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What I like about Sidewalk Labs’ generative design tool

Last week I went for a tour of Sidewalk Labs’ “307” workshop here in Toronto. In it they have a generative urban design tool that allows you to toggle things like density, building shape, building height, the amount of green space, the distribution of green space, and so on.

Perhaps some of you have seen it or used it before. The controls look like this:

After you’re done playing around with the dials, you are then able to provide feedback on the design that you’ve birthed through two very simple feedback buttons. One is a happy face. And the other is a sad face. (I wonder if the placement of these two buttons has any impact on responses.)

What I like about this tool is that it immediately imposes a certain degree of reality and it forces you, the participant, to acknowledge the various trade-offs that need to be considered when you’re designing and planning a city.

For example, if you want lots of parks and public spaces, but you want to hold population density constant — perhaps because you’re trying to make use of an investment made in transit infrastructure — well then you’ll need to accept taller buildings.

A very similar thought process goes into each and every development pro forma as we all try and manage the myriad of competing interests. But I guess this is also true of life in general. There are gives and there are takes.

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