regional small businesses and local residents and that it will be a waterfront destination.

Path Perks

What if a recreational trail was a path of discovery?

The Martin Goodman Trail runs along 56km of Toronto's waterfront, connecting interesting, fun, and important destinations, yet is is sorely underutilized. Many Torontonians rarely visit because of the visual barrier created by the Gardiner Expressway, and those who only use it for exercise and active transit (instead of exploring the various opportunities it has to offer).

Path Perks is a digital wayfinding strategy that will help bring regional residents to the path and that will highlight the many tours, events, and locations available just off the trail. Visitors can download the Path Perks mobile application and plan their journey to the waterfront using six categories of curated experiences: Culture, Markets, Play, Relax, Water, and Wildlife. Once on site, two types of physical markers will create a cohesive narrative along the networks of pathways, public spaces, and communities. Universal Markers placed in strategic locations will indicate to visitors that there are opportunities for discovery just off the path. Once they have left the path, an On Site Marker will provide a visual cue that they have reached their destination. The On Site Markers will also be equipped with Augmented Reality, signaling the application to provide you with additional information.

Path Perks will help bring GGH residents to the waterfront and will help regional visitors and locals alike discover the hidden gems along the Martin Goodman Trail. By focusing on how people travel to the waterfront and by helping people to explore the waterfront this digital wayfinding system will stronger connections and experiences.

Check out the app here!

Hello Lake

How can Lake Ontario become a part of daily life within the region?

Canadians have named water as the most valuable natural source for 10 years in a row, yet our water-conservation efforts have actually deteriorated since 2008. We use water and understand its value, but we fail to take the actions that accompany this understanding. On a daily basis, people across the region rely on Lake Ontario for their supply of drinking water, yet we continue to treat it with disregard because we have no real emotional connection to this asset. It is out of sight and out of mind.

Hello Lake is a project that will bring the lake back into the region and will bridge the current disconnect between people and the lake. It uses two types of screens to connect the region to the lake. The Signature Screen will use live feeds of the waterfront to restore the sightlines of the lake that have been obscured by construction. The restored views will remind regional residents of their proximity to the water and will be accompanied by up-to-the-minute information about the lake's conditions and waterfront programming. The Interactive Screen will provide the same information and will incorporate a sponsored social media campaign that will raise money for conservation efforts and research on Lake Ontario.

Hello Lake will bridge the widening gap between the GGH and its most valuable natural asset through raising awareness and providing information. Furthermore, the increased awareness will be able to actively impact the region through hashtag-based fundraising. It will put Lake Ontario in our sights and in our minds.

How these projects fit together

Hello Lake's interactive screens reduce visible barriers to the lake, extending the water out into the GGH region. It features live feeds of the lake to remind people who are living in different parts of the GGH of the existence and importance of Lake Ontario.

Path Perks uses digital technology and physical markers to create a regional corridor, highlighting hidden assets in key north, south, east, and west locations along the Martin Goodman Trail. It will provide curated experiences through a mobile application that will encourage users to completely experience hidden gems along the waterfront.

Hello Lake and Path Perks will connect people from all over the GGH to the waterfront digitally, physically, and emotionally. The Downtown Entrepreneur Collective (DEC) ensures that once at the destination, visitors will enjoy engaging programming and events through the marketplace. DEC focuses on the fine-grain details of emerging neighbourhoods by using an affordable retail strategy to become a year round waterfront market. It will provide goods and services to future waterfront residents, promote regional entrepreneurship, while becoming a destination for local residents, and regional visitors.