Liveblogging Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan, Entry 24: The MIDP Volume 1, The Plans; Chapter 3: Economic Development: Introduction; Part 1: Accelerating Development

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

Chapter 3 of Volume 1! And we’re coming up on the halfway point of the report, which is something, right?

Introduction (pp. 422-427; not listed in Table of Contents)

In which Sidewalk Labs reiterates its plan for kickstarting economic development. Note that this all is focused on its desired wider waterfront, not Quayside. The plan:

First, Sidewalk Labs plans to help boost general economic growth by accelerating development across the underutilized areas of the IDEA District. (p. 423)

This will be accomplished by:

  • “upfront investments in critical infrastructure, such as light rail transit” (paid for by the City)
  • bringing Google Canada’s branch headquarters to town, along with the Urban Innovation Insittue
  • “people-first planning” to bring people to the district
  • Which will all create “an ‘expanded downtown’ area capable of supporting new and existing industries.” (p. 423)

Second, Sidewalk Labs plans to help catalyze a cluster focused on urban innovation with the potential to spark a new economic engine. (p. 424)

Toronto as digital export processing zone:

This approach involves establishing the IDEA District as a designated zone subject to a special set of regulatory and policy tools to promote innovation and accelerate development.

This is the same type of policy that developing countries like Mexico adopt in order to convince transnational corporations to set up manufacturing facilities: lax labour and environmental standards in exchange for low-wage jobs. It has the effect of locking these countries into a subordinate position in the global economy, making it harder for them to rise up the global value chain. It is not the type of policy pursued by strong, economically vibrant countries.

Calculating the economic impact

Sidewalk Labs also touts the urbanMetrics consulting firm’s economic analysis that underlies this chapter. The report is part of the MIDP Technical Appendix; I covered it in Entry 20. The report is based on statistics and projections provided by Sidewalk Labs.

It compares two possible scenarios, a status quo and one in which the MIDP proposal is implemented in full. In each case, it breaks out a Quayside-only development and a full-area development.

Unfortunately, as I noted in that previous post, the urbanMetrics report does not contemplate anything other than the best-case scenario, and so we have no idea how this proposal would develop if, say, Google decided to stay home, or if planners decided not to approve the construction of timber skyscrapers.

Not pursuing any alternative scenarios means that we can’t break out, say, the relative importance of bringing Google to town (my guess is if it’s not there, most of the benefits from this proposal would not materialize), including both direct and indirect effects.

Part 1: Accelerating Development (pp. 428-459)

Introduction (p. 430; not listed in Table of Contents)

Strategy 1: Unlock the waterfront through infrastructure investments (pp. 431-437; not listed in Table of Contents)

In which Sidewalk Labs once again makes the hard sell for a light-rail line. Despite an up-front note that the infrastructure cost (utilities, energy, public transit) to outfit the IDEA district would likely be over $3 billion, or more than $4.5 billion if the entire eastern waterfront is covered (p. 431), this section is all about making the case (again) for light rail.

Sure, it would cost the city at least $1.2 billion (p. 434), but financing and building it all at once would be worth it, they say, citing examples from other cities, including London’s Canary Wharf, a reference that will doubtlessly bemuse Canadians of a certain age.

Left undiscussed is the remaining $1.8 billion-plus of infrastructure spending, which presumably would also come out of ratepayers’ pockets, one way or another. More proof that this is more a sales brochure than an actual planning document. Otherwise, their discussion of infrastructure investments would have discussed all infrastructure.

Strategy 2: Anchor waterfront growth with a new Google campus (pp. 438-443; not listed in Table of Contents)

In this section, what stood out to me is this claim:

Based on its impact in other neighbourhoods in cities around the world, described more on Page 441, Google’s arrival on the waterfront has the potential to catalyze economic growth, attracting firms of all sizes and a diverse workforce, while contributing to the growth of Toronto’s existing innovation ecosystem. (p. 439)

Perhaps, but why rely on comparative anecdotes and not the company that you’ve commissioned to analyze this proposal? For now, I’ll note again that their urbanMetrics report doesn’t break out Google’s individual impact on Toronto’s economy. And notice how this section – in a report that doesn’t shy away from making grandiose predictions – doesn’t provide any predictions about Google’s effect on Toronto.

This section is much less than meets the eye in terms of providing substantive analysis.

Strategy 3: Attract talent and jobs with complete communities (pp. 444-447; not listed in Table of Contents)

This section merely repeats the proposals outlined elsewhere in the report. I’m still waiting for the economic analysis. This is padding.

Strategy 4: Support new and existing industries with an “expanded downtown” (pp. 448-451; not listed in Table of Contents)

See above.

Page 451 is a chart of the predicted number of jobs this plan would produce. That’s the extent of the economic analysis in this section so far.

Strategy 5: Plan for prosperity with equity (pp. 452-459; not listed in Table of Contents)

More repeated commitments, with several interesting commitments. Although I’ll start by noting that it’s kind of weird to include a recycled pitch for its proposed mass-timber factor in a section about equity (pp. 458-459). And that there’s nothing in here that draws on the urbanMetrics report.

Okay, let’s go:

Sidewalk Labs plans to provide workforce development opportunities to ensure the local workforce is equipped with the skills needed to succeed in a 21st-century economy. (p. 454)

And:

Sidewalk Labs’ workforce strategy aims to support Torontonians of all ages and backgrounds so that they are trained to compete, and remain competitive in the 21st-century economy. Sidewalk Labs also wants to help employers — from tiny startups to major corporations — fill their talent needs. (p. 455)

There seem to be two separate promises here. There’s a “workforce strategy,” which could simply be a banal statement that there will be lots of different types of jobs in their new districts.

And there’s Sidewalk Labs’ promise to create yet another bureaucracy, Sidewalk Works:

This strategy begins by establishing a proposed non-profit entity, Sidewalk Works, to help those who are currently underrepresented in the tech sector prepare for jobs in the new economy. Working closely with qualified partners, Sidewalk Works would curate and influence skills training to meet real-time employer needs, recruit across the city to broaden workforce participation, and provide access points to the urban innovation economy — all supported by cutting-edge digital tools. It would also champion equity in the tech sector by convening employers in the IDEA District across industries to identify and address common challenges, build their capacity to support and retain diverse candidates, and drive equity through economic opportunity. (p. 455)

Part of Sidewalk Works would be a service called Talent Connect, a “talent concierge” that can provide curated access to top-tier talent and assistance with navigating government-funded services and post-secondary co-op and work placement programs. Talent Connect would be available to all member firms operating in the IDEA District but would likely be of particular value to small firms that may not have dedicated human resources staff. (p. 457)

As has been par for the course so far in this document, this is more idea than proposal or plan. There are a lot of “coulds” in here. What type of partners?  Sidewalk Labs mentions many people it could work with, in a way that recalls an undergraduate methods assignment where they’re throwing everything against the wall to see what will stick.

Who would run it? Who will pay for it? How long, and to what extent, would Sidewalk Labs be involved in it?

Contractors requirements

Contractors would be required to provide opportunities for mentorships, intern- ships, and other work-integrated learning opportunities, as well as to consider qualified candidates from targeted communities first for professional, administrative, and technical positions — an approach known as “first source” hiring. (p. 456)

Sidewalk Labs proposes to require that contractors provide opportunities for mentorships, internships, and other work-integrated learning opportunities and implement a first-source hiring approach for professional, administrative, and technical positions. (p. 458)

I have questions: Would this just be for the projects Sidewalk Labs directly controls, or would it be for the entire district? If the latter, should Sidewalk Labs be allowed to dictate these types of things?

Google as educator

Sidewalk Works would also work to connect tenant employers with graduates of an entry-level information-technology (IT) certification course called the Google IT Support Professional Certificate, a program developed by Google and Coursera to help non-traditional candidates begin careers in technology. This course is a component of “Grow with Google,” an initiative to help Canadians acquire the digital skills needed to get jobs or grow businesses. (pp. 456-457)

Google: Creating the Google talent Google will need in the Google century.

Also: Sidewalk Labs can’t make promises like this and seriously claim to not to be a Google subsidiary.

Noted: Other promises

Sidewalk Labs plans to build on the Waterfront Toronto Employment Initiative, working with Construction Connections (a unique construction-sector workforce development program man- aged by the city and the province) and Toronto Employment and Social Services, to target at least 10 percent of construction hours for racialized youth, women, and Indigenous people.

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