Previously, on MIDP Theatre…
This is the sixth entry in our ongoing “urban development thriller,” so it might be time for a recap. When we last tuned into the ongoing Quayside/Eastern Waterfront drama, Waterfront Toronto had just wrapped up its Request for Proposals process for Quayside (which it owns) and (maybe, perhaps) the Eastern Waterfront (which it is in charge of developing but doesn’t own). In the end of a process marred with significant irregularities, including the Ontario Auditor General’s finding that the government bureaucracies were sidelined, with the project “being discussed at a senior political level,” Waterfront Toronto awarded Sidewalk Labs the right to come up with a plan for Quayside, or maybe also the Eastern Waterfront. In attendance at the award ceremony: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, then-Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, and Toronto Mayor John Tory, as well as Alphabet (née Google) CEO Eric Schmidt.
The oddness continued as Sidewalk Labs released a part of its RFP submission, which was long on shiny vapourware and short on data and intellectual property governance, the meat and potatoes of this (or any) smart city project. In not releasing the sections of the proposal that dealt with these issues (likely section A5. Approach to Business Case and Financial Requirements), Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto focused (or attempted to focus) the public conversation on possible technological outcomes, even though these outcomes are by definition uncertain. After all, the whole point of this project is to encourage innovation, which involves trying out lots of weird projects, many of which will fail.
Sidewalk Labs’ RFP response wasn’t the only thing that it and Waterfront Toronto refused to show the public. Also MIA was the October 2017 Framework Agreement, which was not released until July 2018, when it finally emerged alongside the Plan Development Agreement, which it superseded.
Which brings us to the “Plan Development Agreement Between Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation and Sidewalk Labs LLC,” released at 4 pm on July 31, 2018. Or more precisely, to a comparison of the two agreements.
Or to be even more specific, the Toronto Star’s six-page table outlining differences between the two agreements (it’s embedded near the bottom of the page). We’ll get It’s all worth reading, but a few things stood out:
The original scope was for “Quayside and lands in the ‘Eastern Waterfront’ as they become available to WT.” In the revised Plan Development Agreement, explicit mentions of the Eastern Waterfront disappear, replaced by a mention of expansion to “Designated Waterfront Areas. … Except for Quayside, no lands in the DWA are automatically included in the MIDP. Inclusion of lands outside of Quayside is based on justification with a business case” (p. 1).
That said, the Eastern Waterfront remains in the mix; the MIDP will involve “both plans for the Quayside Parcel and plans at scale” (i.e., the Eastern Waterfront) (Schedule B, 1.03).
So, the Plan Development Agreement doesn’t take the Eastern Waterfront off the table; it just clarifies how it might be included later. And as we will see when we finally get to the MIDP, it certainly didn’t change Sidewalk Labs’ covetousness regarding these huge tracts of land.
The original Framework Agreement “was mostly silent on issues of privacy and data-sharing” (p. 5), which is a big tip-off that when it issued its RFP Waterfront Toronto was almost completely ignorant about the fuel that runs a smart city, and Google’s Sidewalk Labs, which certainly knew better, did not think to enlighten them.
It’s increasingly hard not to think that Waterfront Toronto proposed their Quayside project because they wanted something sexy to kickstart their fortunes, without understanding what they were doing.
Roles and responsibilities
Initially, Waterfront Toronto was supposed to be more active in the beginning of the project, “then fall into a supporting role to SWL as Master Developer during implementation.” In the Plan Development Agreement, Waterfront Toronto’s role has been upgraded, making “it clear that WT is the steward of the public interest, the revitalization lead, and to work in collaboration with SWL in creating the MIDP and throughout any implementation, including community and government consultations” (pp. 2-3).
As for Sidewalk Labs, its originally envisioned role as “Master Developer” in the Framework Agreement did not make it into the 2018 Plan Development Agreement. Instead, “Steps beyond planning and oversight of MIDP are subject to further approvals. SWL’s role in any vertical development or infrastructure to be defined in MIDP creation phase” (p. 3).
Given Waterfront Toronto’s odd response to Sidewalk Labs’ MIDP – releasing a 60-page “Note to readers” (we’ll get to it eventually) that challenges many points within the MIDP – suspicion regarding the extent to which it has actually led this process would be understandable.
The Framework Agreement “had several clauses that contemplated options or requirements to transfer or make land available to SWL for purchase”; these were removed in the Plan Development Agreement, “and makes it clear that the $50M does not constitute payment towards land” as originally intended (p. 4).
From the very beginning, Sidewalk Labs’ $US 50 million was showcased as an expression of the sincerity of its interest in Toronto, which would be used to fund consultations with the people of Toronto. If people had known that this was effectively a downpayment on these lands, Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto would have lost an enormous amount of goodwill. The whole project would’ve been seen as a land grab by a rapacious American corporation cloaked in disingenuous platitudes to Jane Jacobs.
Eastern Waterfront development on hold, sort of
The Eastern Waterfront may not officially be part of the up-front plans, but both Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs are acting as if it is still part of the deal, sort of. The agreement assures that “During the MIDP creation stage, neither WT nor SWL will negotiate any planning or development transactions in the Designated Waterfront Area that would be an alternative to, or interfere with, the project (i.e., exclusivity is expanded, and mutual) (s. 11.01)” (p. 6)
In my next entry, I’ll get to some of the other highlights of the Plan Development Agreement proper.