Liveblogging Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan, Entry 13: The MIDP Overview IV: The Plans, parts 3, 4 and 5; Priority Outcomes

Previous Master Innovation and Development Plan liveblog entries available here

Moving on…

Part 3: The River District: Creating an Innovation Ecosystem to Build on Quayside’s Impact (pp. 130-149)

MIDP as sales brochure, Exhibit A

There are proportionately more pictures in Part 3 than in Part 2, the equivalent of 10 of 19 pages.

This section sets out, via text and with calming pictures, their sales pitch for how the “River District” (the IDEA district minus Quayside) would function. As always, lots of dreamy tech utopianism that doesn’t really resemble a concrete plan, but four things stand out.

First, this section gives us an indication of Sidewalk Labs’ designs as the effective regulator of this area: The River District proposal does not include Sidewalk Labs undertaking detailed planning or leading development in this area. Instead, it aims to help create the conditions that enable both the public and private sectors to make great things happen” (p. 133).

Second, this section highlights how central the presence of Google’s Canadian branch headquarters is to its vision. What most interesting about it is how, well, banal this proposal is. Basically, their innovative plan is, bring in a big company to function as an anchor company. It’s an old play that’s less about cutting-edge innovation and more about creating a tech cluster in Google’s image and responsive to Google’s overall needs. Though it would give Google a nice pipeline to attract and control Canadian-developed intellectual property, delivering it to the United States and cementing Canada’s subordinate economic position in the digital economy. This would go against Sidewalk Lab’s comment that it doesn’t have a desire “to export Canadian talent or intellectual output to the United States” (p. 84). But I’ll bet Google does appropriate Canadian-developed intellectual property; that’s just how business functions in the 21st century.

Third, has anyone thought through the policy implications of Sidewalk Labs’ proposed Urban Innovation Institute?

the Urban Innovation Institute, a new non-profit applied research institute designed to bring together academia, industry, entrepreneurs, advocates, and public agencies to collaborate on tackling urban challenges — developed with local universities and government partners (p. 137).

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m a big fan of the separation of business, government and academia. I don’t think cross-sector collaboration is always and everywhere a bad thing, but there’s something to be said for ensuring a degree of independence among the three groups, so that each can call out the other when need be. This type of institute smacks of the false assumption that technology is neutral, which is exactly the type of thinking that’s allowed pervasive commercial and state surveillance to flourish.

The most obvious concern about an Urban Innovation Institute would be how independent this centre would be from Google itself. Already I’m hearing from some academics claim that a lot of tech scholars aren’t speaking out on these issues because they receive Google funding and/or don’t want to rock the boat. Certainly, I’ve noticed a big difference between Google- and government-funded internet institutes during my time in Germany, having spoken at both. Guess which ones are more critical of issues like surveillance and data governance.

Also, I’m not sure how much public funding should go into would essentially be a Google think tank, focused as much on policy and regulation as on technology. (On which more in a later post.)

Fourth, Sidewalk Labs isn’t interested in paying for most of this, but they will help arrange funding (p. 133) for all the “strong transit connections and basic infrastructure” that’s needed “to fully unlock the area’s potential” (p. 132).

Part 4: Committing to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (pp. 150-155)

One point, because most of this Part cosists of easy-to-make commitments:

On savings from their “mobility subscription package,” which would cover TTC, ride shares, the coveted waterfront light rail, scooters and the like: “a mobility subscription package would enable households to forgo car ownership, saving more than $4,000 a year without sacrificing the ability to get around” (p. 153). Most Torontonians who live downtown, according to Sidewalk Labs’ own numbers, don’t own cars (p. 52).*

Also, I’m looking forward to finding out exactly how many of Sidewalk Labs’ plans have to turn out just right in order for an actual family to realize these savings. And the extent to which these savings will be cancelled out by various Sidewalk Labs user fees.

Part 5: A New Economic Engine that Drives Outsized Job Growth on an Accelerated Timeline (pp. 156-163)

This is the recap section, in which it sets forth with some fancy graphs what it expects its tax, GDP and employment contribution could be (if everything works out).

Section C: Priority Outcomes

Part 1: Striving to Meet Waterfront Toronto’s Five Priority Outcomes (pp. 164-165)

  • Two pages listing the priority outcomes:
    • Job creation and economic development
    • Sustainable and climate-positive development
    • Housing affordability
    • New mobility (transportation)
    • Urban innovation (Good to know: “‘must do’s’ concerning digital innovation include compliance with all applicable laws and regulations” (p. 165))

Part 2: Impact Summary: Achieving the Ambitious Priority Outcomes (pp. 166-195)

In which it states the targets it claims it can hit in these priority areas.

Again, assuming everything goes according to plan and everything works out.

And with the sales job out of the way, tomorrow we get to Sidewalk Lab’s Big Ask.


*  On page 52, Sidewalk Labs notes, “the vast majority of households across the city own a car, as do nearly half of households downtown.” Because Quayside etc. would be a downtown community, the relevant comparison isn’t Toronto’s vast suburbs, but downtown Toronto.

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