Liveblogging Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan, Entry 41: The MIDP Volume 3, Partnership Overview: Chapter 2: Innovation and Funding Partnership Proposal, Roles 2-4

The roles being:

  • Innovation Planning, Design, and Implementation;
  • Technology Deployment; and
  • Optional Infrastructure Financing (includes municipal infrastructure and LRT financing, and advanced systems)

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

Role 2: Innovation Planning, Design, and Implementation (pp. 114-119)

Sidewalk Labs would provide advisory services and management services in connection with planning, devising, constructing, integrating, delivering, and operating project-specific infrastructure and advanced systems for the IDEA District. (p. 85)

Planning services for municipal and advanced systems. Sidewalk Labs would partner with the public administrator in preparing the IDEA District Infrastructure and Transportation Master Plan (ITMP) documents, with special emphasis on the technical specifications and related considerations attendant to advanced systems and their integration with traditional municipal infrastructure. (p. 115)

Technical specifications and content development for the Innovation Framework. Sidewalk Labs would partner with the public administrator in developing the requirements and technical specifications for development… This would include the IDSG. (p. 115)

Sidewalk Labs would have the lead on the IDSG, including updating it “from time to time, in partnership with the public administrator” (WMOMNBWT). It would eventually apply to the entire IDEA District if adopted by the administrator (WMO…).

Page 115 also has a table of Sidewalk Labs’ public administration roles.

Payment for services

About $3 million annually for the first 15 years. (p. 115)

Implementation and operation phases

Sidewalk Labs would design municipal infrastructure in Quayside and Villiers West. Outside of these areas, Sidewalk Labs “would serve an integration role to coordinate municipal infrastructure designs prepared by the administrator with buildings and advanced systems infrastructure.”

For advanced systems outside of these two areas,

Sidewalk Labs would provide support in procuring operators and partners; work with the operators to integrate the systems in the IDEA District to achieve the envisioned technologically enabled outcomes; and work alongside the public administrator to ensure that the operators achieve and maintain acceptable performance levels. (p. 116)

Sidewalk Labs would not develop or manage the procurement of the Super-PON digital communications network proposed for the IDEA District. Instead, Sidewalk Labs would provide technical advice to the public administrator and Waterfront Toronto’s broadband internet partner, which is expected to deliver the digital communications network. (p. 116)

What technology Waterfront Toronto (or whatever ends up running this area) chooses for the communications network will reveal a significant amount about the nature of the power relationship between Sidewalk Labs/Google and the public administrator (WMO…). It’s kind of hard to believe that Waterfront Toronto would lure Google to town and not use its standard.

More fundamentally, given the tight relationship between Sidewalk Labs and Google, Sidewalk Labs should either have presented a few network options in the MIDP, or not presented the Super-PON network at all. It’s a pretty blatant conflict of interest that makes this late offer not to be involved in its selection appear weaker than was probably intended.

Support for management entities: Sidewalk Labs would provide technical assistance and advice to them. Nothing on what Sidewalk labs would do when it would be placed in a conflict of interest regarding procurement outside of Quayside and Villiers West. (p. 117)

Technical advisory services related to vertical development: It would provide these, e.g., as they relate to evaluation. No mention of potential conflicts of interest regarding plan evaluation. (p. 117)

Payment for services

  • 8% fee for design management of certain municipal infrastructure (Quayside, Villiers West)
  • 2% related costs for support in integrating municipal infrastructure with advanced systems infrastructure.
  • “Third- party operators would compensate Sidewalk Labs directly for its responsibilities as lead developer of advanced systems at Quayside and Villiers West. When the public administrator assumes the role of lead developer of advanced systems in later phases, the operator would similarly compensate the public administrator for its work.” (p. 117)

Role 3: Technology Deployment (pp. 120-127)

Sidewalk Labs would source or create key technological solutions needed to deliver on the MIDP targets. These would include a number of new technologies where no suitable alternative exists, including for mobility and digital innovation, that qualify as “purposeful solutions.” In addition, as part of this role, Sidewalk Labs would share profits of certain technologies deployed in connection with the project. (p. 85, emphasis added)

It’s kind of weird that the one example Sidewalk Labs uses to illustrate the development of a “necessary innovation if none exists” is Google’s Super-PON internet network” (p. 121), a digital system which it says it will not have a role in procuring. Although actually procuring something is less important than setting the standard, which may be what’s going on here.

Statements like this are also very misleading:

Sidewalk Labs anticipates that the total number of solutions it would develop itself represents a tiny fraction of the thousands of products to be deployed in connection with the project. (p.121)

Sidewalk Labs uses a similar argument throughout the MIDP in noting how small the parcels of land it is asking for in Villiers West and Quayside are in the context of the Eastern Waterfront. In both cases, the answer is the same: size is irrelevant. It’s the type and foundational nature of the tech that matters; in the case of land, it’s the fact that Sidewalk Labs is going beyond Quayside to demand Villiers West that matters. Sidewalk Labs’ framing is very misleading.

Sidewalk Labs’ four principles on digital tech (p. 122)

I’ve covered these elsewhere. I will note this on patents, however:

As a further means of advancing openness and innovation by third parties, Sidewalk Labs is making a “patent pledge,” that it would not assert its digital innovation hardware or software patents issued in Canada against any third party who develops and sells an innovation relying on those patents, with narrow exceptions (see Page 127).

This commitment would be a lot more powerful if it were made with reference to the world, as opposed to the tiny Canadian market.

Purposeful Solutions (pp. 123-125)

It looks like this is a term that Sidewalk Labs invented or is using in a novel way for this project. These are:

A limited set of innovations that are necessary to achieve agreed-upon project goals and for which there is no suitable alternative on the market. (p. 123)

These would be developed in-house by Sidewalk Labs and produced without competitive bidding. (p. 123)

Key to this process would be who decides when this can happen, and the review process. Otherwise, it would be open to enormous abuse for the installation of foundational systems and de facto standards.

While the MIDP spells out a couple of possibilities for adjudicating whether a no-competitive bidding, “purposeful solution” should be undertaken, the actual criteria would be left for the post-MIDP world.

One huge issue is that Sidewalk Labs’ involvement in the running of this whole area places it in a conflict of internet when it comes to the evaluation of these proposals. It does not seem like the MIDP fully considers this in this section. And at any rate, it just gives us some ideas, not an actual proposal that we can evaluate.

There’s also the question of how much Waterfront Toronto would have to change in order to develop the capacity to actually evaluate these proposals (I’m pretty certain they don’t currently have this capacity). And just hiring an independent evaluator won’t cut it; you still have to be knowledgeable to evaluate the evaluator’s report.

Profit-sharing for Waterfront Toronto from Testbed-Enabled Technology (pp. 126-127)

This is the intellectual property section.

“Sidewalk Labs is committed to sharing with the public sector proceeds from certain products or other solutions that would not have been developed but for the opportunity created by the project,” which they refer to as “Testbed-Enabled Technology” (p. 126). Whether a particular technology fit this description would be jointly determined following to-be-determined (of course) criteria. The general take for the administrator (WMO…) would be 10%.

Question: Is this a sufficient return on Canadians’ investment? Let the debate begin!

Role 4: Optional Infrastructure Financing (pp. 128-147)

Sidewalk Labs is prepared to arrange or enable front-end financing for the accelerated construction and support of certain critical infrastructure and advanced systems. (p. 85)

There is a useful list of definitions on page 129.

Role 4A: LRT financing (pp. 130-134)

TTC owned and operated (p. 128)

Total cost: $1.5 billion to $2 billion. (p. 132)

Sidewalk Labs would provide financing support, recommending borrowing against future increase in property value. (p. 133) Or public funds could be used (p. 134), which of course raises the question of what the best use of taxpayers’ money is. This question is not dealt with in the MIDP.

One big caution here: The economic payoffs to the city (e.g., tax revenue, economic output) all assume that everything goes off without a hitch. However, several proposals in this report depend on things that are outside of Sidewalk Labs’ control. The number of failures (and in a project like this, which is all about experimentation, things are going to fail) will almost certainly affect future revenues, and thus the viability of Sidewalk Labs’ financing proposal.

Role 4B: Municipal infrastructure (pp. 135-138)

city owned and operated (p. 128)

Total costs (p. 135): $240 million for Quayside; Villiers West: $180 million; IDEA District: $1.8 billion).

Sidewalk Labs proposes, among other things, a “local infrastructure contribution” that would be equivalent to “avoided costs” that would be realized due to the advanced nature of the neighbourhood.  (p. 137)

The same caveat regarding actual versus projected outcomes applies here. Also, I’m not sure that Sidewalk Labs took into account businesses’ propensity to react differently to taxes than to costs that they never paid.

This is all a bit out my depth – you can check out the table on page 138 for more information.

Questions: Is front-end financing – financing something before developers move in – a usual practice? Maybe, if Google wants to be an owner here, they should pay a special developer’s fee?

Role 4C: Advanced systems (pp. 139-147)

privately owned and operated (except dynamic streets, which is city owned and WTMA operated) (p. 128)

This section is a reminder of just how much privately operated infrastructure would be present in this neighbourhood.

For me, it’s also a reminder that I may understand economics (more or less), but financing schemes are a bit beyond me. So, everyone else, have at it. It may be because I’m just over 100 pages from the end, but I’ll have to leave this section to others to figure out if it represents a smart plan. All I’ve got is the common-sensical points that:

  • Nobody rides for free; someone always ends up paying;
  • At least a part of business fees get passed onto the consumer/user;
  • If you’re borrowing against the future, and the future doesn’t pan out, then you’re in trouble; and
  • Public finding leaves the public on the hook when things go wrong.

Page 140 has a table of cost estimates for the advanced systems infrastructure proposed by Sidewalk Labs. Total cost: $2.1 billion)

User charges and the rest of Toronto

This was helpful to know: In charging for utilities:

Sidewalk Labs assumed that aggregate utility bills for end users could not exceed BAU rates by more than 5 to 10 percent.

And here:

Sidewalk Labs commissioned a preliminary cost-of-living analysis to determine how utility costs in the IDEA District would compare with other neighbourhoods in Toronto. This analysis

found that, depending on household composition and unit size, average utility costs in the IDEA District would be between 1.4 percent lower and 4.9 percent higher than standard rates. This is despite delivering a level of sustainability unavailable in other areas of the city. (p. 142)

As I think I’ve indicated throughout these posts, I’d been wondering if Sidewalk Labs had been thinking about how the costs of living in Quayside versus the rest of the city would affect things like apartment rentals and condo purchases. These lines suggest that they have, although I still wonder about whether other user charges have been factored into their analysis.

Additional expenses (p. 146)

Sidewalk Labs would receive some preliminary design fees, advanced system development fees (paid by third-party operators).

There would also be public administrator sustainability fees, the amount of which “would vary depending on the costs incurred and the nature and extent of the operations.”

Is it churlish to ask how much these fees might be, so we could judge whether they were reasonable?

Optional financing from Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners (pp. 146-147)

SIP would not privatize or operate Toronto’s existing traditional infrastructure, or affect expansions of traditional infrastructure systems (such as roads, highways, and transit) by the public or private sector. (p. 147)

One more post, and we’ll be at the end of our journey! Sort of.

Posted in Quayside | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Liveblogging Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan, Entry 40: The MIDP Volume 3, Partnership Overview: Chapter 2: Innovation and Funding Partnership Proposal, Role 1: Development of Real Estate and Advanced Systems

It’s another long one. Sorry about that. Also, I thought this was regionals.

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

The previous chapter dealt with the proposed role of the public administrator (WMOMNBWT) in governing the proposed “IDEA District.” Now, Sidewalk Labs tells us how they would be involved:

This chapter provides an in-depth review of the four proposed roles that Sidewalk Labs would play as Innovation and Funding Partner. (p. 48)

These roles are:

  • Role 1: Development of real estate and advanced systems.
  • Role 2: Innovation planning, design, and implementation.
  • Role 3: Technology deployment.
  • Role 4: Optional infrastructure financing. (p. 49)

Introduction (pp. 84-85)

Role 1: Development of Real Estate and Advanced Systems (pp. 86-113)

Real estate: It would be the lead developer of Quayside and Villiers West.

Advanced systems in Quayside and Villiers West:  These are: “advanced power grid, thermal grid, waste management system, stormwater management system, freight management system, dynamic streets, district parking management system, digital communications network, and mobility subscription package.” (p. 84)

This role would involve identifying or partnering with “experience third-party operators wherever possible,” (a public-private-private partnership, if you wil) (p. 84)

Details of its build program, building design, housing, employment, social infrastructure, and public realm plans are found on pages 89-91. Most, if not all, of the details in this section have been covered elsewhere in this report (some of them, many times).

One theme that Sidewalk Labs seems to be developing here is the extent to which they are foregoing the easy money or are spending more than one would usually on a project like this:

Critically, as part of an overall transaction involving Villiers West, Sidewalk Labs is incur- ring higher-than-market real estate costs at Quayside, to prove the model — and to enable third-party developers to employ these same sustainable construction methods and innovative building systems on a cost-effective basis. (p. 87)

Proposing a development with lower density and forgoing a request for greater density reduce the financial upside of the project. (p. 89)

To realize the innovation agenda and desired outcomes, Sidewalk Labs would need to invest disproportionately in the development and implementation of these [advanced] systems. (p. 94)

One of the benefits of reading a very, very repetitive (very repetitive) report front-to-back is that we already know that these asides are laying the ground for an ask of a reduced price for Villiers West.

The Quayside Plan (pp. 88-97)

Quayside would serve as “proof of concept” for its plans:

As the lead vertical developer, Sidewalk Labs would enter into an agreement with Waterfront Toronto to plan, design, deliver, and operate a mixed-use, mixed-income development on the consolidated properties that together constitute Quayside. (p. 88)

The mechanics of the plan

“Waterfront Toronto:

  • “would sell its Quayside land holdings to Sidewalk Labs.”
  • “or the public administrator, would assist Sidewalk Labs in pursuing the necessary approvals, financial contributions, or other actions from the city or other orders of governments”
  • “would monitor the performance of Sidewalk Labs; and”
  • “would fulfill the various governance roles incumbent upon it as the public administrator of the IDEA District.”

They’ll need to change several laws before moving forward (p. 95) (covered in pages 230-231, at the very end of the report. Cliffhanger!)

As is common with real estate development projects, particularly for large-scale projects such as the one proposed, Sidewalk Labs would require a number of regulatory and planning permissions to proceed and implement the proposed innovations. (p. 95)

Question for municipal and building experts: How common are the types of changes Sidewalk Labs is asking for?

This might just be business as usual. This page, however, does not give me confidence that this is the case. Remember the list that I mentioned a blog post or two ago regarding the bylaw and other legal changes that would be needed to allow Sidewalk Labs to do its thing? I thought that was exhaustive, and yet we seem to be getting a few more examples of rules that need to be changed, some of which seem pretty important:

Permission to apply certain innovative building techniques, including a flexible interior wall system that speeds up construction times and allows spaces to adapt quickly to a variety of uses. (p. 95)

As someone who has been known to enter buildings from time to time, I would like to know why these  “innovative building techniques” are not currently legally available to Sidewalk Labs? Are flexible interior walls workable?

Public-private-private partnerships

In addition to potential real estate development partners, Sidewalk Labs anticipates entering into partnerships to facilitate the detailed design, construction, and management of specific elements of the Quayside plan. (p. 94)

I thought this was regionals, or When will we see the final Quayside plan?

“If we win regionals, then it’s straight on to sectionals. And then a week later is semis, then semi-regionals, then regional semis, then national lower-zone semis!” – Mr. Rad, Community

Wasn’t the Master Innovation and Development Plan supposed to be a detailed development plan? What are we even doing here?

Upon approval of the MIDP, Sidewalk Labs would prepare a detailed development plan, an infrastructure and transportation master plan, and a site remediation plan for Quayside, all subject to approval by Waterfront Toronto as spelled out in the Implementation Agreements. (p. 95)

This is getting ridiculous. If Sidewalk Labs, after 18 months and several delays, hasn’t been able to put together an actual detailed plan for the 12 acres it was asked to develop, then Waterfront Toronto should can the whole process and call it a day.

Of course, once the current provisional MIDP is approved, the public loses all of its leverage. We’ll be stuck with Google and a largely unaccountable Waterfront Toronto (or “public administrator”) and whatever changes they want to make to this MIDP, which at the end of the day is more a sales brochure than an actual planning document.

Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto’s continued insistence that we’re debating an actual plan insults our intelligence. [Note: I wrote this before Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs announced that their relationship would end if Sidewalk Labs did not address several key issues. In other words, if Sidewalk Labs comes up with an alternate proposal, we have to go through all of this nonsense again. So to repeat, in bold:

If Sidewalk Labs, after 18 months and several delays, hasn’t been able to put together an actual detailed plan for the 12 acres it was asked to develop, then Waterfront Toronto should can the whole process and call it a day.]

The timeline: Good luck with that

For a company that just admitted one paragraph ago that they haven’t finalized their plans for Quayside, plans that would require regulatory changes from governments that follow their own schedules, this timeline is almost charmingly naïve and optimistic:

Sidewalk Labs estimates that construction on a portion of Quayside could commence as early as 2021 and that the entirety of Quayside could be completed by the end of 2026.

A detailed timeline is available on page 97. Note the mid-2020 date for the first of the deliverables. [Note: This was also written before Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto extended their agreement by six months, effectively throwing off these timelines. The MIDP’s timelines remain unrealistic.]

Economics (p. 96)

And here’s the ask that they were building up toward. Sidewalk Labs offers to “bear the cost of the research and development embedded in the Quayside development program,” which we are informed involves a “higher-than-market costs of the innovation agenda at Quayside.” (p. 96)

Here we go:

In transacting for the Quayside properties, Sidewalk Labs would propose to pay Waterfront Toronto a price that places the cost and risk of the innovation agenda on Sidewalk Labs, while recognizing that Waterfront Toronto would receive some of the value for its land in a direct payment and some by achieving the policy objectives it laid out in the Quayside RFP and prior precinct planning. (p. 96)

It’s a bit odd that Waterfront Toronto seems to be presenting the IDEA District and all its innovation costs as if this is a one-off project. The reason Sidewalk Labs is even in Toronto is because it wants to develop technologies, services and expertise that it can sell to other cities. Toronto is doing Sidewalk Labs a favour, not the other way around. No Toronto, no revenue stream. After all, if you can’t play ball with affable Canadians, how are you going to do elsewhere in the world?

For all Sidewalk Labs’ previous talk of Google’s deep pockets, these don’t seem to be in much evidence in this part of the report. The risk that Sidewalk Labs is taking here will, if it pays off, be spread out over many other city projects.

And anyway, functioning markets determine the most efficient use of resources. If something has “higher-than-market costs” that simply means that there are more efficient ways to spend those resources. If Sidewalk Labs can’t make the numbers work as a for-profit company without asking for a handout, that’s the market’s way of saying that there are better uses of your resources.

Thing is, this doesn’t hold for Sidewalk Labs because Sidewalk Labs isn’t responding to the market; it’s trying to invent the market – that is, a market for smart-city services.

And if you’re a city that wants to do something that doesn’t yield a profit, we already have a solution: fund it out of taxes and get government to do it. There’s a reason so much infrastructure is funded by governments: it’s because building it benefits everyone, and it can be cheaper to build things in the long run if you don’t need to seek a profit, as Sidewalk Labs does.

Long story short, this is a deal that Waterfront Toronto doesn’t have to take. If you’re going to do this plan (and I don’t think they should), charge them full price for the land or send them packing. There is no shortage of companies (many of them Canadian) with smart-city development ideas. Sidewalk Labs needs Toronto more than Toronto needs Sidewalk Labs.

Villiers West urban innovation campus (pp. 98-107)

Proposed home of Google and the Google-linked Urban Innovation Institute.

How it would happen

Upon completion of the Don River Naturalization work, the government would need to combine the parcels proposed for the new campus with parcels owned by the City of Toronto and Ports Toronto. To enable the creation of these new economic development assets and realize the catalytic potential of Villiers West sooner, Sidewalk Labs proposes to execute a land transaction to vertically develop the area, with development partners. (p. 98)

Google campus or go home

Without the addition of the urban innovation campus on Villiers Island, establishing the IDEA District as a vibrant centre of commerce is unlikely. (p. 98)

The land would include Google’s Canada Branch HQ, the Urban Innovation Institute  “and a network of mixed-use surrounding spaces.” (p. 100)

Urban Innovation Institute

The Institute is envisioned as an independent, non-profit organization located within the innovation campus. Sidewalk Labs envisions that local academic institutions would collaborate in the design and implementation of the Urban Innovation Institute, which would serve as a centre for applied research, policy development, and skills training. (p. 101)

With Google at its core, it would shape Canadian technological development according to Google’s needs. (see: technology is not neutral)

Question: Who is going to maintain the Urban Innovation Institute’s funding once its seed capital runs out?

Google Village

These parts about housing and social infrastructure around Google’s campus makes it seem like Sidewalk Labs is proposing the construction of a self-contained Google Village. (p. 102) Complete with LRT! (p. 103)

Maybe Sidewalk Labs is running the Google version of Amazon’s HQ2 contest?

The pitch for including Villiers West in the proposal when it wasn’t part of the RFP

Sidewalk Labs finds a 2006 MOU:

Although Villiers West was not specifically identified in the RFP, the city’s 2006 MOU with Waterfront Toronto contemplates circumstances such as this one where an important economic development opportunity arises outside of the context of a traditional request for proposal.  In such circumstances, including where a business seeks to move to or establish operations in Toronto, the MOU provides that “flexibility is required.” This reasonably applies to the proposed transaction, which would deliver a major economic development project, bringing a new Google Canadian headquarters and a new applied research institution to Toronto.

Nice to see this new piece of information buried 141 pages from the end of the report. It’s a nice try, but it still doesn’t change the fact that Villiers West and the IDEA District weren’t what was asked for in the RFP and that these additions have happened at the last second. That said, there’s no reason why Sidewalk Labs, or Google proper, couldn’t submit a separate Google Headquarters proposal.

Sidewalk Labs roles in Villiers West

Pretty much the same as Quayside, although as with Quayside, they haven’t ironed out the details:

Upon approval of the MIDP and the relevant Implementation Agreements, Sidewalk Labs would lead a collaborative planning process with Waterfront Toronto, the City of Toronto, Google, and other stakeholders to further advance the creation of a detailed development plan for the campus. This would include further development of the build program, site planning, and design requirements.

Sidewalk Labs would also solicit institutions interested in co-locating with the Urban Innovation Institute and other tenants. Sidewalk Labs is committed to engaging local development partners in the project and, working with Waterfront Toronto, would solicit appropriate partners. Waterfront Toronto would collaborate with Sidewalk Labs in completing the development plan so that it can serve as the basis for approvals and advance the achievement of the IDEA District goals. Waterfront Toronto would also work with the City of Toronto and, if appropriate, Ports Toronto to facilitate the land assemblage (combination of parcels) and to determine the optimal transactional construct. (p. 105)

 Next stop: Regionals!

Timeline (p. 105)

Applications begin in 2022; approvals: 2024; occupancy: 2027. [Note: these likely would have to be backed up, in light of Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto’s new understanding.]

Economics (p. 106)

Discount, please. Actual details TBD:

Land purchase price, along with the evolution of the proposed program, will be negotiated with Waterfront Toronto and its government stakeholders. Sidewalk Labs is committed to fairly compensating Waterfront Toronto and / or the City of Toronto for Villiers West for the acquisition of the land, regardless of the form of the transaction, while reflecting the value Sidewalk Labs will create as an eco- nomic development catalyst.

The proposed transaction would be governed by detailed Implementation Agreements to be developed once the MIDP has been approved. The details of the transaction — including the form of the transaction (such as land-lease versus sale, profit-sharing, joint-venture, or otherwise) and the value of the land — would be incorporated in an Implementation Agreement. (p 106)

Advanced systems (pp. 108-113)

Sidewalk Labs proposes to serve as lead developer of a range of advanced systems for Quayside and Villiers West. (p. 108)

Sidewalk Labs

would play a hands-on role in the early stages of their development and operation. It would prepare designs, identify or partner with operators, and refine and stabilize the operations to achieve efficiency and deliver the promised performance outcomes. (p. 108)

Objectives (pp. 108-109)

Implementation (pp. 112-113)

Pursuant to the [Implementation Agreements that would follow the acceptance of the MIDP], Sidewalk Labs would design, con- struct, procure, and stabilize the operations of the advanced systems. The Implementation Agreements would incorporate various terms and conditions, including specific performance requirements, user-rate constraints, and a requirement of adequate security.

The use of “pursuant” indicates that this is the serious part of the document.

With the exception of the digital communications network (which would be implemented directly by Waterfront Toronto’s broadband internet partner with Sidewalk Labs’ technical advisory support), Sidewalk Labs would be responsible for the following implementation framework for all of the advanced systems, including (emphasis added):

  • Preparing preliminary designs supple- mental to the ITMP to be used as bridging documents in the form of plans and specifications issued during the procurement of operators for certain systems

  • Managing the procurement process and selecting operators based on their merits, including qualifications, rate structure, strength of financing, and cost

  • Providing design and construction oversight

  • Working with operators to ensure the systems meet the IDEA District objectives

  • Working alongside the public administrator to ensure that operators maintain an acceptable level of performance

Procurement: Sidewalk Labs would be responsible for procurement decisions, and would have a great deal of leeway in this important area, including the ability to award contracts to itself:

The Implementation Agreements would provide Sidewalk Labs with the flexibility to procure operators that, in its judgment, offer the best solution for Quayside and Villiers West. While relying heavily on joint development agreements with third-party operators, Sidewalk Labs would retain the ability to develop solutions internally, participate in operations, and iterate and adjust those operations. (p. 112)

Question: How to prevent Sidewalk Labs from using its judgment to favour either itself or its fellow Google companies? This language would not constrain it much in this area.

The principles that Sidewalk Labs proposes do little to assuage these concerns:

  • Sidewalk Labs would seek external partners where available to diversify risk and incorporate expertise from others into the project.
  • Second, Sidewalk Labs would limit its provision of products and services to situations when its involvement is needed to achieve the necessary outcomes of each system. This means it would not participate in operations where an existing provider is willing and able to deliver the operational approach and performance outcomes and to do so cost effectively.
  • Third, in its role as Innovation Partner, Sidewalk Labs would transfer knowledge to the public administrator to enable it to take over the advanced systems development role after Quayside and Villiers West. (pp. 112-113)

The problem with these reassurances is that at the end of the day, it would be Sidewalk Labs making the call as to whether it should or shouldn’t act as the sole source contractor. This is a bad governance practice, to say the least.

Sidewalk Labs commits to providing an advanced system or a component it, when “the solution calls for significant iteration or ongoing management after the initial installation.”  (I’m not sure how many foundational systems don’t require ongoing management.)

or when

the approach represents a techno- logical solution that has no suitable alternative available in the market based on the method- ology established for classifying purposeful solutions (see Page 123 for more details). (p. 113)

I have a feeling “purposeful solutions” will require some investigation.

If Sidewalk Labs decides it must use a product or service “in which it holds a financial interest,” it must notify the relevant administrator, but it’s still the one that makes the call (p. 113). In such a case, it “may be compen-sated through operating revenue in place of, or in addition to, advanced system development fees, subject to the terms of a master service agreement” (p. 113)

Advanced systems beyond Quayside and Villiers West

If everything works out, the public administrator (WMOMNBWT) would become the lead developer and Sidewalk Labs would support it: “in procuring operators and partners; working with the operators to integrate the systems in the IDEA District to achieve the envisioned technologically enabled outcomes; and working alongside the public administrator to ensure the operators achieve and maintain acceptable performance levels.” (p. 113)

The public administrator (WMOMNBWT) would be responsible for procurement here (assisted by Sidewalk Labs with the preparation of procurement documents, and on refining standards and guidelines), although given the need for interoperability and the fact that Sidewalk Labs would have already set the foundations in place, this power would likely be much less consequential than the procurement power for Quayside and Villiers West.

This has been a lot to read. Thanks for sticking it out.

Posted in Quayside | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Liveblogging Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan, Entry 39: The MIDP Volume 3, Partnership Overview: Chapter 1: The Innovative Design and Economic Acceleration (IDEA) District, Parts 2 and 3

Our journey continues. This section’s important because it details the regulatory changes Sidewalk Labs wants for its section of the Eastern Waterfront.

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

Part 2: IDEA District Component 2: The Innovation Framework (pp. 72-79)

You have to love the phrase “targeted regulatory adjustments” (p. 72). For the layperson, this means, changing the laws so that the things that we want to do, which are currently illegal, become legal. Of course, it’s all to support innovation and economic development. Also important: These changes would have to be made by the City, Province and/or federal government.

Some other choice phrases: “A predictable policy environment” (p. 72):

To invest the resources required to achieve the vision laid out in the MIDP and to develop the broader waterfront, Sidewalk Labs, vertical developers, and others operating in the district require certainty that the conditions necessary for success are in place. Advancing this initiative is impossible without a clear understanding of the rules governing the Quayside project or the IDEA District as a whole.

Let’s think through the dishonesty in this brief paragraph. Quayside et al already has a “predictable policy environment”: the bylaws, laws and regulations of the City of Toronto, the Province of Ontario and the Government of Canada. What they don’t have is the laws that Google and Sidewalk Labs want in order to build their dream town.

Then there’s the call for “A responsive regulatory environment” (p. 72), by which they mean the right to be able to do things that would be otherwise not be allowed under current laws.

What else? “Accountability and incentives to match higher demands for performance.” (p. 73) I think this is a request for higher-than-normal payments because they are being asked to do the extraordinary, as well as penalties if targets aren’t being met.

Finally, Sidewalk Labs’ proffered reminder of the importance of “Recognizing the value of scale” serves as the final confirmation (if any was needed) that this is an all-or-nothing proposition. It’s IDEA District or nothing. In a surprising twist, there’s no mention of the appropriate regulatory or governance scale.

Stated more succinctly, Sidewalk Labs is calling for changes to Canadian federal, provincial and municipal laws and regulations to let it and others in its District do things that are not currently allowed under the law. They should receive bonuses for this extra-challenging work, as well as be penalized if they don’t meet specified targets (although I seem to recall that the Request for Proposals suggested that the development partner be responsible for naming the targets).

Also, don’t bother just giving us Quayside. We want all of it, or none of it.

Proposed policies: Introduction (pp. 73-74)

This is the section in which Sidewalk Labs details what laws it would need to have changed so that what it’s planning would be allowable (i.e., legal), as well as those that would be covered by its Innovation Design Standards and Guidelines (IDSG), which I think would act as a type of Municipal Code for the District.

In other words, this is the part where Sidewalk Labs sets out the proposed laws for its neighbourhood.

This section covers the various areas of its innovation framework:

Innovation Framework: Mobility (pp. 74-75)

  • Related to “dynamic curbs,” exemptions from the Ontario Highway Traffic Act and Toronto’s municipal code, specifically regarding acceptable signage, and from certain parking rules. Would transfer oversight to the WTMA. (p. 74)
  • Related to “curb pricing” (charges to use curb space): amendment to Ontario’s City of Toronto Act to permit the city to adopt this approach. Toronto would authorize WTMA to manage program and apply funds to IDEA District. (p. 74)
  • Related to ride hailing: Amend Toronto’s Municipal Code to permit “dynamically shifting areas [for drop-off, pick-up, staging], require drivers to comply with these rules, and empower the WTMA to modify and work with law enforcement to administer them.” (p. 74)
  • IDSG-covered: increased bike parking and bike lane access or bike priority streets for all new buildings; underground delivery tunnels and a logistics hub,

Innovation Framework: Public Realm (p. 75)

  • IDSG-covered: Requiring new developments to contribute to open space management.

Innovation Framework: Buildings and Housing (pp. 75-76)

  • Related to mass-timber buildings, “permission to exceed the six-storey limit on wood construction imposed by the Ontario Building Code and permission to use the Shikkui plaster that is a key aspect of the construction.” (p. 75)

“Sidewalk Labs is actively consulting with the city’s building department and with federal and provincial officials on these specifications.” Some enterprising journalist should follow up with officials to see where this proposal is at, as well as subject experts to see how viable Sidewalk Labs’ plans are.


The ultimate ability of mass timber construction to proceed will depend on either provincial legislation to allow such construction in the IDEA District or a determination through the city’s “alternative solutions” process that the construction in Quayside, as described, achieves the same or better level of performance to currently permitted approaches. (p. 76)

  • Related to “outcome-based, building use system” to increase the number of mixed-use buildings in which regulations would be linked to “use-neutral” categories, “Zoning or Community Planning Permit Bylaws permitting a broader range of uses and incorporating real-time monitoring in the building permitting process.”
  • IDSG-covered: “Funding below-market housing through a condo resale fee for new developments in the IDEA District”

Building experts: I’m assuming that Sidewalk Labs’ Stoa proposal, and for flexible interior spaces with easily movable walls is currently allowed under Ontario and Toronto rules?

Innovation Framework: Sustainability (pp. 76-78)

  • Related to its planned “advanced power grid,” “Compensating Toronto Hydro at the regulated rate based upon a campus meter, and then charging customers within the campus at a variable rate, requires approval from the Ontario Energy Board to implement the new rate structure and potentially amend Local Distribution Company regulations to allow a campus approach to electricity.” (p. 77)
  • Related to its planned stormwater management system, “permission from the city for stormwater systems to encroach into the right of way,” permission to allow “stormwater management infrastructure that serves larger swathes of the IDEA District, rather than mandating a development-by-development approach,” “new developments to fund the new stormwater management infrastructure and its ongoing management in lieu of developing their own more expensive, in-building solutions,” and “an equivalent reduction in the portion of the Toronto Water billing for stormwater.” (p. 77)
  • IDSG-covered: Requiring new developments to meet heightened sustainability and active energy management requirements; Developing an outcome-based energy code; Connecting to a fossil fuel–free thermal energy solution; Connecting to a pneumatic waste system (pp. 77-78)

Innovation Framework: Social Infrastructure (pp. 78-79)

  • Related to “healthy urban design and construction requirements for new developments,” “advance existing healthy urban design guidelines and require adherence by new developments.” (p. 78; doesn’t really seem to require any legal changes)
  • Related to “Requiring all new developments to advance health, education, and civic engagement through proactive planning,” “New developments would need to describe how they align with district-wide community service and facility plans prepared by the city, and detail their specific contributions to establishing healthy communities; creating connected, civically engaged communities; and promoting lifelong learning.” (p. 78; doesn’t really seem to require any legal changes)
  • Related to “Incorporating space for health facilities in new development plans,” “the administrator [WMOMNB…] would work closely with these bodies to integrate health care service and facility planning into future Precinct Plans for the IDEA District and would explore opportunities to incorporate appropriate, flexible spaces for delivering health care services in new developments if deemed a priority by the province.” (p. 78; doesn’t really seem to require any legal changes, but does make it sound like a level of government co-equal to a city)
  • Related to “Requiring new developments to prioritize community benefits in construction,” “First, new developments would be required to commit to training, apprenticeships, and jobs for members of historically disadvantaged groups, at minimum participation thresholds (equivalent to 10 percent of all construction labour hours, where applicable). Second, new developments would be required to commit to directing a minimum percentage of project costs to diverse suppliers, small businesses, and social enterprises. Third, during planning and construction, development leads would be required to meet quarterly with a working group of community members and representatives from government agencies to report on progress towards achieving these goals.” (p. 79, again, doesn’t seem to require legal changes)
  • Related to “Establishing sustainable funding for a non- profit neighbourhood association,” would give the administrator (WMOMNBWT) ability to set user fees or “sustaining contributions from area businesses,” which sounds suspiciously what the olds used to call a “tax.” (p. 79)

Innovation Framework: Digital Innovation

  • Related to the Urban Data Trust, “Compliance with UDT requirements would be enforceable by contract initially, with a view to a long-term solution that may include transforming the UDT into a public sector or quasi-public sector agency. Public sector entities may need certain exceptions from those requirements where acting in the public interest, such as in an emergency or other urgent situation.” (p. 79)

Part 3: IDEA District Component 3: Financing (pp. 80-81)

IDEA District administrator given fee-setting power

One of the things that stuck with me from The Power Broker, Robert Caro’s masterful account of the rise and fall of New York City’s legendary planner Robert Moses, is how Moses, an unelected official, was able to use his access to toll money from a quasi-independent agency he set up, to effectively make himself independent from the City. The ability to raise and use funds was one of the main foundations of his power, which, in Caro’s definitive telling, almost wrecked New York. (His mega-planning ideals were also behind the failed Spadina Expressway, which was fought in part by a transplanted New Yorker and Moses foe Jane Jacobs.)

In this section, Sidewalk Labs proposes giving the public administrator (WMOMNBWT) similar financial independence. It argues that “the public administrator should receive the authority to employ at least three typical value capture strategies”:

  • City fee and development charge credits, municipal infrastructure contributions, and local infrastructure contributions;
  • Land proceeds reinvestment; and
  • An incremental property tax.

This proposal would give whatever ends up controlling the area the power to raise and spend fees. These are government powers.

The question to ask here is, how accountable would this “Public administrator” be to the electorate under this scenario? If Moses’ example is anything to go by, the answer is, not at all. Money is power, and Sidewalk Labs’ proposal would set up the district to have a power base – the ability to raise and spend money – independent of the rest of the city, province or country. It would become that much harder to control.

Achieving this type of independence is a lot of heavy lifting for two pages, buried deep in the final volume of a nearly 1,500-page report.

Posted in Quayside | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Liveblogging Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan, Entry 37: The MIDP Volume 3, Partnership Overview: Introduction

What the MIDP’s inability to match section headings with its Table of Contents tells us about Sidewalk Labs’ commitment to quality control, attention to detail and basic competence. Also, renewed confusion about what Sidewalk Labs actually is.

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

The first thing one notices upon scrolling through this final volume’s 246 pages is the relative lack of full-page pullquotes (six) and, even more remarkable, artists’ sketches of bucolic citylife (also six).

That’s because, just as the final part of the Overview dispensed with the sweet talk and razzle-dazzle building raincoats, and got down to business, this volume is all about who’s going to do what, what laws need to change, and certainly not least, how Sidewalk Labs is going to get paid.

As with the previous volume, much of this has been covered in the Overview and previous volumes, but I’m sure I’ll find some interesting details in here.

Last volume, and then it’s only Waterfront Toronto’s Note to Reader standing between me and freedom. Let’s go.

Introduction (pp. 18-21)

The Master Innovation and Development Plan represents a comprehensive proposal for how to realize that potential in a portion of the eastern waterfront. (p. 18)

This portion being more than just Quayside. As I’ve previously noted, one’s opinion of the scope of the MIDP will depend on whether you buy Sidewalk Labs’ argument that this report is a good-faith response to Waterfront Toronto’s RFP call to  “describe your team’s ability and readiness to take the concepts and solutions deployed on Quayside to scale in future phases of waterfront revitalization” (p. 20).

I’m not convinced. Everything we’ve seen suggests that this is not a project that starts in Quayside and then can scale up in the future as lands become available. This includes Sidewalk Labs CEO Daniel L. Doctoroff’s insistence that denying a light rail extension (a key part of the overall IDEA District plan, not the Quayside development part) would likely cause Sidewalk Labs to abandon the whole project. It also includes the insistence that Sidewalk Labs/Google be allowed to develop Villiers Island.

This, once again, is an all-or-nothing proposal.

No experience, but research

Sidewalk Labs has no experience working on big projects. Rather, it claims that it can develop what has been described as the most valuable undeveloped waterfront real estate in North America because it has engaged in “intensive research and development” and undertaken “feasibility studies.” (p. 21)

Part 1: Harmonizing the Objectives of Waterfront Toronto, the Public, and Sidewalk Labs (pp. 22-25)

The most incompetently assembled and formatted report ever?

I have never read a report as incompetently assembled as this one. I’ve noted the incomplete Tables of Contents, the absent indexes and the lack of hyperlinks for endnotes – the use of endnotes instead of footnotes, for that matter. Now, in Volume 3, we can add inconsistent and mislabled section headings to this list.

See the “Part 1” above? That appears in the Table of Contents on page 12, not on the header on page 22. Instead “Harmonizing the Objectives…” appears in the same font and style as subheaders in the previous volumes. This makes it look like this Part is part of the Introduction, not its own part, and makes it that much harder to locate information in the report.

This pattern is repeated throughout the report, with a few more examples of fundamental incompetence thrown in for good measure: Chapter 6’s “Introduction” (p. 208) is listed in the Table of Contents (p. 14) as “Stage Gates and Risk Mitigation.”

Not to be outdone, the section “Participants in the development of the IDEA District” (p. 218) is listed in the Table of Contents as “Overview of the Participants in IDEA District Development” (p. 14).

Usually, you can count on even the most vacuous report to have its Tables of Contents match section titles, but not the MIDP. And this isn’t even with going into how the Table of Contents styles don’t match from Volume to Volume (e.g., “Part 1:” in Volume 2, versus “Part 1 [tab]” in Volume 3).

This report reflects an absolutely abysmal level of quality control and attention to detail. Just shoddy, with all the characteristics of a rush job. Given the extent to which this entire project has been driven by an attention to public relations, if Sidewalk Labs can’t even properly format its own reports, how can it be trusted to run a huge swath of the Eastern Waterfront?

Okay, back to the substance.

Overview redux

This section seems to repeat mostly what was in the Overview, although somehow with less detail (p. 22, Objectives for the people of Toronto).

And we’re reminded that “The company will seek to earn a reasonable return on its investment” (p. 23).

Adding to the résumé

On pages 23 and 24 Sidewalk Labs repeats the exercise, first conducted on pages 61-65 of the Overview (and in more detail; this is the rare report in which the overview sections are longer than the actual sections that it’s overviewing), telling us why Sidewalk Labs is uniquely suited to this job.

One interesting addition that isn’t present in the Overview is that it reframes Advantage One from “An interdisciplinary approach to urban innovation” that emphasizes its team (Overview pp. 61-63) to “Cutting-edge urban design and technology” that summarizes the talent at its disposal but also notes that “Sidewalk Labs has developed, and continues to refine, critical pieces of technology for improving cities,” an interesting point that isn’t in those original pages and would have been worth highlighting. Instead, that first section makes it sound like Sidewalk Labs is primarily a facilitator that’s best at locating tech, not developing it.

It’s yet another pointless piece of confusion that leaves me unsure about what Sidewalk Labs actually is, and what they bring to the table. Not a good position to be in when you’re some 1,200 pages into its master plan. Just shoddy and unprofessional.

What Sidewalk Labs is promising (pp. 30-31)

  • A “bold innovation agenda” (i.e., the bells and whistles from the previous volumes)
  • “Develop Quayside as a complete and inclusive community”
  • “Develop a major economic development project” (i.e., bring Google to town to anchor an urban tech cluster).
  • “Serve as the lead developer of advanced systems” (in Quayside and Villiers West). “Among other responsibilities, this role would include identifying and overseeing sophisticated third-party operators and partners.” (i.e., in charge of procurement)
  • “Serve as a technical partner and advisor.” “Sidewalk Labs would provide a suite of technical advisory and management services.” This standard-setting role would include standards and policy setting and running procurement.
    • As stated, Sidewalk Labs’ description undersells its contribution. This role would make Sidewalk Labs less of an advisor and more of a policymaking governmental co-equal.
  • “Deliver essential technology.” This would involve procurement as well as developing its own technology, called “purposeful solutions”
  • “Optional financing for critical infrastructure.” Including light rail and municipal infrastructure. It’s formed a company that does infrastructure financing.
  • “Unlocking $29 billion in third-party investments.” via some initial investments.

The intellectual property profit-sharing deal

For certain technologies that Sidewalk Labs develops and deploys at scale in connection with the project, Sidewalk Labs also proposes to share 10 percent of the profits with the public sector. (p. 31)

What it wants from government

This section repeats Overview pages 208-209. It serves as a reminder that Sidewalk Labs seeks either the restructuring or replacement of Waterfront Toronto:

the proposal calls for government to designate a public entity to serve — or, if Waterfront Toronto is so designated, to continue to serve — as revitalization lead for the IDEA District with certain additional powers. (p. 32)

And as we’ve seen previously, a lot of what Sidewalk Labs wants to do, like build “liveable” super-tiny apartments, is currently illegal. It therefore wants special rules to only apply to its area of the Eastern Waterfront, or as it frames it, “A carefully targeted package of regulatory reforms and development standards” (p. 32)

And it’s also a reminder that Sidewalk Labs wants “performance payments to compensate for non-standard upfront costs and for serving as a catalyst to deliver on Waterfront Toronto’s priority out- comes and accelerate development across the eastern waterfront.” In return it also offers a piece of the action “if Quayside and Villiers West are more profitable than expected,” and that 10% share on some intellectual property. (p. 32)

Part 2: Seven Principles Guiding the Proposed Partnership (pp. 26-27)

Repeats the principles listed on Overview page 200, adding in a list of Waterfront Toronto’s priority outcomes.

Part 3: Overview of Innovation and Funding Partnership (pp. 28-35)

Quayside is touted as a “scalable proof of concept for the ideas that will drive economic growth, achieve urban progress, and deliver on Waterfront Toronto’s priority outcomes.” (p. 28).

I’m not sure that something can count as a “proof of concept” if you have to agree to the whole package before developing the proof of concept.

And for those of you who like a good table, page 34 has a Summary of Innovation and Funding Partnership proposal table (labelled Fig. 0.3, although that doesn’t matter much since there’s no list of figures anywhere in the report).

What does Sidewalk Labs do?

Sidewalk Labs structured its Innovation and Funding Partnership Proposal to capitalize on its own unique combination of strengths, including a team that spans urban planning, technology, policy, architecture, engineering, development, and finance; its exceptional technological resources; its access to patient capital that is able to take a long-term view of investing, where warranted; and its ability to serve as an economic catalyst. (p. 42)

This description of Sidewalk Labs’ supposed strengths sounds eerily like what a government agency can do and leverage.

Part 4: How the Proposal Reflects the Seven Transaction Principles (pp. 36-44)

This is an expanded (!) version of Overview pages 199-200, which includes a list of desired outcomes, which we’ve already seen mentioned several times over the past thousand-plus pages.

Performance targets: If missed, would affect Sidewalk Labs’ involvement in the project. (p. 40). I would want an independent evaluation of Sidewalk Labs’ numbers for Quayside, as this setup (if it doesn’t meet Quayside, e.g., targets it can’t proceed) gives it an incentive to underpromise on Quayside.

Also, I’m unsure that Waterfront Toronto has demonstrated the capability of pushing back against, or evaluating Sidewalk Labs.

This seems like a bit of an empty promise for a for-profit company:

And unless and until Sidewalk Labs demonstrates the commercial feasibility and the effectiveness of its solutions for achieving Waterfront Toronto’s priority outcomes, no other developments would deploy them. (p. 40)

If a solution isn’t commercially feasible, why would Sidewalk Labs deploy it in the first place?

“Strong public oversight,” underdeveloped governance proposals

Sidewalk Labs’ statement that it is interested in “strong public oversight” (p. 42) would be more credible if it had put any thought into the number of people and resources that would be necessary to create the expansive bureaucracies that they’ve proposed throughout these pages.

Climate positive?

Sidewalk Labs claims that the IDEA District would be “climate positive” via exporting of energy to the rest of Toronto. Climate experts: would this count as being “climate positive”? (p. 38)

Interesting that pretty much everything they’re proposing on pages 38 and 38 is “financially infeasible” if only done in Quayside. Maybe their financial time horizon isn’t long enough?

If only there were a previously existing institution in society that was designed to make investments in the public interest without having to earn a profit. If only…

Part 5: A Partnership Proposal Intended for Ongoing Refinement (pp. 45-47)

The never-ending proposal

This quote fills me with dread:

The Innovation and Funding Partnership Proposal constitutes a proposal. It is subject to further negotiation with Waterfront Toronto and, for certain elements of the proposal, the three orders of government. Ultimately, the proposal’s success will require Sidewalk Labs and government to work together collaboratively and to adapt to unanticipated conditions that could arise. (p. 45)

I’m not looking forward to reading MIDP II: The Embiggening.

And how will these responses to unanticipated consequences be subject to democratic review? Neither Waterfront Toronto nor especially Sidewalk Labs are set up for the type of reviews that would be typical of an ongoing City, provincial or federal project.

Overview of Volume 3 (pp. 48-49)

The chapters that follow provide substantial detail on the overall transaction structure, the proposed roles and responsibilities of the various participants, the financial and legal terms, the preconditions needed to deliver the business case for the transaction outlined and the vision set out in Volumes 1 and 2, and the anticipated implementation of the project and its various components. (p. 48)

tl;dr: There was no need for Volumes 1 or 2, and the Overview should’ve been shortened to an executive summary. Also, Sidewalk Labs should’ve sprung for a copyeditor.

Posted in Quayside | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Liveblogging Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan, Entry 38: The MIDP Volume 3, Partnership Overview: Chapter 1: The Innovative Design and Economic Acceleration (IDEA) District, Introduction and Part 1

This Volume is essential reading for anyone wanting to cut through Sidewalk Labs’ PR hype and see exactly what Sidewalk Labs is proposing. For those of us foolish to had read the whole thing front-to-back, it’s a distillation of what we’ve read before.

These final five posts will highlight those issues that stood out to me as being the most significant, or whose importance I hadn’t previously fully understood. This first one is a long one, because it’s time to end this series. Let’s get to it.

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

This chapter discusses a proposal for the consideration of government to achieve these aims by designating a public administrator with the development authorities needed to administer a new targeted innovation strategy for the IDEA District. (p. 48)

Introduction (pp. 52-61)

It’s telling that this section is targeted at the “IDEA District” level, rather than at Quayside, with the rest of the waterfront as a the secondary objective. This proposal’s driving theme is “IDEA District or bust.”

The IDEA District would have “three essential components,” discussed in the rest of this chapter (p. 56):

  • A public administrator

Mandate: “oversee and steer key real estate, infrastructure, and technology decisions — all with a focus on better addressing the core urban challenges facing Toronto.”

Its mission would be economic-focused: “promote innovation and development within the geography”

  • A modified regulatory framework

In other words, it would be subject to its own particular laws and regulations. This would involve changes to various laws at all three levels of government. It would also require the introduction of new regulations specific to this area.

In other words, Sidewalk Labs – the brains of this outfit – is looking to convince the three levels of government not only to change their laws to suit their needs; it is looking for the right to set its own rules and regulations, in the guise of its Innovation Design Standards Guidelines.

  • Financing mechanisms

Fees, development charge credits, local governments ponying up cash, “the use of local land proceeds,” and, potentially, tax-increment financing.

In short, this is gonna cost the Toronto taxpayer.

Confusing geography

I just figured out that the River District is the IDEA District minus Quayside and Keating West. (p. 59)

Keating West is included in all the area-level results predicted by Sidewalk Labs. So why do you have something called the River District? So confusing.

Every time I see “could,” I also see, “or maybe something else will happen. Who knows?”

I thought the purpose of a “plan” was to offer a proposal to do something specific:

The IDEA District

could be established through a Community Improvement Plan (CIP). (p. 61)


Quayside, then Villiers West, then the rest of Sidewalk Labs’ desired land. (p. 61)

The decision to move forward would involve

hitting certain performance targets tied to Waterfront Toronto’s priority outcomes … (p. 61)

Outcomes that, per the RFP, Sidewalk Labs was given the responsibility of setting. The administrator might be administering the test, but the student chose the questions and the grading rubric.

When it comes to setting my final exams, I will not be offering this innovative, imagineered option to my students.

The Everything’s Going to Work Perfectly school of urban planning

For analysis purposes, the MIDP assumes that all private landowners opt in to the IDEA District. (p. 61)

Part 1: IDEA District Component 1: A Public Administrator (pp. 62-71)

In which it is proposed that a public administrator that may or may not be Waterfront Toronto be given many responsibilities (p. 62).

“Specifically, the public administrator should be granted the authority to:

  1. Set innovation and development objectives for the IDEA District;
  2. Impose additional requirements on developments within the district, consistent with the objectives described in Item 1;
  3. Determine whether new developments can access the regulatory relief approved for the district;
  4. Perform precinct and infrastructure planning for waterfront development;
  5. Certify development and construction permit applications before their submission to city agencies;
  6. Develop a master transportation and infrastructure plan for approval by relevant city authorities, in phases, and give final approval before construction;
  7. Receive and direct infrastructure contributions for the infrastructure proposed for, or built in, the district; and
  8. Enter into and oversee agreements with developers, vendors, and partners, including Sidewalk Labs as Innovation and Funding Partner.”

One of the big problems with Waterfront Toronto, as the Auditor General of Ontario laid out in his report, is that its structure and lack of authority impeded its ability to actually develop the waterfront. In this section, Sidewalk Labs says it will attempt the neat trick of providing the public administrator (which may or may not be Waterfront Toronto) with “a greater ability to collaborate with all orders of government to streamline the development process and advance an integrated innovation strategy” (p. 63) all the while not displacing current city, provincial, or federal authority.

After reading this page over several times, I’m not sure how what Sidewalk Labs proposes would break this gridlock. It seems to be based on “granting the administrator [which may or may not be…] a clear mandate and the tools to be successful” (p. 63). Which seems to be simply stating the obvious. I would think the only way you could break this gridlock, as the Auditor General seemed to note in his discussion of a similar agency in Winnipeg, would be by granting decisive powers to the administrator (#WMOMNBWT). It comes down to authority. If you don’t have it, you’re reduced to begging and cajoling.

Public administrator role in planning and implementation (pp. 64-67)

The public administrator (WMOMNBWT) is asked to do A LOT: “to oversee a comprehensive innovation and development strategy,” with the goal of cultivating and expanding “the diverse ecosystem of real estate developers, service providers, employers, design firms, public agencies, research institutions, non-profits, and others — all working together in the IDEA District to advance job creation and economic development, sustainability and climate-positive development, housing affordability, new mobility, and urban innovation.” (p. 64)

Let’s leave aside the fact that this paragraph assumes a great deal more unity of purpose among diverse entities than is observable in the real world.

Planning would be done with the City of Toronto (a non-exhaustive list of agencies is provided) (p. 64).

The “planning deliverables”:

  • An Infrastructure and Transportation Framework Plan “for areas of the IDEA District with no existing infrastructure master plan” Question: Would the public administrator (WMOMNBWT) coordinate with the city to ensure compatibility?
  • Innovation Design Standards and Guidelines. Although, as we’ll learn below, despite this formal authority, Sidewalk Labs would play a key role in creating these. And based on Waterfront Toronto and Ontario’s (and, I’d guess, the Government of Canada’s) lack of expertise in the area of smart-city development, these rules would be Sidewalk Labs’ to write. (p. 64)
  • Precinct plans and implementing bylaws. This would seem to insert Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs formally into the City of Toronto bureaucracy. I’d love to hear more from municipal government experts about whether it is normal to allow outside agencies and companies bylaw-setting powers. From my vantage point, given Sidewalk Labs’ central role in planning in its IDEA District, this would be a key vector for the privatization of the bylaw-setting process, as well as an indirect way for the federal and provincial governments (via Waterfront Toronto) to similarly set municipal bylaws.

Sidewalk Labs doesn’t want to wait for bylaws to be passed

The administrator may also elect to permit the development of certain land parcels following the completion of a precinct plan and prior to the adoption of implementing bylaws, where such development is in the public interest and is consistent with the Precinct Plan. (p. 65)

I’d always been taught that a law has to be passed and go into effect before it can be enforced. Yet here Sidewalk Labs is suggesting that they do not have to wait for bylaws to be passed before getting down to work.

So much for Sidewalk Labs’ claim that it would follow the law of the land.

For this whole section, I’m sure the devil is in the details, and I’m not much qualified to discuss bylaw-setting processes. Municipal government experts would do well to pay close attention to this section to assess exactly what Sidewalk Labs is asking for, and the extent to which it does or doesn’t follow normal procedures.

Back to the list of “planning deliverables”…

  • Infrastructure and Transportation Master Plan (pp. 65-66).

Now it’s a list of Administrator (WMOMNBWT) implementation responsibilities:

  • Development call and land disposition management, following City guidelines and those of the (Sidewalk Labs co-created) Innovation Design Standards and Guidelines. Unclear: Would this power involve giving a public administrator (WMOMNBWT) control over land that Waterfront Toronto does not currently possess?
  • Certification of development and building permit applications, following Innovation Design Standards and Guidelines. And presumably bylaws that have been rewritten to allow for super-tiny “liveable” studio apartments.
  • Management of municipal infrastructure development: “Working closely with the City of Toronto, the public administrator [WMOMNBWT] would manage the design, construction, and turnover of all required municipal infrastructure, including site preparation, domestic water, sanitary sewer, storm drain conveyance, shoreline improvements, bridges, and public realm (such as parks, plazas, promenades, and streetscape areas), except where noted in Chapter 2, on Page 114. (p. 66)

That’s a lot of responsibility.

  • Management of further light rail transit (LRT) development, with corridor design reviewed and approved by the TTC. The public administrator (WMOMNBWT) would procure and oversee contractors, “again with the TTC itself managing certain elements, such as electrical wiring and special track work, as appropriate.” (p. 66)

So now the public administrator (WMOMNB…) will also have to pay transit experts and run procurement for something where local expertise presumably rests elsewhere in the city. I can’t imagine what could go wrong.

This is going to get pricey, and is going to lead to amateur mistakes. For all of Sidewalk Labs’ talk of scale, they’ve paid precious little attention to the fact that these administrative capabilities make no sense at the scale of a neighbourhood.

My prediction: The IDEA District, if it comes to pass, wwould end up being characterized by less responsive governance (due to the extra layer of unaccountable bureaucracy), more expensive services (due to the huge number of new service fees), and shoddier service deliver (due to the number of disparate tasks that would be foisted upon a new agency that, if it is Waterfront Toronto, has no track record in delivering). The disparity between the IDEA District and the City of Toronto would be obvious and problematic for the area’s elected representatives.

Back to the list…

  • Management of advanced systems. There are a lot of them: “a thermal grid, an advanced power grid, an advanced stormwater management system, a pneumatic waste system, dynamic streets, a digital communications networks, a freight management system, a mobility subscription package, and district parking management” (p. 66).

Sidewalk Labs would deliver them in its two tiny parcels of land (Quayside and Villiers West). The administrator (WMOMN…) would be responsible for developing and managing them everywhere else. And for managing them in Quayside and Villiers West, too.

This is getting expensive, and expansive.

  • Oversight of (many, many) new management entities.
  • Annual public reports on the IDEA District’s progress.
  • Public engagement. Let’s see what they mean by public engagement:

This would include online content, social media, public workshops, charrettes, and meetings with working groups, agencies, and other stakeholders (p. 67).

Which presumably would include elected representatives.

On the Capabilities and capacities of the public administrator [WMOM…]. Basically, it has to do everything:

  • a sophisticated understanding of land-use planning and the management and implementation of large-scale construction, infrastructure, and transportation projects. sufficient knowledge of technology to oversee the work of third-party consultants
  • adequate staffing and institutional resources.
  • developing and managing the performance of advanced systems in later years will require the administrator to develop specialized expertise.
  • appropriate institutional mechanisms to monitor compliance by parties participating in eco- nomic development activities across the IDEA District, including Sidewalk Labs, developers, technology firms, and others.

And it will all be “self-financed,” which is a fancy way of saying taxes and user fees.

Saying that these skills and institutional capacities would be needed, and that they will be “self-financed” is easy. But notice that there is no estimate of how much it would cost to assemble all this skill, especially since they would be asking municipal workers to do complex work that is not being done anywhere in Canada. There is no estimate of how many people would be needed to staff these offices, or of anything resembling serious thought as to whether getting a single agency to do the work of an entire city government is actually workable.

Also, I’ll eat my Sydney Swans toque if self-financing of such a small district is actually feasible. More likely, services would be reduced to the level of available self-financing, which may or may not be enough to deliver the incredibly complex goodies Sidewalk Labs is promising.

This is not a plan; it’s a notion.

Governance and management of advanced systems and solutions (pp. 68-71)

I’m getting tired of repeating myself here, so I’ll try to be brief and just note some points that catch my eye and that I haven’t previously covered about the five new agencies/bureaucracies that Sidewalk Labs is proposing. Those interested in more details can note which pages cover which proposed agencies.

The organizations that Sidewalk Labs suggests here are reported without suggesting budgets or human resources that would allow us to determine whether they could deliver the services that Sidewalk Labs wants them to, or what level of “self-financing” (which is still taxes and user fees in some form – nobody rides for free) would be necessary to sustain them.

They assume that the talent needed to run these agencies and implement these services would be easily available, even though they would be asked to implement complex digital systems beyond what municipalities currently deliver.

The proposed Open Space Alliance (p. 68) would require resources diverted from the City of Toronto (Parks, Forestry and Toronto). Sidewalk Labs also sees non-profits taking up the slack for the management of many of its green spaces.

I’ve already talked a lot about the proposed “Urban Data Trust” (p. 69). Ditto the Waterfront Housing Trust (p. 69). The Waterfront Sustainability Association (p. 69) would be responsible for “Administer[ing] and enforce[ing] all operational service contracts for sustainability-related systems within the district, and Report[ing] on performance relative to sustainability objectives within the IDEA District.”

Not sure how this would work, or if it’s referring to policies that go beyond current regulations:

The proposal seeks to establish a mechanism to hold operators accountable and to fairly represent the interests of users in the district for systems that are not currently subject to public regulation. (Where they are, those regulations would prevail and not be replaced by any requirements of the WSA.) (p. 69)

And I’ve already discussed exactly what I think about the Waterfront Transportation Management Association (p. 70). It was a poorly thought out idea several hundred pages ago; it remains one now.


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