On June 24, 2019, after 20 months of sordid twists and turns – high–profile resignations, the CEO who oversaw the whole thing forced out by the Waterfront Toronto Board, accusations of improper tendering processes, a data company hired to implement a data-driven smart city project that proved surprisingly reluctant to discuss data – that turned the whole process of preparing a smart-city proposal into something that one of our Swedish colleagues said resembled an “urban development thriller,” Sidewalk Labs finally released its Master Innovation and Development Plan for Waterfront Toronto’s 12-acre Quayside plot of land. And, um, Villiers West (20 acres). All told, a huge chunk of the eastern waterfront (190 acres). Prime real estate, as it happens.
And, oh, yes. Sidewalk Labs also proposes restructuring or replacing Waterfront Toronto, the government agency that hired Sidewalk Labs in the first place. I’m not sure that this negotiation approach, the bureaucratic equivalent of killing your boss and then demanding a raise, was the kind of out-of-the-box thinking Waterfront Toronto expected when they hired the neophyte Google company to come in and shake things up. If this tactic does catch on, I propose that the act of hiring someone whose pitch explicitly involves demanding your dismissal be referred to as “pulling a Lando.”
Oh, and the report is over 1,500 pages long. And it doesn’t have a proper Executive Summary.
I also understand that the Sidewalk Labs plan has been endorsed by some 30 Toronto civic luminaries, some of whom, such as “Alan Broadbent, CEO of Toronto-based commercial real estate lender Avana Capital and signatory of the letter,” apparently had not yet read the report in its entirety.
And who can blame them – it’s longer than The Stand!
Still, somebody should read this behemoth, if only to find out what, exactly, our City Mothers and Fathers are effectively endorsing. And so, over the next several days/weeks I will be going through the entire Master Innovation and Development Plan, highlighting key issues, and you’re invited along for the ride.
But first, in order to put Google’s Sidewalk Labs’ MIDP into the proper context, to see what Toronto’s civic leaders are supporting, we need to revisit a few other documents:
- the 2018 Ontario Auditor General’s report into Waterfront Toronto, including the problematic process that led to Sidewalk Labs winning the contest to propose a development plan for Quayside
- Waterfront Toronto’s original Request for Proposals;
- Sidewalk Labs’ Project Vision and related appendices;
- Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs’ July 31, 2018, Plan Development Agreement; and
- Sidewalk Labs’ October 2018 digital governance proposals.
That’s a lot of supplemental reading just to understand fully the main text.
Since I have to do this reading to help prepare my submission to the Waterfront Toronto consultation process, it would be nice to have some company. My plan, for now, is to spend at least one post on each document, although I imagine I’ll have to divide the MIDP into several posts. Each post will consist of a brief summary of what I think are the most salient points, followed by a list of key quotes divided by issue area. I’ll be running one post a day, except for today, when you’ll get two.
My aim is to create a resource for anyone who wants to bring themselves up to speed on documents that are not … shall we say … designed to be easily digested. Even by city luminaries weighing in on what could end up being the digital Spadina Expressway of the 21st century.
Next up, the Auditor General of Ontario’s 2018 report into Waterfront Toronto.