Liveblogging Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan, Bonus entry 3: What responsible public consultations look like, and why the Quayside consultations are not that

Previous Master Innovation and Development Plan liveblog entries available here

As a former federal parliamentary committee staffer, who has helped organize my fair share of consultations and who has written many reports on said consultations, it’s been professionally painful witnessing the amateurish chaos storm engulfing the consultations over Sidewalk Labs’ plans for Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront.

To understand exactly how unhelpful the Waterfront consultation process is, imagine for a moment that Sidewalk Labs were a government agency proposing this development, and that a parliamentary committee (Waterfront Toronto) were charged with reviewing it.

In this scenario, the agency would submit its report to the committee, and the worker bees (i.e., me and my colleagues) would begin analyzing it for the committee. The committee clerk, under direction from the committee members, would start scheduling hearings. The hearings would probably begin with agency officials being questioned (in public) about the proposal, followed by public consultations, their intensiveness and extensiveness being determined by the nature of the proposal.

Then, we worker bees would prepare a report and recommendations based on what the committee had heard, and the parliamentarians would discuss and amend the committee report as needed. This report would be used as the basis for adjusting, if needed, the agency’s proposal.

This process could also easily incorporate a review of the revised proposal. For Parliament, it’s up to the government to accept or reject the committee’s recommendations, so this would likely rarely happen, but it’s a logical addition to the Waterfront Toronto-Sidewalk Labs review.

Anyway, that’s what you’d likely see when the system is working: proposal; public consultations; report on the proposal with suggested amendments; final proposal; brief review; final decision.

What not to do

What you would not see is:

  • the committee (i.e., Waterfront Toronto) issuing a de facto preliminary report days after the agency proposal had been submitted, and before the consultations had started.
  • the agency (i.e., Sidewalk Labs) flatly contradicting the committee’s opinion as expressed in said unorthodox preliminary report.
  • the agency conducting its own, post-submission de facto hearings, especially under a name (in this case, Sidewalk Toronto) that will appear to some as if the hearings are being held by the committee.
  • public consultations held before anybody had had a realistic opportunity to analyze the report.
  • a final committee report based on a draft proposal and rushed, inadequate public consultations.
  • a substantive round of consultations, post-committee-report and post-final-draft, in which the public would have to assess both the committee report’s adequacy and the agency’s final proposal.

Of course, nothing about this Quayside/Eastern Waterfront development project is normal. As originally conceived, Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs were/are the co-developers of this project. In this scenario, it would make sense for the two to take their proposal to the public and then modify it based on public and government consultations.

This fundamental dysfunction, in which one partner to the project is seeking the veneer of impartiality and the other can’t stop running public-relations plays, is driving this broken process.

And so we have an ill-advised preliminary report and rushed formal consultations, and Sidewalk Labs holding its own de facto consultations and publicly challenging its partner/overseer.

It’s a mess, but it’s the kind of mess you’d expect when you muddy the distinction between regulator and regulated with absolutely no regard for basic principles of good governance and accountability. To my eyes it’s yet another indication that this entire project is fundamentally unworkable.

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Liveblogging Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan, Bonus entry 2: On poorly designed consultations, conflicts of interest, cheating on the test, and getting to know your business partner

Previous Master Innovation and Development Plan liveblog entries available here

A quick follow-up to Tuesday’s post regarding the, shall we say, haphazard consultation process Waterfront Toronto has convened around Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan. Way back then, some 48 hours ago, I was concerned about the ineffectiveness of holding two weeks of consultations in the depths of summer, which would be used to shape some indeterminate Fall consultations.

Such short consultations on such a comprehensive report, which this series will get to eventually (promise!) and which is almost custom-designed not to be read or understood, seems a sure-fire way to ensure that the only responses you’ll get are rushed analyses from people with the ability to invest the week or so needed to ingest the report, or superficial and/or self-interested takes from people who haven’t done their homework.

Ah, those bygone, innocent times.

Now, thanks to James McLeod’s excellent and mind-boggling article in yesterday’s National Post, my initial bafflement and concern has been upgraded to incredulousness. Here’s the current iteration of Waterfront Toronto’s plan– only parts of which, it cannot be emphasized enough, were included in either its webpage or in the pages of its Note to Reader dealing with public consultations, as best as I can figure, but who knows? Waterfront Toronto is either making this up as they go along or not bothering to communicate their plans precisely with the public:

  • July 25: Waterfront Toronto concludes its in-person consultations.
  • July 31: Last chance to submit responses to its online surveys for inclusion in its September report.
  • September: Waterfront Toronto publishes its response to the MIDP “pulling together criticisms and concerns based on public commentary and responses from the various levels of government.”
  • Next step: Sidewalk Labs responds to Waterfront Toronto’s report with a final MIDP
  • Then: Waterfront Toronto holds another round of public consultations.
  • And finally: Waterfront Toronto performs “an assessment on the final document, and make a recommendation to the board of directors.”

If anything, this process is worse than the one briefly set out in the Note to Reader,  even without commenting on the wildly optimistic deadlines of late 2019/early 2020 they’ve set for themselves.

The Note to Reader made it sound like these summer hearings were basically a public temperature-taking, with the more in-depth consultations to be held in the Fall. In that plan, the biggest problem was that Waterfront Toronto would “include a report on the public feedback during Round One” (p. 47).

Now, it turns out that these rushed, wholly inadequate two-week consultations will feed into Waterfront Toronto’s actual response to the MIDP. The Round Two consultations will actually be focused not only yet another version of the MIDP, but will also have to address whether or not Waterfront Toronto’s response to the draft MIDP was adequate. Which means we will have to go through this entire nonsense again, times two.

This process is absolutely bonkers. If one were actually interested in legitimate, informative public consultation, the consultations would begin in September. This would allow both the public and Waterfront Toronto (which admits has not yet had enough time “to work through and consider the Draft MIDP” (Note to Reader, p. 47)) to take enough time out of their holidays to digest this index-deficient one-thousand-five-hundred-page, four-volume report. Consultations would be extensive, with several sub-rounds of meetings on each part of the report.

Only then, based on Waterfront Toronto’s analysis and public input, would Waterfront Toronto issue its report. Sidewalk Labs would then respond, and Waterfront Toronto could hold a brief second round of hearings addressing the specific changes Sidewalk Labs proposed. Then, based on all that, its Board could decide whether or not to proceed.

This is not that complicated.

Instead, we currently have a process that minimizes both the quality and quantity of up-front public input, and that effectively forces those of us who are deeply engaged in the process, most of whom also have lives outside of this bureaucratic rollercoaster, to double the amount of time we’re devoting to a file whose parameters seem to change on a daily basis. After all, why should I waste my time rushing to finish this unreadable monstrosity in the next seven days, and then spend a day filling out Waterfront Toronto’s survey if there is going to be a second round of consultations?

I’ve been spending most of my working days for the past couple of weeks on Sidewalk Labs-related work, and I’m almost certainly not going to be finished by July 31.

Even Bianca Wylie, who has devoted more time than any other non-Sidewalk Labs/Waterfront Toronto person to this project, is still working her way through the report (according to her tweets). If, 12 days from the consultation deadline, this project’s most attentive critic is still working her way through it, what hope do other Torontonians have of being able to come up with a reasoned opinion by the end of the month?

On a personal note, I fear that this project is turning me into Tristram Shandy.

Waterfront Toronto’s secret judgment criteria

As an added bonus, Waterfront Toronto apparently will not be releasing the criteria it will be using to evaluate the MIDP because, in the words of Waterfront Toronto senior vice-president for project delivery Julius Gombos, “it would be giving away the examination papers to the class before we had the test.”

Which makes absolutely no sense, in any way. This isn’t about testing whether Sidewalk Labs has been paying attention in class; it’s about ensuring that they are delivering what Waterfront Toronto, the customer, is ordering. You should want Sidewalk Labs to see the answers.

It’s also about accountability. Beyond Sidewalk Labs, you should want the public to know how you’re evaluating its proposal, so that we can tell if Waterfront Toronto is asking the right questions. And also to ensure that everything is being done on the up-and-up because, to be blunt, Waterfront Toronto does not have a lot of credibility when it comes to this project.

Partner or oversight agency? Waterfront Toronto’s already made its choice

More news from McLeod’s article: If only boneheaded scheduling decisions were the worst of Waterfront Toronto’s missteps. It also faces a fatal legitimacy-challenging conflict of interest:

Originally Waterfront Toronto worked cooperatively with Sidewalk Labs on research and generating ideas for the new neighbourhood, but last year the federal-provincial-municipal agency repositioned itself as an oversight agency, assessing the MIDP.

Here’s the thing. Waterfront Toronto can’t simply “reposition[ ] itself as an oversight agency.” The Plan Development Agreement (which I’ll cover in Monday’s post, so, spoilers), signed by Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs on July 31 of last year, commits the two organizations to deep cooperation, including the joint preparation of the MIDP.

When in the “last year” did Waterfront Toronto make the decision to alter the nature of its relationship with Sidewalk Labs? I’ve been following this story pretty clearly and I don’t recall hearing about it. As far as I know, the Plan Development Agreement – again, which is not even a year old – was never amended or superseded.

And even beyond this legalese, this “close contractual relationship,” as McLeod calls it, emerged from the incredibly tight relationship that was apparent from the moment this project was announced. Recall that Will Fleissig, the former Waterfront Toronto CEO who oversaw the RFP and choice of Sidewalk Labs, was forced out by the Waterfront Toronto Board in July 2018 in part because of “his oversight of a decision to allow Sidewalk Labs personnel to temporarily occupy office space in the Waterfront Toronto headquarters.”

Legally, the two are joined. They have a deep, intertwined history, by design. These conflicts of interest are insoluble, meaning Waterfront Toronto cannot act as an independent arbiter of the MIDP. This relationship was never on the table.

I can’t help but think that some Waterfront Toronto employees know all this, that these consultation contortions are being driven by the realization that the original Request for Proposals, conducted under a previous CEO, was fatally flawed. The RFP has placed Waterfront Toronto in an untenable governance situation, opening a Pandora’s Box that previous leadership perhaps thought they could control. As much as anything else, inertia, rather than basic good governance principles, seems to be driving this very flawed process forward.

Inertia carries the day

In fact, it’s hard to read one final amazing (in a bad way) revelation in McLeod’s article as anything other than an exercise in path-dependent damage control. Apparently Waterfront Toronto is tracking Google’s “corporate conduct.”

(Note: the article refers to Alphabet, which is formally Google and Sidewalk Labs’ parent company, but for all practical purposes, Alphabet is Google.)

Kristina Verner, vice-president of innovation, sustainability and prosperity at Waterfront Toronto, said that the public agency has been keeping tabs on Alphabet’s corporate conduct.

“Certainly, Sidewalk itself is a relatively new company; that being said, it is a child of Alphabet,” Verner said.

“All of the infractions, all of the violations that have been reported over the last few years, and before then, we actually have a tracker where we’ve been documenting all of that, so we have our eyes fully open as well.”

Verner said that tracking Alphabet’s corporate behaviour is important in order to have a clear sense of who they’re dealing with “when we discuss what the partnership looks like, and the ethical underpinning of it.”

To which one can only say, how could Waterfront Toronto not possibly already have “a clear sense” (McLeod’s paraphrasing of Verner) about what type of company Google is? It’s one of the biggest companies on the planet! A quick Yahoo! search reveals this 2012 Wired article, titled “Google is Evil.” Or how about “Top 10 Ways Google Does Evil,” published mere weeks before Sidewalk Labs officially won the RFP?

And that’s just general Google bad behaviour. Much more relevant for Waterfront Toronto is Google’s behaviour toward a couple of other acquisitions. DeepMind Health (a UK health AI company), and Nest (smart appliances) were initially treated as Google sister companies before being absorbed into Google itself, raising privacy and data-governance concerns.

Given everything we know, any responsible analysis has to assume that Sidewalk Labs is Google.

It strains credulity to think that anyone at Waterfront Toronto in 2017 would not have been aware about the type of company Google is.

So, the question for Waterfront Toronto is, given “all of the infractions, all of the violations” that you have been tracking, given all that we know about Google, why do you think that they can be trusted to develop Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront?

It’s a question that should’ve been asked in 2017, but better late than never.

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Liveblogging Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan, Entry 5: Enter the gondola! Every Sidewalk Labs promise to Toronto in its Project Vision document, and the one thing they won’t do

Previous Master Innovation and Development Plan liveblog entries available here

The fun thing about vision statements, particularly those written by tech companies, is that they’re not necessarily constrained by reality. Think Elon Musk’s Hyperloop vision. As Jalopnik’s Aaron Gordon noted, “in a mere two years we’ve gone from a futuristic vision of electric skates zooming around a variety of vehicles in a network of underground tunnels to—and I cannot stress this enough—a very small, paved tunnel that can fit one (1) car.”

Overpromise, underdeliver.

Best to keep this in mind when reading things like the Vision Statement from Sidewalk Labs – a company that has yet to do almost any of the things it has promised Toronto.

But what promises! Below is a list of the promises made by Sidewalk Labs in their Project Vision document. I might’ve missed a few over the document’s 196 pages; I didn’t mention some types of promises, such as to partner with a particular company to achieve a stated goal/promise; and there is a bit of overlap among some of them. That said, it’s pretty clear that a whole lot of imagineering went into this document.

These promises are the hooks that Sidewalk Labs is using to convince the public that their Quayside and (if all goes according to plan) eastern waterfront plan is just awesome. Heated sidewalks! Timber skyscrapers! Some of the proposals are far-fetched (as one engineering professor told me, self-driving cars are five years away, and will be for the foreseeable future), while others may not be.

At the end of the day, these promises, while bright and shiny, are merely a sideshow to the main issue: who will set the rules – who will be the effective government – in Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront. Failure is a fundamental part of innovation. And if you want to build an innovation lab, you have to expect that a lot of your ideas will fail. Or that business conditions will change, rendering your previously fantastic idea unprofitable. This last point is particularly important if a smart city is being implemented by a for-profit company.

What’s more, in the software industry (Google’s home base), overpromising and underdelivering is a huge part of the business model. Most of these promises are vapourware – products that Sidewalk Labs would like to develop but that don’t currently exist and may never exist. That’s par for the course.

But that’s also why the question of who will be setting the rules is so important. Anybody can come up with brilliant, futuristic ideas. Turning the keys to the city, including rule-setting and de facto taxation powers, over to a foreign, for-profit company with no experience in running a city? That’s something else entirely.

But we’ll get back to the governance issues in later posts. In the meantime, here is an incomplete list of Sidewalk Labs’ promises, and one thing they don’t want to do. Enterprising journalists might want to check out this list and determine which proposals have a chance at success, which ones don’t, and exactly would be required (in terms of technology and regulations) to make them work. Evaluating whether Sidewalk Labs is making credible promises, on a proposal-by-proposal basis, would go a long way to injecting some substance into the Quayside debate.

Also, I want a gondola. Seriously – it had better be in the ultimate Master Innovation and Development Plan. #teamgondola

“THIS IMAGE IS FOR ILLUSTRATIVE PURPOSES ONLY AND DOES NOT REFLECT ANY PLANNING PRODUCT”: What Sidewalk Labs promises to do for Quayside and the Eastern Waterfront…

(Illustration label, Appendix, p. 111)

Sidewalk Labs finds a catchphrase and makes a promise

Quayside will be “the world’s first neighbourhood built from the internet up” (p. 15)

A Neighbourhood from the Internet Up (Appendix title)

Building new neighbourhoods from the internet up is a remarkable opportunity to embed emerging digital capabilities into core infrastructure from the start. (p. 12)

A neighbourhood from the internet up combines the advantages of a global city with a close-knit community. (p. 17)

AT THE HEART OF SIDEWALK’S APPROACH to building a neighbourhood from the internet up is viewing it as a platform that integrates the physical environment with digital technology, creating the core conditions for urban innovation. (p. 18)

In this way, the public realm in a neighbourhood from the internet up will be a throwback to cities past. (p. 24)

The public realm in a neighbourhood from the internet up will not be confined to one area. (p. 25)

UTILITIES IN A NEIGHBOURHOOD FROM THE INTERNET UP will be off the streets and easily accessible, housed in a system of utility channels that prevent old infrastructure and messy road work from impeding innovation. (p. 28)

Sidewalk’s approach to making Quayside the first neighbourhood from the internet up centres around five planning goals … (p. 42)

An enormous benefit of building a neighbourhood from the internet up is that needed sensing technology can be built in from the start. (p. 68)

The vision thing

When people look around Quayside, they might see a retail shop turning into artist housing as part of a flexible building pilot. Or a self-driving shuttle dropping off passengers during a test ride. Or a community group using a digital kiosk to provide feedback on a local planning discussion. Or a new urban innovation institute, home to a campus of entrepreneurs itching to solve the toughest problems facing cities. (p. 15)

Several things will make this project globally significant. First, the firsts: the things that have never been done. The Eastern Waterfront will be the first district where the only vehicles are shared and self-driving, where buildings have no static use, where streets are never dug up. (p. 16)

Nowhere else will mobility innovation meet streets designed for it. Nowhere else will housing be more affordable based not on policy alone but on how things are built. And nowhere else will all this innovation exist in a single place. (p. 16)

Economic development

Sidewalk will work with local institutions such as the University of Toronto and Ryerson University to establish an urban innovation institute, bringing together academia, industry, government, and entrepreneurs to address the growth challenges facing cities. This applied research institute can create a talent pipeline and a real-time knowledge-exchange with pioneering companies, just as Stanford does with digital startups in Silicon Valley, and Cornell Tech does with engineers in New York. (p. 31)

The urban innovation institute “will support cross-discipline, graduate-level degree programs, a broad range of faculty research with areas of deep specialty, such as application of artificial intelligence, and research and curriculum with potential reach into policy, governance, finance, and other relevant disciplines.” (Appendix, p. 70)

…the cluster will extend beyond core mobility products. New companies in areas like financial services, operations, infrastructure, technology, and energy will gather or emerge to provide related services. Insurance companies might use the data-rich environment to explore new underwriting models. Cleantech companies might deploy new types of charging stations for self-driving electric vehicles. (p. 31)

Sidewalk will partner with large tech employers and local institutions to establish an advanced skills training program—a target identified in the recent federal budget—where workers can develop high-demand skillsets for the digital economy. (p. 31)

Sidewalk will work with the Waterfront Toronto Employment Initiative to identify talent from the surrounding neighbourhoods for technology training programs, as well as broader employment opportunities created by the cluster. (p. 31)

by offering programs geared toward school children, the training effort can inspire the next generation of technology entrepreneurs in addition to training today’s workforce. (p. 31)

once this living laboratory expands to the scale of the Eastern Waterfront, Toronto will become the urban innovation anchor for the world, generating new economic activity from unexpected places. (p. 31)

Sidewalk estimates that, at full build, the Quayside neighborhood will house more than 5,500 jobs and generate more than 50 million CAD of annual property taxes. (p. 32)

depending on the scope of the development program agreed upon by Sidewalk and Waterfront Toronto for the Eastern Waterfront, its impact on jobs and tax generation when fully built could be ten times that of Quayside. (p. 32)

Sidewalk will explore ways for early-stage companies to deploy innovations to “alpha” communities of early adopters who opt in, leading to faster testing and iteration of new urban innovations. (p. 33)

Sidewalk will also look to provide early-stage companies with makerspace to test new materials or manufacturing capabilities … (pp. 33-34)

Sidewalk will create opportunities for marquee North American VCs (and their talent networks) to participate directly in the funding of innovations. (p. 34)

In Quayside, Sidewalk’s team will scan the marketplace and engage relevant early-stage companies. (p. 34)

Sidewalk will provide a co-working space for students, entrepreneurs, and academics who want to advance the state of the art in urban technology. (Appendix, p. 70)

Sidewalk will engage local manufacturers on circular economy concepts, devising pilot projects where appropriate, if it is determined to be a priority by Waterfront Toronto in the context of the overall project. (Technical Appendix, p. 168)

Sidewalk will explore approaches to tagging reusable components, if it is determined to be a priority by Waterfront Toronto in the context of the overall project. (Technical Appendix, p. 169)

At the Urban Innovation Institute:

A dedicated staff will nurture the developer community and make connections between groups. A dedicated technical staff deeply versed in the details of the digital layer will be able to advise on its use, help new developers get up to speed, debug issues, and take lessons from this process back to the platform development team to effect improvements to the platform and APIs themselves. (Appendix, p. 70)

Energy and the environment: Climate change

In Toronto, deploying similar innovations, Sidewalk believes it is feasible for Quayside to approach carbon-neutrality, and for the Eastern Waterfront to realize Waterfront Toronto’s climate-positive goal. (p. 32)

Through the microgrid, “enabling the Eastern Waterfront to export clean thermal energy to downtown neighbourhoods and achieve Waterfront Toronto’s climate-positive ambition.” (p. 21)

Energy and the environment: Energy production

a thermal grid that taps multiple existing sources of energy for circulation and reuse, making it possible to heat and cool buildings without fossil fuels (p. 18)

capture enough renewable energy through an advanced microgrid to meet Waterfront Toronto’s goals for onsite power generation. (p. 18)

realize Waterfront Toronto’s target of 10 percent onsite power generation using roof and façade photovoltaics, as well as battery storage. Between these efforts, Sidewalk expects to reduce draw from the Toronto Hydro electric grid by 75 percent per capita versus existing conditions. (p. 22)

Sidewalk will seek to pilot in Quayside, and scale up across the Eastern Waterfront, a multi-source district heating and cooling system called the thermal grid. Unlike systems that only rely on a single source, the thermal grid will tap and export multiple sources of waste or free heat and cool in the area: geothermal, waste heat from sewers and the Portlands Energy Centre, deep lake cooling, and the capture and reuse of waste heat and cool from within the buildings themselves. (p. 23)

Sidewalk will pilot a thermal grid in Quayside using waste heat from building and ground sources, but tapping the large sources of waste heat and Lake Ontario cooling will require the scale of the Eastern Waterfront to be economical. (p. 24)

Energy and the environment: Housing

adopt Passive House building standards that go beyond LEED to manage the thermal load that is the largest cause of energy demand in buildings.” (p. 18)

A cluster of Passive House buildings at Quayside will climb the learning curve and make it possible for the Eastern Waterfront to be entirely Passive House at no incremental cost. (p. 21)

To reduce construction waste, Sidewalk will experiment with more eco-friendly building materials, such as tall timber. (p. 18)

Energy and the environment: Waste disposal

Sidewalk will implement the smart disposal system in Quayside, including macerators in kitchens, smart chutes with PAYT capability for inorganic waste, a robot-powered waste movement system, and an onsite anaerobic digester at either the neighbourhood or the building scale. (Appendix, p. 96)

The waste-disposal details:

  • pilot a smart disposal chain in multifamily buildings that consists of sensor-enabled waste separation for recycling and onsite anaerobic digestion for composting, dramatically reducing landfill waste. (p. 18)

  • a robotic sorting system that diverts more than 90 percent of waste without the hassle of manual separation. (p. 21) Robots will transport solid waste underground and out of sight. (p. 21)

  • Sidewalk will deploy a digitally enabled smart chute system that will help pay-as-you-throw waste regimes succeed in multifamily buildings by making it possible to differentiate between recyclables and trash. (p. 22)

  • handle organic waste through a separate system culminating in an onsite anaerobic digester. Such a system will require minimal additional effort from users but will achieve vastly better outcomes— at a minimum, a 90 percent landfill diversion in household waste. (p. 22)

Energy and the environment: Water disposal

“an intuitive purple-pipe pilot will help tenants reuse greywater.” (p. 18) “While Sidewalk will explore onsite rainwater capture and treatment for potable uses, the Ashbridges Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant could easily supply the entire Eastern Waterfront (including Quayside) with nonpotable water” (p. 24). The system would work “indoors as well as outdoors, … so residents and workers become familiar with the idea of not using drinking water for all domestic purposes.” (p. 22)

Energy and the environment: Bio…

Sidewalk would be pleased to work with Waterfront Toronto toward a formal biophilia plan, if it is determined to be a priority by Waterfront Toronto toward a formal biophilia plan, if it is determined to be a priority by Waterfront Toronto in the context of the overall project. (Technical Appendix, p. 171)

Sidewalk has a track record of working with advanced, healthy, bio-based materials, and is eager to work A2-A Innovation Category) with Waterfront Toronto towards a strategy for their use. (Technical Appendix, p. 171)

Heated sidewalks

retractable canopies in public spaces and heated bike and pedestrian paths to melt snow. (p. 19)


In Quayside, Sidewalk plans to deliver modular buildings using advanced manufacturing to save time and money during construction. (p. 18)

Sidewalk will also demonstrate a flexible building typology, Loft, with a strong shell and minimalistic interior that makes it quick and easy to convert building uses. (p. 18)

In its Quayside iteration, a Loft pilot could contain parking space that transitions to other uses once shared mobility reduces private car use. (p. 27)

Sidewalk has also been experimenting with more sustainable building materials, including mycelium insulation and tall timber skeletons, and intends to pilot such structures in Quayside as a first step to adoption in the Eastern Waterfront. (p. 22)

Sidewalk proposes to make Quayside a living laboratory for housing policy innovation that delivers a mixed-occupancy community that mirrors Toronto’s socioeconomic diversity. (p. 27)

From a business perspective, flexible building design and modular construction methodologies reduced barriers to entering a market, with 12.5 percent savings on commercial fit-out costs. (p. 33)

Sidewalk will also pursue models of partial [housing] ownership that have proven to be successful in Toronto and abroad. (Appendix, p. 126)

Sidewalk is exploring potential materials innovations in Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs), a standard construction material. (Appendix, p. 112)


Connectivity will be ubiquitous in Quayside, consisting of high-speed wired communications over fibre and copper; high bandwidth wireless communications over Wi-Fi and cellular technologies; and long- range, low-bandwidth connectivity using low-power wide-area network technologies. (p. 24)

Sidewalk will deploy a shared wired and wireless backbone that creates seamless coverage and service competition. Each access point will offer wireless connectivity via current and emerging standards, including (1) Wi-Fi (2) LTE and (3) LoRa (long-range, low-power radio), leveraging software-defined radios to optimize coverage and throughput. (Appendix, p. 68)

Quayside will have multiple overlapping communications networks—an opportunity to evaluate relative value. (Appendix, p. 70)

Sidewalk will combine cloud software, sensors, and controls into a new ‘active stormwater management’ system that will reduce the size and cost of future stormwater infrastructure needed in the Eastern Waterfront. (Technical Appendix, p. 170)

At district scale:

a system of utility channels to accommodate all networked utilities. These will provide space for electric wires, telecom conduits, and water and district heating pipes, as well as space for small-scale robots to travel between building basements and under walkable streets. The channels will enable the fast provision of new types of utilities as they emerge, and will make it easy to maintain systems without disruptive utility work. Finally, the robot lanes provide the network that will allow a new type of urban freight system to emerge, beginning with solid waste handling. (p. 23)

Public spaces

a public realm management system, enabled by sensor arrays, that monitors air quality, asset conditions, and usage, helping managers respond quickly to emerging needs, from broken benches to overflowing waste bins. (to “enable tests of reservable outdoor spaces for short-term uses, such as pop-up shops”) (p. 19)

a next-gen bazaar, a tech-enabled makerspace with activity stalls that can be refreshed quickly. (p. 19)

a series of blue “water rooms”—from floating theatres to homes—will create new life on the lake. (p. 21)

Sidewalk’s analysis suggests that managing wind, sun, and precipitation can double the number of daylight hours when it is comfortable to be outside (see inset graphic). (p. 28)

Sidewalk will pilot flexible space allocations using embedded LED lights, enabling a temporary bike lane to become a pedestrian laneway on demand, for instance. (p. 28)

a dynamic range of local, independent, and diverse amenities to activate the public realm, support residents and workers, attract visitors, and contribute to high-quality placemaking. … provid[ing] radical flexibility at much lower cost, attracting the most innovative amenity concepts from across Toronto and North America. Critically, it will lower the barrier for new entrants and enable the community gathering places that have become increasingly important in the digital age. (p. 29)

Sidewalk believes the Eastern Waterfront can aspire toward the 51 percent green space coverage found in one feasibility study site—though even half that would represent a significant improvement over the 13 percent of land currently dedicated to green space in greater Toronto. (p. 33)

Sidewalk will endeavour to offer residents garden space within the site to invigorate the community. (Technical Appendix, p. 164)

Sidewalk will work with Waterfront Toronto to create a proposed set of standards for local food procurement and employment within the site. (Technical Appendix, p. 163)

Sidewalk would be enthusiastic about including food start-ups as part of the start-up ecosystem Sidewalk – hopes to foster at Quayside and on the Eastern Waterfront. (Technical Appendix, p. 164)

Sidewalk will explore ways to encourage the sale of “uglies” in the site, and will seek to gather and redistribute useful waste in all forms as part of a holistic waste management program. (Technical Appendix, p. 164)

Social cohesion

a neighbourhood assistant tool to facilitate social cooperation and public feedback. (pp. 19-20)

Quayside residents will be able to use the neighbourhood assistant for maintenance or sanitation requests, for instance, or to report an issue with their local playground. (p. 30)

Sidewalk expects to meaningfully increase volunteer rates over the Toronto average. (p. 33)

Social services and quality of life

Sidewalk’s Care Lab is actively developing digital tools to integrate primary care and social services for city residents. (p. 20)

integrate primary care and social services data to deliver more proactive healthcare to city residents. (p. 30)

Sidewalk will work with local providers to build a digital social service tool that can enable more personalized care. (p. 30)

In Sidewalk’s feasibility studies, … Sidewalk achieved a projected 100 Walkability score, … Walking, cycling, and shared electric vehicles cut harmful transportation emissions by a projected 67 percent compared with the surrounding metro area. Advances in telehealth and the expansion of hyper-local pop-up clinics made access to healthcare more convenient. …  Sidewalk expects similar targets to be achievable on the Eastern Waterfront. (p. 33)

Based on its feasibility studies, Sidewalk expects Torontonians to reduce cost of living by 10 percent or more in a revitalized Eastern Waterfront, with a large share of savings coming from the 1,400 CAD per month families spend on transportation. (p. 32)


Sidewalk seeks to explore the effectiveness of different types of building controls, which are among the most potent ways to reduce energy consumption, but which still lack standardization and scale. (p. 22)

New predictive modelling techniques and real-time monitoring can enable a shift to an outcome-based building code. (p. 27)


A mobility system as convenient as private cars at much lower cost. (p. 19)

a self-driving transit shuttle, a strategy identified in the Quayside Draft Vision Document. (p. 19)

An adaptive traffic light pilot (being incubated by Sidewalk’s Semaphore Lab) will use sensing technology to detect pedestrians and cyclists and prioritize their safe movement through congested intersections. (p. 19)

A managed parking pilot (being developed by Sidewalk’s portfolio company Flow) will direct cars to available parking, reducing the emissions and congestion caused by circling. (p. 19)

A mobility-as-a- service platform will help users take advantage of all mobility options, and will facilitate an on-demand shared ride system. (p. 19)

When a mobility-as-a-service pilot in Quayside scales across the Eastern Waterfront, it not only enables families to abandon auto-ownership without sacrificing convenience,

it also combines with self-driving shuttles to turn every corner into a transit stop. (p. 21)

“an urban freight transit system, using robots to make deliveries via utility channels.” (p. 19) “an internal delivery system to all businesses and residents in Quayside, and will seek to expand a successful system to the entire Eastern Waterfront.” (p. 29)

“Across the waterfront, the streets will restrict conventional vehicles, with a mobility network primarily serving pedestrians, cyclists, and taxibot transit.” (p. 21) “with a target operational date of summer 2018.” (Appendix, p. 154; emphasis added, target missed)

For visitors who have no good driving alternative, Sidewalk is developing parking technology to make fast curbside drop-offs and pick-ups easy. (p. 28)

Through these efforts, Sidewalk expects Quayside to achieve a world- class level of car-free urban mobility, with ownership rates of less than 20 percent among Quayside residents— lower than most of downtown Toronto. That rate will save families thousands of dollars a year, reduce the neighbourhood’s carbon footprint, and cut the number of necessary parking spaces in half, opening more space for the critical elements of a complete community: affordable housing, the public realm, and local amenities. (pp. 28-29)

reinvent urban mobility using the most revolutionary technology development in transportation since the jet engine: the self-driving vehicle. (p. 29)

Some single-person self- driving vehicles might eventually be integrated into an elevated transport system, such as a gondola.” (p. 29; emphasis added, because who wouldn’t want a gondola?)

On the Eastern Waterfront, Sidewalk will pilot a personal rapid transit skyway system. It will combine overhead transport with lightweight vehicles and structures, and technology to make services personalizable. This could take the form of individually dispatchable gondolas, self-driving pods … that might be able to travel on land and connect at tower-launching stations to aerial skyway cables or guideways. Advances in battery and material technology might also make it possible for lightweight overhead ramps to carry small-scale, self-driving vehicles as well as bicycles. (Appendix, p. 152)

a new urban traffic system for the Eastern Waterfront called the Ground Traffic Control System. Building on the adaptive traffic signals and parking technology tested in Quayside, as well as onboard navigation in self-driving vehicles, GTCS will optimize routes to balance individual and system efficiency, dramatically enhancing the performance of urban streets. (p. 29)

On the Eastern Waterfront, Sidewalk estimates a substantial increase from the 10 percent of trips taken by foot or bike in Toronto today, and a sizeable reduction in the city’s 66-minute average daily commute. (p. 32)

The street grid will be designed specifically for pedestrians, cyclists, and shared, self-driving vehicles. And the neighbourhood will immediately be open for controlled pilots of self-driving cars, including a shuttle between Quayside and Cherry Beach. (Appendix, p. 144)

While the majority of Quayside’s mobility needs will be met by Sidewalk’s suite of land-based solutions, ferries will offer valuable service to the larger Eastern Waterfront site. … New high-speed ferry vessels would be smaller and meet current damage stability criteria set by Transport Canada. (Appendix, p. 153)

Sidewalk’s app will ensure that users are not locked into one interface for all of their trips to and from Quayside. (Appendix, p. 142)

Incremental changes can make the Parliament and Cherry Street underpasses more attractive, but Sidewalk also envisions a significant investment to create a visible, attractive, and iconic link to the waterfront. (p. 28)

… and one can’t/won’t

Waterfront Toronto request: “Invest 2% of annual profit in sustainable food R&D fund”

Sidewalk Labs response: “At this time, Sidewalk is unable to make specific commitments to a sustainable food R&D fund, which will depend on the nature of the financial partnership between Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk, however Sidewalk is interested in working with WT to support sustainable food practices. (Technical Appendix, p. 164)

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Liveblogging Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan, Entry 4: Sidewalk Labs’ Project Vision

Previous Master Innovation and Development Plan liveblog entries available here

Reading Sidewalk Labs’ Project Vision document – essentially an extended excerpt from its submission to Waterfront Toronto’s Request for Proposals – alongside Waterfront Toronto’s RFP brought to mind several thoughts.

  1. Sidewalk Labs is responding to the questions it was asked.

This doesn’t necessarily make Sidewalk Labs’ plan a good one, but it does demonstrate that its plans did not come out of the blue. To the extent that Sidewalk Labs’ plan is flawed, Waterfront Toronto deserves a significant amount of blame for opening the gate to a proposal like this in the first place.

  1. Sidewalk Labs (and by extension Waterfront Toronto) did not play fair when releasing their Project Vision document.

In the letter that accompanied the release of Sidewalk Labs’ “Project Vision” Sidewalk Labs CEO Daniel L. Doctoroff claimed: “We’ve decided to release the vision we laid out in our response, both in the interest of transparency and to start what promises to be a history-making public conversation.”

As part of the proposal, Waterfront Toronto required that applicants submit a “Project Vision and Business Implementation Plan,” not to exceed 25 pages. Sidewalk Labs released the first 19 pages of this document, covering the Project Vision part of the document:

A1. Vision

A2. Sustainability & Innovation Submission

A3. Complete Communities Submission

A4. Economic Development & Prosperity Submission Requirements

These sections, as I’ll detail in my next post, mainly amount to a whole bunch of promises centered on cool-sounding vapourware.

Unfortunately, the meat of these proposals, mainly how these cool-sounding projects would be organized and run, was covered in the very next section, A5. Approach to Business Case and Financial Requirements, which is not included.

Here’s some of what’s in that excluded section (quoting from the RFP):

Legal Structure Approach: Describe how you would approach the following:
i. Roles and Responsibilities: Provide an initial proposal of roles and responsibilities for Waterfront Toronto and the Partner, understanding that Waterfront Toronto intends to remain an active partner and investor in this and future phases of the Project through to its completion.
ii. Legal Structures & Documents: Describe required legal structure and documents required to implement the partnership.
iii. Risks & Benefits: Propose how risks and benefits will be shared. How will you create an assessment tool to allocate risks between Waterfront Toronto and the Partner?
iv. Intellectual Property: Provide a preliminary framework for a potential management approach for Intellectual Property introduced to or developed through the Project, and any revenue sharing between Waterfront Toronto and the Partner.
v. “Off-Ramps”: How could the venture be unwound in the event that the Project is not achieving its goals?
vi. “On-Ramps”: How could new partners/participants be included in the Project? Are there any ownership/equity considerations?

As a result, there is almost nothing in the vision statement on the key question of data governance, which makes it impossible for an outsider to evaluate seriously their vision document. Instead it’s all awesome coolness, from a Google company, a company that has a poor record on follow-through on its big projects (hi, Google Fiber!) and killing off socially useful but profit-challenged products (I’m still upset about Google’s euthanasia of late, great Google Reader).

And my handy Preview search function tells me that intellectual property is not mentioned a single time, including in the 172-page appendices (Sidewalk Labs does love to pad its documents).

  1. To get the contract, Sidewalk Labs promised the moon, leaning heavily on its Google connection to make the case that it can deliver, even without any track record.

Seriously, they really promised the (vapourware) moon. They promised so many things that I decided to detail every single promise in their vision statement in my next post. Spoiler: they made a lot of promises.

  1. This whole exercise should’ve been conducted within government and not outsourced to a for-profit corporation.

Sidewalk Labs’ “success metrics” make this point. The most interesting thing about them is their banality. Why did Waterfront Toronto need an outside company to tell it that “cost of living (with 11 subsets around rent, transportation, and more), carbon emissions, walkability, park access, job growth, civic participation, and time saved commuting” (p. 17) should be important measurements? Although “smart cities” and “data” sound intimidating, they’re not rocket science. A city, no matter how “smart,” still involves people living in and using spaces, and moving from Point A to Point B. If a development organization can’t figure these things out, we have a problem.

  1. Scope overreach

While Waterfront Toronto was relatively up-front that the goal was to establish Quayside and then scale up (somehow) to the entire eastern waterfront, Sidewalk Labs’ Vision document seems to make clear that most of their (many, many, many) promises could only come true if they were implemented on the scale of the eastern waterfront. In their defence, Sidewalk Labs has been (relatively) consistent on this point (if you plow through all of these documents). And given that, according to the Ontario Auditor General’s report, Waterfront Toronto has been looking for a way to better involve itself in the wider waterfront development, Sidewalk Labs’ insistence that so much of its awesome stuff could only work at the scale of the waterfront, could be seen as being a means to this end. In other words, what looks to the outside world as problematic scope overreach might be seen by Waterfront Toronto as a feature, not a bug.

  1. Sidewalk Labs’ “standards layer” represents a bid for it to become a central governing body of Quayside (etc.). It also goes far beyond what the RFP asked for.

Among the ocean of promises and hype in this document, Sidewalk Labs’ discussion of how it approaches both regulation and working with relevant government authorities is most illuminating.

In Sidewalk Labs’ version of the smart city, the city – Quayside and the Eastern Waterfront – is the platform. And so, when Sidewalk Labs says it needs to set the “standards level,” “the rules for residents, administrators, and developers using and building atop the platform” (p. 18) it’s effectively asking to co-govern Quayside and the Eastern Waterfront. Sidewalk Labs wants to set the building codes to fit its view on what is best for… all Torontonians? Efficiency? Development? Equity? In Sidewalk Labs’ world, the notion that there could be conflicting and equally legitimate opinions on such issues doesn’t arise. Instead, it’s uncontroversially assumed that Sidewalk Labs will set the rules, and these will objectively be the best ones possible. There are no politics in  the city of Sidewalk Labs’ dreams.

Accomplishing all of this will require a high level of central planning and standardization, no matter the language of flexibility found in this document. Consider modular, “flexible” buildings, a key element of Sidewalk Labs’ plan. For these to work, they require, as Sidewalk Labs recognizes, that all the buildings be “interchangeable.” As a result, “this interchangeability [in buildings] requires a high degree of standardization, including dimensions, basic services provided in each building, and the interior components themselves.” (Appendix, p. 118)

In short, “highly flexible” buildings of the type promised by Sidewalk Labs will only be flexible within the parameters set by Sidewalk Labs. This isn’t Jane Jacobs-style urban innovation: it’s central planning on a Soviet scale.

My completely uninformed prediction: We’re going to end up with ugly same-looking building blocks.

And talk of working with other government authorities brings us to …

  1. Proof, pudding, eating

On situations in which Sidewalk Labs’ plans touch the responsibilities of other governments or agencies: “In all cases, the best strategy is to start conversations early and recognize the perspectives and interests of potential partners. Sidewalk will work with these entities to develop approaches that meet their fundamental needs while also creating the flexibility necessary to innovate.” (p. 26)

I’ll guess we’ll see the extent to which Sidewalk Labs’ MIDP takes into account the “fundamental needs” of other organizations.

Next post, Sidewalk Labs’ promises to Toronto. It’s going to be a long one.

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Liveblogging Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan, Entry 3: Sidewalk Labs CEO Project Vision Open Letter

Previous Master Innovation and Development Plan liveblog entries available here

Before getting to the meat of Sidewalk Labs’ original response to the RFP, it’s worth noting that what they’ve released is accompanied by a letter from Sidewalk Labs CEO Daniel L. Doctoroff. In the letter, dated October 17, 2017, Doctoroff includes a pitch that invites public consultation:

We’ve decided to release the vision we laid out in our response, both in the interest of transparency and to start what promises to be a history-making public conversation. We hope all Torontonians—and city-lovers far and wide—will join in. Which urban challenges are most urgent? Where can technology prove useful in finding solutions, and where is it not the right tool? Which of our ideas are great, which are crazy, and what did we miss?

We need your ideas, your aspirations, your critiques, your concerns. We hope you’ll email us, call us, tweet at us, and, if possible, join us in person at a series of public conversations, beginning with a Community Town Hall in early November.

As it happens, it was this initial November 2017 Town Hall meeting that interested both Dr. Natasha Tusikov and me in studying smart cities, data governance and the Quayside project. Smart cities are “smart” because of how they collect data via surveillance. And so we were surprised and a bit alarmed when reps from a Google company and from a  government agency that wanted to set up a smart city spent so much time on fanciful infrastructure projects and so little time on data and surveillance issues, and none that I can recall on intellectual property.

As we livestreamed the meeting, we couldn’t for the life of us square the insistence at the Town Hall that individual privacy would be respected with our understanding that a smart city only works if everything is being observed. Would the price of heated sidewalk be the observation of our every movement?  But even if you didn’t want to go that far, it really did seem like neither Google’s Sidewalk Labs nor Waterfront Toronto wanted to talk about data, emphasizing the physical instead of the virtual.

It turns out that this was a pretty accurate assessment of the situation. The April 2018 creation of the Digital Strategy Advisory Panel was an admission by Waterfront Toronto that they had been caught off-guard by the public interest in the digital and data aspects of what is almost entirely a digital- and data-driven project.

As for the other partner, the August 14, 2018, Toronto Star headline – “Sidewalk Labs unveils plans for timber towers, raincoats for buildings in Quayside, but Torontonians must wait for data details” – perfectly captures how Sidewalk Labs carried itself. Ten months after it was awarded the Quayside contract, Sidewalk Labs didn’t want to talk data.

When you have the world’s foremost data-driven company, subsidiary or no, constantly talking about heated sidewalks and timber skyscrapers, you have a problem. After all, Sidewalk Labs, a company with hardly any track record to speak of, was hired to develop some of the most valuable property in North America because it was a Google company, a data company, not for their prowess with an axe.

Can children vote? Consultations as PR exercise

As for the Quayside consultations, it’s hard not to conclude that they were largely a PR exercise. Consider in particular two elements of the 13-point list of “different ways you can get involved!” according to Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto:

  1. Send your child, ages 9-12, to a free YMCA-Sidewalk Toronto Summer Kids Camp to learn about the waterfront and explore ideas for its future.

  2. Apply for our Sidewalk Toronto Fellows Program for Torontonians, ages 19-24.

Granted, touting a “weeklong Summer Kids Camp” in which “campers will have the opportunity to learn, play, and explore as they develop their own ideas” as a serious form of community consultation on a multi-million-dollar urban planning megaproject may be exactly the kind of innovative thinking only a Google company could come up with. Or maybe it’s just as much of an absurd and condescendingly patronizing feint as it seems.

As for the Sidewalk Toronto Fellows Program for young adults, these twelve selected fellows will “travel with us to three international cities over six months to explore the future of cities and technology and prepare a public report.”

Let’s quickly unpack this program, since (spoiler alert) it’ll become important when we get to the actual Master Innovation and Development Plan. To put the ages of these young adults into perspective, if these fellows are in university, they would be second-to-fourth-year undergraduates, MA students and, at the top end, recent MA graduates. Now, I have known and worked with many bright undergrad and Masters students, but the key word here is students. They’re still learning about how the world works. In a few years they might be experts, but not yet.

Also, taking a dozen students to three international cities on Sidewalk Labs’ dime isn’t a consultation; it’s a field trip, complete with a heaping side dish of conflict of interest. That Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs would try to pass off these initiatives as anything other than cheap PR stunts is, frankly, insulting. And it’s certainly not a consultation.

Analog consultations for a digital project

One final thing. Google is one of the world’s leading online companies, a world-dominating tech behemoth. It knows the internet. Sidewalk Labs, a Google company, was hired because of its ability to think digital, to build a city “from the internet up,” to take an oft-repeated phrase from their Project Vision document (up tomorrow).

So where were the online consultations? Where was the innovative use of Google tech, to allow Torontonians to discuss amongst themselves and with Sidewalk Labs/Waterfront Toronto what kind of smart city they wanted? Here is the world’s greatest online company pitching a new form of digital smart city, willing to talk about the innovative use of every physical building material imaginable. The only place where they didn’t talk innovation was in designing these consultations. Instead, physical roundtables, with the agendas tightly controlled by Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto, dominated their consultation process.

The digital aspect of consultations for what is intended to be the world’s greatest digital city, by a subsidiary of the world’s greatest digital company, consisted only of an invitation to “Go online to learn about Sidewalk Toronto, watch our videos, review documents, and complete surveys.” And livestream events.

Contrast this with the Brazilian government’s two-phase online consultations leading to its 2014 Marco Civil internet governance law. As Dr. Tusikov and I describe it elsewhere:

The first stage solicited public input, which responded to clearly stated topics set by subject experts, designed to be partly educational. Crucially, this was not just a one-way street: They used an online platform to allow for collaboration among contributors.

In the second stage, the public responded to a draft legal text, which they could compare to the first-stage discussions.

Even better, they did so using WordPress pages, and participants were able to interact with each other online, sharing ideas. And it was incredibly successful, creating legitimacy and contributing to sound policy in a technically complex area for what was the world’s first Internet Bill of Rights.

This is not rocket science. One wonders if this type of back-and-forth consultation was too outside-the-box for Sidewalk Labs.

Limiting public engagement

That’s not to say that the consultations did not serve a purpose. By limiting public engagement to a few relatively easily controlled public events and by minimizing online engagement, Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto were able to maintain the top-down control over this project that has been present since its inception.

Sidewalk Labs CEO Daniel L. Doctoroff may be very fond of invoking Jane Jacobs, but everything about Quayside screams central planning and control. That they have been forced to publicly address pesky questions about who will run Quayside, the scope of the project and how  data and privacy will be governed is a tribute to the community activists who have kept the heat on these two organizations from day one. Any accountability in this process has emerged despite, not because of, the Quayside “consultations.”

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Liveblogging Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan, Entry 2: Waterfront Toronto’s Original Request for Proposals

Previous Master Innovation and Development Plan liveblog entries available here

I’ve previously written, with Zachary Spicer, about the problems with Waterfront Toronto’s original Request for Proposals, namely that they outsourced the decision-making about data and intellectual property to the Google company Sidewalk Labs. As I mentioned in my previous entry, the Ontario Auditor General’s report confirmed our initial suspicion that Waterfront Toronto had no clue, when they began all this, about the importance of data and intellectual property in the context of an innovation-focused smart-city project.

This is particularly problematic since smart cities are smart through their use of data. To be absolutely clear, the collection, control and use of data is the whole point of a smart city. It’s all about the data; it’s all about the surveillance. Leaving these to the side is like designing a rooftop swimming pool and treating any water-related issues as something to be worked out later. (Spoiler: It will not end well.)

And innovation – the embrace of which was a key rationale for this whole unfortunate project – is intimately tied up with intellectual property. As we’ll see below, Waterfront Toronto left it to their commercial partner to set the terms on which Waterfront Toronto and Canada would benefit (or not) from any Quayside-related IP. For a government agency that, as we learned from the Auditor General’s report, was required (and failing) to come up with independent revenue sources, not to have a plan to capture the economic benefits of any IP developed in Quayside was remarkably short-sighted, to say the least.

The Auditor General’s report, and my last post, deal with the many irregularities and oddities surrounding the issuing of the Request for Proposals. However, although I’ve already focused on the key parts of a smart city in my previous analysis – data and IP – it’s probably useful to revisit the Request for Proposals to see how well what Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan reflects what Waterfront Toronto initially requested.

Beyond Quayside

On the big land grab, Waterfront Toronto clearly indicates that the 12-acre Quayside is the focus of this tender. However, in the RFP it also reserves to itself the right to advance Quayside-developed “solutions, processes and partnerships across the eastern waterfront “as those lands become available to Waterfront Toronto (as per the established protocols with the City of Toronto)” (p. 6, emphasis added). Sidewalk Labs’ push to control the entire eastern waterfront has its roots in the RFP.

Fundamental problems

In reviewing the original RFP, it becomes quite clear that the origins of this entire mess – the confusion, Sidewalk Labs’ overreach – are rooted in Waterfront Toronto’s Quayside RFP. The RFP outsources almost every key governance aspect – from specific issues like data and intellectual property governance to more foundational things such as the definition of targets and key performance indicators, to the “Partner” (e.g., p. 14).

The fundamental flaw in the RFP can be traced to one objective in particular, that

the Partner will work closely with Waterfront Toronto to … Create the required governance constructs to stimulate the growth of an urban innovation cluster, including legal frameworks (e.g. Intellectual Property, privacy, data sharing), financial considerations (including investment opportunities and revenue sharing expectations), deployment testbeds and project monitoring (KPI’s, reporting requirements and tools to capture data). (p. 17)

It is, to put it lightly, a terrible, unbelievably horrible idea to let the company responsible for designing a smart city define the parameters under which it will work and by which it will be evaluated. Although these and other requirements envision a partnership with Waterfront Toronto, and although Waterfront Toronto sees itself as responsible for reviewing, for example, proposed technologies and methodologies, nothing Waterfront Toronto has done in the past few years suggests that it has the expertise to be an effective contributor to this project in this area. The creation of a part-time Digital Strategy Advisory Panel of limited effectiveness can’t make up for this fundamental lack of expertise.

If Waterfront Toronto knew what it was doing regarding data, IP and the very scope and definition of the project, it wouldn’t have had to ask an outside group to define it for them. That doing so, especially in the absence of any in-house ability to understand that the project, would create an enormous, insurmountable conflict of interest for the successful partner, does not seem to have occurred to Waterfront Toronto.

(More evidence that data governance wasn’t on Waterfront Toronto’s radar: the word “data” as something produced and used by this innovative project appears only twice in the main text, both on page 17: “The Partner shall “Create the required governance constructs to stimulate the growth of an urban innovation cluster, including legal frameworks (e.g., … data sharing) … and project monitoring (KPI’s, reporting requirements and tools to capture data).”)

The communications lead

And on the easiest deliverable – ensuring that Waterfront Toronto serves “as the communications lead” (p. 15) for this project – Waterfront Toronto has clearly failed to do so. We don’t need to consult the MIDP to know that Sidewalk Labs has controlled the narrative from the very beginning.

Really, this all reads like it was written by an agency that wanted to get in on the Smart City game but had no real idea what doing so would entail. The tell is their outsourcing of everything to do with IP and data governance to the company that stands to profit enormously from data and IP. Even without getting to the MIDP, and even without knowing about the Auditor General’s damning report, it’s hard not to argue that this RFP should never have been issued. It does not make Waterfront Toronto look good. At all. It makes them look like an easy mark.

What follows below are the key parts of the RFP, against which I’m going to compare the MIDP. Near the end I just quote whole parts of the RFP because it’ll be helpful (to me, at least) to be able to refer quickly to the main criteria.

Waterfront Toronto, “Quayside: Request for Proposals: Innovation and Funding Partner for the Quayside Development Opportunity,” RFP No.: 2017-13, March 17, 2017.

Note: Waterfront Toronto was looking for a company with a development plan, and one with money or connections that could get them money.

Part A: Overview of the Opportunity

The initial proposal should include a “benchmark climate positive approach that will lead the world in city building practices” (p. 6)

  • “showcase advanced technologies, building materials, sustainable practices and innovative business models that demonstrate pragmatic solutions toward climate positive urban development.” (p. 6)
  • “highly sustainable, mixed-use, mixed-income neighbourhood … as well as addressing the need for mobility and accessibility.” (p. 7)
  • Contribution to emerging tech and urban innovation clusters (p. 7)

Confusion of scope

Toronto’s eastern waterfront, with more than 300 hectares (750 acres) of land subject to future revitalization (see Figure 1), presents a unique opportunity for governments, private enterprise, technology providers, investors and academic institutions to collaborate on these critical challenges and create a new global benchmark for sustainable, inclusive and accessible urban development. (p. 6)

The RFP officially focuses on the 12-acre Quayside Development (p. 6), although it is envisioned as “a pilot environment for the broader eastern waterfront reviatlization” (p. 14).

The acquisition of more land seems to have played a part in Waterfront Toronto’s thinking:

 As the directing agency of the waterfront lands, Waterfront Toronto, therefore, reserves the right to” advance Quayside-developed “solutions, processes and partnerships across the eastern waterfront “as those lands become available to Waterfront Toronto (as per the established protocols with the City of Toronto) (p. 6, emphasis added).

What the partner needs to deliver

  • “a clear vision and action plan for creating a vibrant, climate-positive and prosperous community”
  • “a national and global model to encourage market transformation towards climate-positive [i.e., greenhouse gas-reducing] city building.” (p. 6)
  • Between 500-800 units of “Affordable Rental Housing” (p. 9)
  • work with Waterfront Toronto “to identify progressive solutions to deliver high-quality, moderately priced, purpose-built rental housing” (p. 9)
  • “beautifully designed public spaces, compelling cultural amenities, innovative solutions, active programing, and integrated transportation and mobility infrastructure” that people will want to visit year-round. (p. 9)
  • Provide “an environment in which an urban innovation cluster can be established and thrive.”
    • Leverage “demonstration spaces, project testbeds, and industry-academic partnerships” to do so.
    • “help create opportunities for job creation, entrepreneurial enterprise and the growth of established industries” in the surrounding community. (p. 9)
  • A funding model to deliver funding for future waterfront projects

Relationship with Waterfront Toronto

The Partner will work directly with Waterfront Toronto in the conceptualization, business planning and implementation stages of the Project … . This includes identifying and defining the necessary technologies, infrastructure, strategies, measurable outcomes and downstream partners that will ensure the Project’s success. (p. 7)

Of course, if only one partner has the relevant experience and understanding of the project, that partner will end up driving the project.

Waterfront Toronto will review technologies and methodologies proposed by Sidewalk Labs (p. 11). However, given Waterfront Toronto’s lack of expertise in this area, it is unlikely that they have the ability to actually provide any meaningful input in this area.

Relationship with data and ICT

The project will leverage the strength of existing world-class digital infrastructure within the waterfront to realize fully the benefits of emerging technologies –including but not limited to the Industrial Internet of Things (“IIoT”) analytics, and artificial intelligence (“AI”) – to support data-informed decision-making for residents, visitors, investors, employers, and service providers. (p. 8)

In the Project Vision and Business Implementation Plan (Appendix C), data governance is not mentioned.

Intellectual property

Transferability: Describe the projected transferability of the Project’s best practices, solutions and intellectual property beyond Toronto’s waterfront. How will the Project demonstrate the capacity to drive market transformation? (p. C2)

Lack of government money identified as a problem

A lack of government funding requires “new and innovative partnerships, funding and investment models.” (p. 9)

The original timeline

First, undertake

broad market engagement to secure infrastructure design and delivery partners for critical infrastructure elements. This may include working with multiple sectors and industries who are involved with various aspects of designing and delivering sustainable communities; including technology and systems firms, utilities, transit authorities, lenders, materials suppliers, constructors, and others who are active in the infrastructure development process. (p. 11)

Then, engage

innovative real estate development teams with the vision, capacity, and commitment to deliver a distinctive and ambitious, mixed-use community that is consistent with Waterfront Toronto’s high design and performance standards, and aligned with the vision and objectives of the Project. (p. 11)

Light rail

The provision of light rail transit (“LRT”) in a dedicated right-of-way, as part of a revitalized Queens Quay, has been approved through a Class Environmental Assessment (available in the Electronic Data Room) and will ultimately connect the eastern waterfront to the downtown core. Waterfront Toronto is actively pursuing funding options to extend the LRT along Queens Quay East, including private sector contributions and a phased implementation plan that could include interim bus rapid transit (BRT). (p. 12)

Note that light rail is provided in terms of the context of the lands to be developed, not as something for the partner to address.

The actual land

It is intended that the future developers will be responsible for removing existing structures, as part of the redevelopment plans. (p. 12)

VII. Partner Scope and Deliverables


identify and define the necessary technologies, infrastructure, strategies, measurable outcomes and downstream partners that will ensure the delivery of a globally significant demonstration project that addresses the challenges” of “sustainability, resiliency and urban innovation; complete communities”; and “economic development and prosperity. (p. 14)

“The Partner will work with Waterfront Toronto to (Note: following lists are from pp. 14-15):

  • Review and refine the work undertaken by the Team. Waterfront Toronto and the Partner will then further engage the Team to finalize the goals for the Project as they relate to financial, sustainability and innovation objectives.
  • Create the overall vision and goals for the Project with the Team. This will include, but not be limited to, deep-dive workshops, industry consultations, additional market sounding and community engagement efforts as appropriate.
  • Define measurable outcomes … including the necessary Key Performance Indicators (“KPI’s”) and measurement techniques to evaluate success.”
  • Analyze and articulate the potential risks and viability of implementing the vision.
  • Identify potential barriers to implementation and assist in preparing the necessary mitigation strategies to overcome those barriers.
  • Evaluate feasibility to transfer best practices and lessons learned from the Project to future developments and other jurisdictions as an exemplar of best practices and breakthrough solutions of global significance.
  • Identify and engage additional potential partners in downstream opportunities as they relate to investment, horizontal infrastructure development and vertical development opportunities.
  • Collaborate on developing strategies, tactics and methodologies for establishing and promoting ongoing thought leadership related to the project and its objectives.
  • Create a clear, compelling vision statement and communications materials that will be shared with stakeholders and potential additional participants in the Project.
  • Support and collaborate with Waterfront Toronto, which will serve as the communications lead, to ensure the significance of the Project and its desired outcomes are effectively communicated. [emphasis added]
  • Provide financial support and required materials for community and stakeholder engagement undertakings. The Partner will be an active contributor in these discussions.

2. Sustainability, Resilience and Urban Innovation

“The Partner will work with Waterfront Toronto to assess and confirm that the solutions and technologies proposed by Arup will help create a sustainable community (striving to achieve a climate positive outcome), and help to meet the carbon reduction targets of all three orders of government (Government of Canada, Province of Ontario, City of Toronto):

  • Conduct a thorough economic and technical critical analysis of the solutions and technologies recommended by Arup to achieve our climate positive objectives for the Project. This review should also include alternative and additional technologies for consideration, as appropriate, which will then be factored into the evolved models and projections prepared by Arup.
  • Refine the sustainability objectives, strategies and targets for the Project. In addition to the work already completed, specific efforts will be taken to identify the potential roadmap for these solutions to be included in future phases of eastern waterfront revitalization.
  • Define an approach to delivering the confirmed carbon reduction strategies, solutions and technologies, including a schedule/phasing plan (including, but not limited to energy, transportation, waste, materials and water) to support the overall objectives of the Project as they relate to Waterfront Toronto’s broader revitalization mandate.
  • Contribute appropriate financial resources and/or solution components to support building and district level solutions for the eastern waterfront including pilot projects that demonstrate innovative, emerging technologies.
  • the Partner will help refine and update Waterfront Toronto’s Minimum Green Building Requirements to ensure that they reflect the principles of our Resiliency and Innovation Framework, and support the aspirations for the Project and future phases of revitalization.” (p. 15)

3. Complete Communities

a) Mixed-income and Affordable Housing

“The Partner and Waterfront Toronto will explore and create a development model that leverages the strong demand for market condominiums and rental housing to deliver enhanced affordable housing options and mitigate housing inequality.”

“Waterfront Toronto has a mandate to set aside sufficient land to accommodate 20 percent of residential units as Affordable Rental Housing. We anticipate the Project can achieve a broader mix of housing affordability beyond this mandate.” (p. 15; emphasis added)

  • Develop a viable and implementable delivery model for additional mixed-income housing, particularly moderately-priced workforce rental housing that engages the private sector and requires minimal government funding.
  • Explore using new smart technologies, building systems, materials and design approaches that can help lower the cost of construction, utilities and operations, while advancing our low carbon/climate positive objectives.
  • Identify financing strategies for a pilot mixed- income housing development that integrates market rate, workforce and Affordable Rental Housing units.
  • The Partner will support Waterfront Toronto as it champions this model with governments.”

b) Transit

“The Partner will actively participate in planning and securing funding for integrated transit solutions and the related public realm together with Waterfront Toronto and in partnership with other landowners and developers in the Bay Street to Cherry Street corridor.

  • Assist in developing a viable and implementable model for sustainable transit along the eastern waterfront into the Port Lands that can be supported by a combination of government and private sector funding.
  • Assist in championing this model with governments and approval agencies having jurisdiction over transit delivery.
  • Contribute appropriate financial resources and/or solution components to support transit solutions for the eastern waterfront including pilot projects that demonstrate innovative, emerging transit technologies.”

c) Amenities

“The Partner will work with Waterfront Toronto to identify appropriate and required retail, cultural and community amenities for the Project and adjacent precincts to ensure the creation of a vibrant complete community.”

d) Design

“The Partner and Waterfront Toronto will work together to achieve new standards for architecture and the public realm that leverage Waterfront Toronto’s history as a leader in delivering quality of place and high impact designs that attract creative talent and increase overall project value.

“The partner will work with Waterfront Toronto to ensure an integrated design process is used to deliver sustainable technology that includes innovative building design and architectural expression.”

4. Economic Development and Prosperity

  • “Identify and engage institutions locally, nationally and internationally as long-term partners in the Project. This will include applied research opportunities as well as developing physical and virtual campuses, as appropriate.
  • Identify, engage and evaluate entrepreneurial companies that are developing new technologies consistent with delivering the goals and objectives of the Project.
  • Create the requirements for an urban innovation collaboration and innovation space with the appropriate programming and partners (including industry and academia) within the Project. This will include developing a full business plan for this environment, and may include outreach to additional public and private stakeholders to secure the necessary capital.
  • Assess the viability of creating a catalyst fund that will invest in emerging companies that are engaged in the Project to assist them in overcoming barriers to scaling up. If such a fund is deemed to be of significance and viable, work with Waterfront Toronto to identify and secure funders and design the framework for delivery.
  • Create the required governance constructs to stimulate the growth of an urban innovation cluster, including legal frameworks (e.g. Intellectual Property, privacy, data sharing), financial considerations (including investment opportunities and revenue sharing expectations), deployment testbeds and project monitoring (KPI’s, reporting requirements and tools to capture data).
  • Land revenues and the timing of payments to Waterfront Toronto, or other sources of revenue as proposed by the Partner.
  • Ownership and sharing of intellectual property resulting from the Project.” (pp. 15-17)

Appendix A: Background Information & Project Requirements

Pages A4-A5:

Developing a WTEI Workforce Development Plan

The Partner will attend a preliminary meeting with Waterfront Toronto and WTEI representatives to discuss the WTEI program, and to develop a WTEI Workforce Development plan, which may include:

  • Customized Recruitment – including working with the City of Toronto’s Partnership to Advance Youth Employment (PAYE) program and the United Way Toronto & York Region’s Career Navigator Program, to identify
  • jobs, training and work based learning opportunities for youths between the ages of 18-29.
  • Opportunities for registered apprenticeships, accessing newly trained youths through the Central Ontario Building Trades’ (COBT) Hammer Heads Program.
  • Opportunities to develop customized skill training initiatives.
  • Other learning, networking and skill development initiatives/workshops.

The Partner will be required to commit to the following:

  • Assign a liaison to work with a WTEI representative to further develop the WTEI plan details and an implementation plan, including opportunities, timelines and key performance indicators;
  • Meet with the WTEI representative on a quarterly basis to provide updates and feedback on the WTEI plan implementation;
  • Report progress and outcomes to Waterfront Toronto’s Project Manager in charge of the assignment on a quarterly basis for the term of the project; and
  • Work with Waterfront Toronto and downstream vendors and/or partners to further adapt this program as new opportunities arise.

Appendix C: RFP Particulars (Submission Requirements and Evaluation Criteria)

Section C, Rated Criteria covers the criteria Waterfront Toronto used to evaluate the initial submission (pp. C1-C7). It’s a lot to transcribe, so I won’t. But it’s worth reading in its entirety.

From this section, here are a few issues of interest:

A. Project Vision & Business Implementation Plan

The Project Vision and Business Implementation Plan should not exceed 25 pages (including images, diagrams and tables) (p. C2)

Interesting inclusion:

e. Broader Eastern Waterfront Revitalization:

Describe how your vision relates to the broader waterfront revitalization efforts. (p. C2)

A5. Approach to Business Case and Financial Requirements (p. C3)

a. Legal Structure Approach: Describe how you would approach the following:

i. Roles and Responsibilities: Provide an initial proposal of roles and responsibilities for Waterfront Toronto and the Partner, understanding that Waterfront Toronto intends to remain an active partner and investor in this and future phases of the Project through to its completion.

ii. Legal Structures & Documents: Describe required legal structure and documents required to implement the partnership.

iii. Risks & Benefits: Propose how risks and benefits will be shared. How will you create an assessment tool to allocate risks between Waterfront Toronto and the Partner?

iv. Intellectual Property: Provide a preliminary framework for a potential management approach for Intellectual Property introduced to or developed through the Project, and any revenue sharing between Waterfront Toronto and the Partner.

v. “Off-Ramps”: How could the venture be unwound in the event that the Project is not achieving its goals?

vi. “On-Ramps”: How could new partners / participants be included in the Project? Are there any ownership/equity considerations?

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New book: Information, Technology and Control in a Changing World

Iscreen-shot-2019-06-22-at-10.55.11-am‘m happy to announce the publication of Information, Technology and Control in a Changing World: Understanding Power Structures in the 21st Century. It’s co-edited by Natasha Tusikov, Kate Henne and me. You can buy it now! And if you go to this link, you can download for free(!) three chapters, including the introduction, my chapter and Kate’s fascinating analysis of India’s Aadhaar system from a surveillance and social justice perspective.

This book explores the interconnected ways in which the control of knowledge has become central to the exercise of political, economic, and social power. Building on the work of International Political Economy scholar Susan Strange, this multidisciplinary volume features experts from political science, anthropology, law, criminology, women’s and gender studies, and Science and Technology Studies, who consider how the control of knowledge is shaping our everyday lives. From “weaponized copyright” as a censorship tool, to the battle over control of the internet’s “guts,” to the effects of state surveillance at the Mexico–U.S. border, this book offers a coherent way to understand the nature of power in the twenty-first century.

Check it out! It’s a good one.


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