No Longer Liveblogging Sidewalk Labs’ MIDP, Entry 44: The Digital Strategy Advisory Panel’s Preliminary Commentary and Questions on the MIDP

It really is that bad a plan. Also, it’s not a plan.

Previous Master Innovation and Development Plan liveblog entries and relevant documents available here

The Digital Strategy Advisory Panel’s Preliminary Commentary and Questions on Sidewalk Labs’ Draft Master Innovation and Development Plan (MIDP)  is a significant document. Given that Waterfront Toronto itself is directly tied to Sidewalk Labs and the MIDP through the Plan Development Agreement, protestations of Waterfront Toronto Chair Stephen Diamond notwithstanding, it is likely to be the only official and independent analysis of the MIDP that we’ll see before the new October 31 deadline for Sidewalk Labs to address some key Waterfront Toronto concerns.

And, well, judge for yourself what they thought of Sidewalk Labs’ efforts. The summary:

Panelists have raised questions or concerns about the MIDP in general (including the inaccessibility of the document and the lack of detail around many digital elements) and made specific comments around various digital innovation and digital governance-related proposals. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Overall: In many areas, the MIDP is not sufficiently specific about critical areas of its digital innovation proposals, and it does not provide a clear path for individuals, civic society, or small/startup businesses to participate from design, implementation, operations, and sustainability perspectives.

  • Digital Innovations: Further information is required to show how digital innovations – including infrastructure and launch services – will support Waterfront Toronto’s goals for Quayside. This should include a shift from “what” is proposed to “how” the proposal will accomplish the objective, and why the proposal is superior to alternatives.

  • Data Governance / Privacy: The development of overarching data governance mechanisms should be shifted to Waterfront Toronto and its government partners, while Sidewalk Labs should focus on elaborating on how it will make its own proposals for data collection, processing and use more transparent, accountable and amenable to a robust privacy protection regime.

  • Intellectual Property / Economic Development: While welcome, the current value sharing proposals are insufficient. As well, additional specific commitments should be made about enabling the growth of the local urban innovation industry. (pp. 2-3)

To which I can only add, precisely so.

In the 99-page document (two-page summary, 20-page main document, and a well-organized 73-page compendium of panelists’ comments on specific parts of the MIDP; it’s all worth reading), several themes arise continually, echoing my own reading of the report: a lack of detail in key areas, with basic issues left unconsidered; a lack of justification of several proposed technologies; a lack of consideration of the Canadian legal and policy landscape; and plenty of concern with the concept of “urban data” and the related and nebulous “Urban Data Trust.”

The DSAP’s analysis backs up my own reading of the report, that this is a seriously underbaked, poorly thought-out document. It is basically a poorly constructed reiteration of Sidewalk Labs’ original project vision. To call it a plan is to grant it a degree of thoroughness it does not possess. As I remind my students, quantity does not equal quality.

What’s more, the sense of frustration that one experiences when reading this report really comes across in the appendix’s unfiltered comments (164 in total, helpfully numbered – and with a hyperlinked table of contents! Be still my heart. It’s almost as if this report were meant to be read and understood).

Comment 8:

The MIDP gives the strong impression that it was developed with little direct involvement with the range of relevant Toronto community actors or with attention to inter-operability with existing (digital) infrastructures. …

Comment 13:

Frustrated by how over-sold this proposal on digital innovation is at times. …

Comment 14:

Volume 3 states that without the proposed Digital Network ‘standard broadband services available in Toronto’ would be the Business as Usual result. This is both incorrect and seriously misleading. …

Comment 15:

The lack of discussion of the evolution of mobile network technologies to support IOT is surprising. …

I could go on, but I have to prepare to teach in a few hours and you get the point. There are, however, two other things worth saying.

Preliminary commentary

First, the DSAP’s ability to review the MIDP was limited by both the pointless 1,500-page size of the report and the short timeline available to them. Beyond reviewing and commenting on a draft version of the Digital Innovation chapter (which doesn’t mean much given how relevant information is spread throughout the report’s 1,500 pages), they got their copy on June 24, same as the rest of us, and filed their analysis on August 18, less than two months later. While the DSAP report itself is commendable, the DSAP itself notes that the short timeline means that “the feedback in this Commentary is by necessity preliminary” (p. 6). This type of time pressure – driven by artificial deadlines – is not conducive to sound policymaking.

Whither Sidewalk Labs’ reputation?

Second, I’m not sure that Sidewalk Labs has fully grasped how badly it is screwing up, not just this job, but its future business prospects. It has been working on the Quayside project in one way or another for over two years. It obviously sees Quayside not only as a place to develop specific technologies and policies, but as its calling card for future projects. It has spent, or budgeted, $US 50 million to produce a plan for Quayside.

Two years and $US 50 million later, and this was the best it could do? A “plan” that independent analyses (mine and the DSAP’s) confirm doesn’t even include basic and obvious needed details? That suggests an almost wilful ignorance of local politics and laws? A community engagement process that has relied on paid consultants and a thinly disguised influencer campaign to build support? An inability to maintain a healthy relationship with its government partner?

Forget about Toronto and Quayside for the moment. If I’m the mayor of any city in the world, I’m looking at Sidewalk Labs – which, remember, isn’t the only company selling these types of products – and thinking, what is there in their Quayside proposal and actions that suggest that they can either deliver the goods or play well with others?

Sidewalk Labs’ fundamental problem is that, as I’ve said previously, the MIDP isn’t just a mess; it’s an obvious mess, as the DSAP report confirms. It’s right there in the writing. It is not a quality product. Its problems are fundamental, of the type that never should have seen the light of day. No matter what happens going forward, these facts are set in stone.

Knowing this, and seeing everything that’s happened, under what conditions would it make sense for any city to go into business with Sidewalk Labs?

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No longer liveblogging Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan, Bonus entry 9: Can Sidewalk Labs find any independent experts to support it?

A couple of thoughts about Toronto Life’s big feature on Sidewalk Labs. First, it’s nice to see that the magazine doesn’t even bother with the fiction that Sidewalk Labs is anything more than the urban-policy arm of Google. Sidewalk Labs and Google are sister companies under the Alphabet label in the same way that the NBC and General Electric of 30 Rock were subsidiaries of the Sheinhardt Wig Company: in every policy way that matters, Sidewalk Labs is a Google concern, and Quayside a Google project.

But what was even more interesting was the distribution of opinions. If this package of bite-sized opeds is anything to go by, Sidewalk Labs is having a great deal of difficulty attracting independent expert supporters who don’t have either direct or personal connections to the company.

Of the 17 opeds (the first piece is a scene-setter), nine raise the pro-Sidewalk Labs flag:

  • Three paid consultants (Joe Berridge, Ken Greenberg and Alexander Josephson);
  • Three members of an odd entity called the Sidewalk Labs Advisory Council (Mohamed Lachemi, Robert Prichard and Kwame McKenzie – and no, the fact that you don’t get paid for this gig doesn’t eliminate the conflict of interest); and
  • Sidewalk Labs CEO Daniel L. Doctoroff.

Only one article, by Toronto Region Board of Trade CEO and president Jan De Silva, is written by someone who is in any sense truly independent from Sidewalk Labs.

Another pro-Sidewalk Labs oped, by University of Toronto professor Richard Florida, whom previous reports have linked to the Council but whose Toronto Life byline does not include this affiliation, is more character reference for Daniel L. Doctoroff, who he’s “known … for the better part of two decades,” and the past records of “key members of the Sidewalk team,” than an actual assessment of the merits of Doctoroff’s actual plan. More on that below.

What’s more, the pro-Sidewalk Labs side is remarkably uncritical. Some of the critical opeds (those by Yung Wu and Bruce Kuwabara, who reminds us that the fact that wood rots may complicate Sidewalk Labs’ timber skyscraper plans – wish I’d caught that one) point out some things they like in the Master Innovation and Development Plan. However, none of the Sidewalk Seven plus Florida breathe a critical word about this multifaceted, multi-billion-dollar development. (Joe Berridge comes closest when he notes that “We don’t know yet what the real construction cost reductions are going to be, or what operational problems may arise,” but he concludes that this is a standard issue that every city faces.)

The illusion of consultation: The Sidewalk Labs Advisory Council

Regarding those connections to Sidewalk Labs, the paid-consultant conflict of interest is obvious. But what, some of you may be asking, is the Sidewalk Labs Advisory Council?

Great question, and one that is actually incredibly difficult to answer. Basically, as Amanda Roth of The Logic reports, it’s a Sidewalk Labs-only initiative, started in October 2018, of “leading thinkers’ from the business, non-profit and academic sectors” to advise “Sidewalk Labs directly on the Quayside development.”

Beyond that, it seems to have been designed to give the illusion of consultation, as opposed to actually serving as some type of independent body. Sidewalk Labs has not published a list of who is on this “Advisory Council” – The Logic says that Sidewalk Labs “declined to provide a full list of who attended” the first meeting. (See also this Globe and Mail report by Josh O’Kane.) It promised to hold three meetings, in October 2018, and January and April 2019, but only released notes (which themselves read like press releases) that I could find on the first two. I could find only three documents about this Advisory Council on Sidewalk Toronto’s website.

Also very odd: “Sidewalk Labs Advisory Council” yields only 30 hits on Google, only 19 of which were working, and none of which link to actual Sidewalk Labs documents (SL does show up once, in a link that takes you to an empty page). Most of the links are to opeds by self-declared Council members or to articles and tweets by Bianca Wylie trying to make sense of it all.

Those Sidewalk Labs’ Council documents? I found them by scrolling through Sidewalk Toronto’s pointlessly difficult-to-use documents page. Don’t believe me that its document depository is not designed to help people get into the details of this project? Check it out for yourself, but beware of the leopard.

To state the obvious, publicizing who’s giving you advice from a formal “Council” (to say nothing of reported minutes) is the absolutely bare minimum standard required for the most basic kind of transparency and accountability. That is, if you’re a company that’s interested in those type of things.

In contrast, Waterfront Toronto’s Digital Strategy Advisory Panel, which is an actual independent advisory panel, publishes its members’ name, has a published mandate, runs meetings and publishes its meetings results. Waterfront Toronto does not deploy these panel members to defend Waterfront Toronto or comment on Sidewalk Labs.

Comparing Sidewalk Labs’ Council with Waterfront Toronto’s Panel, it’s hard to disagree with Bianca Wylie’s contention that Sidewalk Labs Advisory Council is little more than “‘an influencer strategy’ … a marketing strategy to borrow [one’s] name/reputation/credentials and lend them to this process and project.” A Potemkin Council, if you will.

Bringing a character reference to a policy debate

While there’s little that’s surprising in either the Sidewalk proponents or opponents’ comments (give or take a rotting timber skyscraper), Richard Florida’s stood out, and not just for the extent to which it was built around a character reference for Doctoroff and “key members of the Sidewalk team.” At this point, with the 1,500-page Master Innovation and Development Plan in hand, we don’t need a character reference. We need to know if these smart people have developed a good plan. So talk about the plan. Please.

On this point, it doesn’t help that Florida’s only engagement with the actual content of the report – beyond noting that urban tech is a potent future economic engine – consists of one of the weirdest defences of Sidewalk Labs I’ve yet come across:

Sidewalk has been plagued by privacy concerns, but these are issues that apply to any company that has access to our data—like mobile phone providers or Uber or the Gmail accounts we use every day. Unlike those companies, Sidewalk has pledged to help solve these problems by setting up mechanisms like a public data trust, an independent agency tasked with safeguarding the public good while fostering innovation (emphasis added).

I’m not sure what mental gymnastics one has to perform in order to claim that Sidewalk Lab, a Google company whose economic plan is largely built around bringing Google to Toronto, should be trusted because, unlike Google, a Google company that is attempting to get into the urban-governance business via Sidewalk Labs, it has a plan for dealing with data privacy. If anything, Sidewalk Labs’ intimate links to Google, a company whose profits depend on ubiquitous data-gathering, should make us wonder how credible Sidewalk Labs’ data-related promises actually are.

While that defence is … strange … it’s Florida’s claim that Sidewalk Labs should be trusted because it “has pledged to help solve these problems” that’s the real head-scratcher. Entering into an election season, we’re about to get a whole slew of reminders of how trivially easy it is to promise to do something. The devil, as always, is in the details. Florida seems to be content that at least Sidewalk Labs is proposing something that sounds good.

The details, which are right in front of us, are much less reassuring. Let’s start with the fact that Sidewalk Labs is proposing an “urban data trust,” not a “public data trust,” as Florida calls it. Subbing “public” for “urban” is a small but important detail, beyond the fact that “urban” is the correct term here. As Shoshana Zuboff notes in her contribution to this series, the Sidewalk Labs-invented term “urban data” does a lot of heavy lifting for the company, allowing for the collection of a lot of personal data in public spaces.

Dr. Natasha Tusikov and I (among others) have raised several concerns about the, um, problematic aspects of Sidewalk Labs’ data-collection/digital plans. If you don’t want to take our word that Sidewalk Labs’ MIDP digital/data plans are phenomenally underbaked, Waterfront Toronto’s Digital Strategy Advisory Panel is also not satisfied with the way that Sidewalk Labs has handled these issues (p. 16):

  • Overall, the  MIDP  is  not  sufficiently  specific  about  critical  areas  of  its digital innovation proposals in many areas.

  • Further information  is  required  to  show  how  digital innovations will support Waterfront Toronto’s goals for Quayside.

  • The development of overarching data governance mechanisms should be shifted to Waterfront Toronto and its government partners.

A reminder: Sidewalk Labs had two years and 1,500 pages to get these fundamental details right, or even to include them. They didn’t, or couldn’t. That reality, I’d think, is even more relevant to judging Sidewalk Labs than the pedigree of Doctoroff’s résumé.

Wanted: Independent analysis

It’s definitely fair game to note, as the Globe and Mail’s Oliver Moore has, that Toronto Life pretty much stacked the deck with people already linked and beholden to Sidewalk Labs, but, man. If the only people I could find to say good things about a project are people who have a financial interest in it, are already working with Sidewalk Labs, or are providing a character reference when there’s a report right in front of them, I’d wonder about the quality of the project.

And rightly so. As I’ve concluded from my 50-plus-post slog through the MIDP, this proposal is fatally flawed. It does not stand up to independent scrutiny. It’s not only a mess; it’s an obvious mess.

My bet is, if you surveyed independent subject experts who are not connected to either Sidewalk Labs or Google about this project, the vast majority would raise serious concerns with it.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for an independent view on Sidewalk Labs’ plan, or if you just want to read something that goes deeper into it than the necessarily superficial Toronto Life takes, you can always check out my numerous posts dissecting it, page by page. You don’t have to read all of them: any one of these posts will give you an idea of the quality and intention of this project.

Previous Master Innovation and Development Plan liveblog entries and relevant documents available here

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Liveblogging Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan, Bonus entry 8: Every single Orangespace MIDP post, now in old-school pdf form!

I spent an evening this past week turning all 52 of this blog’s posts on Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan into a pdf, complete with brief introduction. So if you, like Sidewalk Labs, are a pdf aficionado, you’re welcome!

That said, this new format come with some drawbacks, namely that I didn’t embed any of my cleverly chosen YouTube videos, so when I make an in-text Community reference, you’ll just have to use your imagination to make sense of it all.

The document does still include working weblinks (although not in-text hyperlinks; I did the whole thing in about 5 hours and didn’t feel like setting them up), so there’s that.

Before putting this pdf together, I don’t think I realized how much writing I did in about 3-4 weeks for what I assumed at the beginning would be a relatively straightforward, quick project. The whole thing, including the new introduction and Dr. Natasha Tusikov’s guest post, comes to about 100,000 words, which is a bit shorter than my book, although hopefully my book contains fewer typos.

And, yes, the irony of putting together what is effectively a 300-page summary of a 1,500-page document is not lost on me, Dr. Tusikov having already made this point emphatically.

Anyway, if pdfs are your thing, enjoy. Kill some trees, read it on your device of choice, take it to the lake. And if any publishers are reading, I’ll consider any reasonable offer in the low six figures, but I get to retain the movie rights. You know where to reach me.


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Liveblogging Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan, Entry 43: Waterfront Toronto Note to Reader

Qualified praise for a mostly honest document that should never have been written.

Previous Master Innovation and Development Plan liveblog entries and relevant documents available here

I am of several minds about Waterfront Toronto’s Note to Reader. As a guide to the Master Innovation and Development Plan, it’s a bit of a mess, but it’s a mess that I recognize, understand and empathize with. As an analysis, it raises many good points, including a few I missed in my own review (mostly I think because Waterfront Toronto has access to information that I don’t. Or maybe I flatter myself). But as an official Waterfront Toronto document, it shouldn’t exist at all.

In other words, it’s par for the Quayside course.

It me

The Note to Reader summarizes the MIDP, provides some context, offers some critiques and suggests some questions. In other words, it’s exactly like the briefing notes and legislative summaries I used to prepare as a researcher with the Library of Parliament.

Overall, it’s pretty overwhelming and also a bit of a mess. Which is understandable because, as I’ve noted so many times over the past month, the underlying MIDP is a mess.

I’m pretty sure, based on professional experience, that I know how this went down. Waterfront Toronto gave, say, six analysts a week or less to summarize and analyze specific sections of the report, then did a bit of quality control (probably more than seems to have gone into the actual MIDP) to help everything to more or less line up, and then published it. Given these constraints, the analysts and writers at Waterfront Toronto did an amazing job to produce a document as coherent as this. I read it quickly (I’m exactly as burned out on MIDP-related docs as you might imagine), but it seems to hit all the key points. Sure, they could’ve produced a somewhat more coherent document, but not in the time allotted.

From one analyst to another, if you worked on this report and run into me at a bar, and you didn’t take my past 49 posts as a personal affront, I’ll buy you a beer. Good job.

What is this weird document?

While professionally the Note to Reader is a quality piece of work (given the constraints the authors faced), and I don’t think I have any complaints about the summary part of the document, the oddest thing about it is that it exists at all. It’s the Executive Summary that should’ve been included in the report proper; it’s what the Overview document should’ve been.

It’s also a summary written by an organization that, by its own admission, was (and is) still in the process of figuring out exactly what’s in the MIDP and what it all means. Moreover that it was published before the public had had a chance to have its say was odd, to say the least. I would’ve expected a government agency to wait to hear from the public before issuing what is effectively its response to the MIDP.

Then there’s the problematic matter of the non-arm’s-length relationship between Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto. The Note to Reader is a critique of a document by an organization for which the Plan Development Agreement, signed July 31, 2018, and renewed a year later, assigned joint responsibility.

It’s rewriting history a bit to note, as the Note to Reader does, that

The PDA outlined the parameters under which Sidewalk Labs would develop a proposal for Waterfront Toronto’s consideration. While Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs did work together earlier in the process to do research, generate ideas, and consult the public, the roles of the two organizations then separated, allowing Waterfront Toronto to focus on creating a robust framework for review and evaluation of the MIDP. Sidewalk Labs’ responsibility is to prepare and submit the MIDP. (p. 48)

In a very early post, I ran through the many, many, many places that the PDA gave both Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs joint responsibility for the preparation of the MIDP. You can’t just wish that away.

The fact of the matter is, the two organizations are – for better or worse – joined at the hip. This leads the reader to suspect Waterfront Toronto’s motives in raising these critiques. Which is not to say that Waterfront Toronto doesn’t make some very good points: it was heartening to see the in-writing recognition that Villiers Island was out of scope, and that Waterfront Toronto also has issues with Sidewalk Labs being in charge of procurement (p. 51).

It’s that critiquing a report that you were formally charged with producing is all a bit … off. The relationship is such that the two organizations cannot be separated. And so we outsiders cannot know for certain whether these critiques are seriously deal-breakers, or whether they’re all for show, offering the illusion of democratic accountability. To be blunt, I’m not sure how far I can trust Waterfront Toronto.

All up in the air

As it happens, minutes after I finished reading the Note to Reader and typing up a preliminary blog post, Waterfront Toronto announced that it and Sidewalk Labs were extending the Plan Development Agreement by six months, and Waterfront Toronto had given Sidewalk Labs until October 31 to address several fundamental concerns with the MIDP. So what happens next, I have no idea.

I do know that its purpose as a “Guide to reading the draft Master Innovation and Development Plan proposal submitted by Sidewalk Labs” was undercut by the fact that it was prepared before Waterfront Toronto had had an opportunity to digest and fully understand the report. I can recognize a hot take and a deadline-driven document when I see it. Its rushed production necessarily limits its utility to the public.

Moreover, the rushed public consultations for which it was prepared, running for three weeks in July, remain a terrible idea.

That said, as I write this (early August, and reviewing it in late August — time travel!), I’m still uncertain what form the upcoming consultations will take, or what the timeline should be. Given Waterfront Toronto’s October 31 ultimatum, I see no sense in Waterfront Toronto publishing either a report on the summer consultations, or issuing its own pre-October 31 report, or holding public consultations before we’ve seen Sidewalk Labs’ response.

But even this talk of extended consultations and consideration is being too generous to Sidewalk Labs. This company has failed, over the past 18 months and so many extensions, to come up with a minimally satisfactory proposal that stuck to the original RFP and didn’t require things that Waterfront Toronto couldn’t possibly deliver. The changes requested by Waterfront Toronto go to the heart of Sidewalk Labs’ MIDP; it doesn’t deserve a rewrite.

Where does this leave us?

So we’ll see.

Personally, in terms of this blogging project, which began over a month ago with the Auditor General of Ontario’s examination of Waterfront Toronto, the Note to Reader, while problematic for the reasons mentioned above, was a nice way to end a journey through some of the most reader-hostile public documents I’ve ever had the mispleasure to endure. So much of the MIDP was so obviously a sales job designed to mask some unbelievably audacious asks that it was draining to get through: it’s difficult to read a document that is designed to mislead and confuse.

I remain far from convinced that Waterfront Toronto is fully owning either its role in this project or the consequences of the events it has set in motion; I’ve already pointed out one instance of what seems to me to be a bit of historical revisionism. I also don’t think that Waterfront Toronto has demonstrated that it is capable of implementing even a scaled-back version of a smart-city project. (Then again, recall that the Ontario Auditor General noted that the province was similarly lacking in this capacity.)

And although Waterfront Toronto has committed to consulting with the other levels of government and effectively giving them a veto over whether the project will go forward, I have no idea how much this promise is worth. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has called the MIDP “a terrible deal for the taxpayers” but I’m not sure what this will mean in concrete terms. Toronto will apparently be holding consultations of some sort. And the Trudeau government apparently is deferring to the Waterfront Toronto board, so I guess no separate, independent oversight from that level of government.

All the more reason to make Quayside a federal election issue, an issue I’ll revisit in a final, wrap-up op-ed that’ll be published soon.

Still, on a professional level, I recognize and appreciate it when a document has been prepared by people who are trying to help others understand the world, to explain rather than to sell us something. Or at least not mainly to sell us something.

For a report whose very existence is problematic, the Note to Reader is – mostly – an honest document. The same cannot be said for Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan.

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Liveblogging Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan, Entry 42: The MIDP Volume 3, Partnership Overview: Chapters 3-7; Supplemental Tables

Could it be? Is this the end? Finally?

Again, these chapters contain summary information of what we’ve already seen, supplemented with some specific details that I’ve noted. The best way to use this post is as a guide to specific topics that you may be interested in.

Previous Master Innovation and Development Plan liveblog entries and relevant documents available here

Chapter 3: Transaction Economics (pp. 148-179)

This chapter comprehensively reviews the financial terms associated with the proposed project, including the assumptions underlying the expected revenue, expenses, and returns associated with the overall transaction. (p. 39)

Introduction (pp. 150-155)

  • Summary of foreseen benefits and commitments by Sidewalk Labs.
  • A reminder, not often stated in this report, that this is a $39 billion project.
  • Table of sources and uses of funds: pages 154-155

Part 1: Sources and Uses of Funds (pp. 156-165)

Real estate at Quayside and Villiers West (pp. 157-160)

This Part discusses how Quayside and Villiers West could be valued. I’m not an expert in land valuation, so I will leave this to others, but it seems to be based on whether you concentrate on the returns it could currently generate based on existing zoning, etc. rules; whether you deliver a scenario that fits Waterfront Toronto’s stated objectives; or whether you take into account all the amazing innovation and economic development this project will deliver for the city.

I think the argument here is that Waterfront Toronto should give Sidewalk Labs a discount based on the amazing-innovation scenario for Quayside. And that “To protect Waterfront Toronto if Quayside’s returns are higher than anticipated, Sidewalk Labs proposes to pay Waterfront Toronto an earnout — a share of upside value above an agreed-upon return threshold — from the Quayside proceeds.” (p. 159)

A question for building and municipal experts: is this type of payout usual?

Infrastructure finance (pp. 161-163)

The proposal: leverage future growth to fund current infrastructure investment. Or governments could do public investment.

LRT financing, which we’ve previously discussed, is on page 161.  Municipal infrastructure financing is on page 162, and advanced systems financing on pages 162-163.

Additional Sidewalk Labs investments (p. 164)

  • Timber factory: up to $80 million (alongside partners)
  • Venture capital: $10 million, alongside partners, including one or more local venture capital firms
  • To create the MIDP: $65 million ($US50 million)
  • Urban Innovation Institute: $10 million grant

Third-party real estate catalyzation (p. 165)

Sidewalk Labs’ internal analysis suggests that beyond Quayside and Villiers West, the IDEA District could generate an additional $29 billion in real estate investment. (p. 165)

Part 2: Public Sector Impact (pp. 166-173)

Measured in terms of property taxes, development charges and total proceeds from the sale of public land, measured through 2050. (p. 167)

A reminder: The further out your projections, the more of a fantasy they become. And as far as I can tell from the charts in this part, the biggest advances don’t happen until the mid-2040s, over 20 years from now. Or, in other words, after self-driving cars have conquered the streets.

Discount these numbers as you see fit.

Part 3: Sidewalk Labs’ Returns (pp. 174-179)

I think we’ve covered this sufficiently. Market returns for financing and real estate, investment in a mass-timber factory, fees for services. Oh, and three performance payments:

Sidewalk Labs would receive an initial payment in 2028 and additional payments in 2032 and 2035, if it achieves additional project milestones. To earn these performance payments Sidewalk Labs must meet growth and performance targets related to the acceleration of development and the achievement of Waterfront Toronto’s priority outcomes. (p. 178)

The targets:

  • 2028: Delivery of Google Canada HQ (A hard one to miss, given that Google and Sidewalk Labs are pretty much the same company)
  • 2032 and 2035: increased development activity measured against a TBD baseline.

In advance of signing Implementation Agreements, the parties would negotiate metrics and target thresholds tied to each priority outcome — job creation, sustainability, mobility, affordability, and urban innovation — for each performance payment.

And also, though they don’t mention it (but should), one big return to Sidewalk Labs is the ability to use Toronto as a calling card for other projects and to develop the skills needed for Sidewalk Labs to get work in other cities.

Page 179 provides a table of their proposed potential revenue sources.

Chapter 4: Achieving Waterfront Toronto’s Priority Outcomes (pp. 180-193)

This chapter presents a series of tables indicating how the various elements of the MIDP advance” Waterfront Toronto objectives, as “first identified in its RFP and elaborated on in the PDA. (p. 49)

There’s nothing here we haven’t seen a million times already, so feel free to check out whatever interests you. The only thing I can think to add is that this Chapter doesn’t even bother to report results at the Quayside level – it’s all IDEA District, all the time.

Introduction (pp. 182-183)

Part 1: Job Creation and Economic Development (pp. 184-185)

Confirming once again that the economic anchor of this proposal is the Villiers West-located Google Branch headquarters and the Urban Innovation Institute. (p. 184) These two projects don’t have much to do with Quayside, do they?

Part 2: Sustainability and Climate-Positive Development (pp. 186-187)

Part 3: Housing Affordability (pp. 188-189)

Part 4: New Mobility (pp. 190-191)

Part 5: Urban Innovation (pp. 192-193)

Ah! The Urban Data Trust is about “protecting … the public good.” (p. 192)

Sigh. This makes as much sense now as it did before.

Chapter 5: Implementation (pp. 194-205)

This chapter describes how the MIDP would be implemented, describing the Implementation Agreements, timelines, and approval processes. (p. 49)

Check it out. My takeaway is that they want this to happen quickly, but I’m not sure how fast various levels of government can (or will) move to accommodate Sidewalk Labs/Google’s wishes.

Part 1: Approval Process, Transaction, and Implementation Timeline (pp. 196-201)

In which we are treated to a timeline of the development of the MIDP and future implementation, if accepted. Here, we learn that Waterfront Toronto in December 2018 “introduced a series of goals and objectives as well as a set of priority outcomes for the MIDP,” and “shared a list of process-focused requirements for the implementation of proposals included in the MIDP, with particular focus on an approach to data privacy and governance.” (p. 196)

This would seem to contradict Waterfront Toronto CEO Stephen Diamond’s claim that

Waterfront Toronto did not co-create the MIDP. While Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs did work together earlier in the process to do research, generate ideas, and consult the public, the roles of the two organizations then separated, allowing Waterfront Toronto to focus on creating a robust framework for review and evaluation of the MIDP. Sidewalk Labs’ responsibility is to prepare and submit the MIDP. (Open Letter from Waterfront Toronto Board Chair, Stephen Diamond regarding Quayside)

On the MIDP evaluation process

We also get some interesting details on what Sidewalk Labs expects the consultation process would look like:

Sidewalk Labs anticipates that Waterfront Toronto will undertake additional public consultation and analysis as part of its formal review and assessment of the draft MIDP. This assessment will likely inform further revisions to the MIDP by Sidewalk Labs. (p. 197)

Depending on when Waterfront Toronto issues its formal MIDP review, the three-week July consultations may be the most consequential input the public gets into this process.

Lending even more credence to the notion that the summer consultations were the most important ones is Sidewalk Labs’ note that it

estimates that the initial approvals for the project [by all three levels of government, I believe]  could be completed by Q1 2020. (p. 197)

That does not leave a lot of time for consultation or consideration, by several levels of government.

 [Note: This post was written mere minutes before Waterfront Toronto announced that it and Sidewalk Labs would be extending the review process. Given that I’m doing these posts on my own time, I decided to let them stand as they were rather than figure out how to revise all these posts in light of this new uncertainty. As I write this particular note, it’s unclear when the public review will happen, or whether it will be focused on this MIDP or a later version, or whether or when Waterfront Toronto will issue a formal reply to this MIDP. Basically, who knows what’s going to happen!]

Part 2: Phase 1 Project Delivery Timeline: Quayside Plan (pp. 202-203)

Page 203 has the Quayside timeline. [Note: The above note holds for all of these timelines.]

Part 3: Phase 2 Project Delivery Timeline: Villiers West Urban Innovation Campus (pp. 204-205)

Page 205 has the Villiers West timeline.

Chapter 6: Stage Gates and Risk Mitigation (pp. 206-215)

This chapter addresses the mechanisms in the transaction designed to ensure that the project advances in phases and limits risks to government and the public, including by requiring Sidewalk Labs to achieve a series of project milestones before advancing to successive stages of the project. (p. 49)

Introduction [listed in Table of Contents as “Stage Gates and Risk Mitigation” (pp. 208-215)

The milestones that would need to be met for everything to continue are listed in a table on page 210.

Additional strategies for managing the risks of innovation (pp. 212-215)

Pages 214 and 215 list the ways Sidewalk Labs would mitigate risks in this project. Worth a look if you’re interested. It doesn’t really have any more details about, say, realistic staffing levels for its proposed agencies.

Chapter 7: Overview of the Participants in IDEA District Development (pp. 216-219)

This chapter summarizes the roles and responsibilities proposed for Sidewalk Labs, Water- front Toronto, the public administrator, the City of Toronto, and other third parties in the success of the MIDP. (p 49)

Participants in the development of the IDEA District [Listed in the Table of Contents as “Overview of the Participants in IDEA District Development”] (pp. 218-219)

All here in two convenient pages. Covered elsewhere; summarized here.

Supplemental Tables (pp. 220-231)

This addendum provides informational tables with further details related to certain aspects of the proposal. (p. 49)

You know what would’ve looked great next to these supplemental tables? The Technical Appendix.

I. Management Entities (pp. 222-223)

We’ve covered all of these ad nauseum, and they don’t provide any answers to our most pressing questions (resources needed to do the job, how to address the inexperience issue). But it’s all in one place, so that’s something.

  • Open Space Alliance: p. 222
  • Urban Data Trust: p. 223
  • Waterfront Housing Trust: p. 223
  • Waterfront Sustainability Association: p. 223
  • Waterfront Transportation Management Association: p. 223

II. Regulatory Adjustments (pp. 224-226)

Again, covered in great detail above, but it’s all here over three pages. That’s a lot of laws to change adjust.

  • Mobility: p. 224
  • Public realm: p. 225
  • Buildings and housing: p. 225
  • Sustainability: p. 226

III. Initial Innovation Design Standards and Guidelines (pp. 227-229)

As they relate to:

  • Mobility: p. 227
  • Public realm: p. 227
  • Buildings and housing: p. 228
  • Sustainability: p. 228
  • Social infrastructure: p. 229

IV. Upfront Permissions (pp. 230-231)

These are the rules that need to change before they start the project. Check them out.

As they relate to:

  • Mobility: p. 230
  • Public realm: p. 231
  • Buildings and housing: p. 231
  • Sustainability: p. 232
  • Social infrastructure: p. 232

And that’s the entire MIDP.

My journey, however, is not yet complete. Up next is the final document on our journey, Waterfront Toronto’s oft-referenced Note to Reader. And then maybe a final summing-up post. Or I might just go curl up somewhere dry and dark and dream of a world without Byzantine smart city plans.

See you tomorrow for the dénouement.



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