On substantive analysis, and some incredibly sloppy data reporting that raises questions about Sidewalk Labs’ quality control and makes this former StatsCan editor (The Daily and Infomat, publications, back in the day) very sad.
This is it! The final post for Volume 1! Only … sigh … two more volumes to go.
At this point, over 70 pages into Chapter 3, what stands out about a chapter that is supposed to be all about “Economic Development,” is the lack of actual or sophisticated economic analysis. Most of it is a restatement of the swell proposals Sidewalk Labs has made elsewhere, in the overview and in Volume 1. Sidewalk Labs has touted its urbanMetrics’ report, but there’s not much of urbanMetrics in here. Instead, the preceding economic analysis – such as it was – was based mostly on anecdotes.
All this to say that the chapter so far has been 70 pages of filler. What do the final ten pages hold?
Both more and less than what we’ve already seen.
In a just world, these ten pages would have stood on their own (also the preceding text would not have repeated every single point a dozen times). These ten pages detail the findings of the urbanMetrics report (almost all of which we’ve already seen), but they don’t break out the individual contributors to growth (e.g., the timber factory).
The analysis is at such a high level (and is dependent on Sidewalk Labs’ own data and projections) that they don’t help us answer the big questions, such as: what do the individual components of this project contribute to the overall picture, both statically and dynamically?
On a related point, urbanMetrics’s report is an analysis of Sidewalk Labs’ best-case scenario, in which nothing at all goes wrong. So, these numbers should be treated as the absolute upper bound of what is possible. Actual results will almost certainly be lower than what’s predicted here.
This section brings us to just over halfway through the entire report. As hard as it is to believe, we’re closer to the end than the beginning. Right now, the thought that there might be life beyond the MIDP is the only think that keeps me going.
Impact 1: Spurring the creation of 44,000 direct jobs and 93,000 total jobs (pp. 496-499; not listed in Table of Contents)
I’m just going to be reporting the numbers here. I’m not going to be putting them in a larger context regarding whether they’re realistic (i.e., the proportion of jobs predicted versus actual job growth). That would be very useful to do, but I’d like this project to end before the sun explodes.
For those of you who want to do that, use your best judgment. If Sidewalk Labs claims that the area will contribute a disproportionate amount to either job creation or GDP, that’ll tell you that their numbers aren’t trustworthy.
So, here’s what urbanMetrics’ model, using Sidewalk Labs-provided inputs:
- 44,100 direct jobs in the entire Eastern Waterfront by 2040, a large proportion of which would be in professional and scientific and technical services
- 2,500 industrial jobs (light manufacturing, transportation)
- “Population-based services,” an odd term encompassing everything from doctors to retail and which doesn’t seem to be used in the urbanMetrics report: 12,000 jobs
- Knowledge-based industries, which they define as “technology, finance, professional services, and creative fields, including the film industry”: 29,000
- 49,000 more jobs by 2040 throughout the country.
- an average wage increase to $70,000 (IDEA District), compared to projected $60,000 (Eastern Waterfront? – I wasn’t able to find these specific figures in the urbanMetrics report, but I might’ve missed it. It sure would’ve been nice if Sidewalk Labs had provided some page references. This number seems to come from a simple averaging of current average industry incomes (p. 497), so it might not even be mentioned in the report.)
A couple of things (leaving the heavy lifting to others):
I tried breaking out exactly what types of employment Sidewalk Labs believes they will be generating, because it’s a bit weird to lump doctors and sales clerks into the same category. What follows is from the urbanMetrics report (p. 51). It includes 2,500 “work at home” jobs that are excluded from the 44,100 number reported by Sidewalk Labs (44,200 in the actual report):
Assumed Employment Composition by Industry, by 2040, Sidewalk Labs Version
|Professional, Scientific and Technical Services||14,000|
|Information and Cultural Industries||7,000|
|Management of Companies and Enterprises||4,700|
|Finance, Insurance and Real Estate||5,800|
|Health Care and Social Assistance||2,300|
|Accommodation and Food Services||2,300|
|Retail, Wholesale, Transportation and Warehousing||2,300|
|Administrative, Support, Waste Management and Remediation||2,300|
|All Other Services||4,700|
Source: urbanMetrics Inc., Sidewalk Toronto Economic Impact Analysis, p. 51.
For some, this might be a bit too inside-baseball, but it’s best practice to ensure that others can figure out how you calculated your numbers (#transparency). Using a composite category, “population-based services,” once in the report, on a single page, without making clear what the underlying components of this category actually are, and reporting two different employment numbers (a total at-home-work-excluding and a disaggregation that includes at-home work) isn’t cool. It’s sloppy. If you’re a company asking people to give you a multi-billion-dollar contract like this one, raising questions about basic competence is not a good look.
Impact 2: Nearly seven times the potential annual GDP impact (pp. 500-501; not listed in Table of Contents)
The Toronto firm urbanMetrics estimates that the growing global profile of the IDEA District could generate an estimated $14.2 billion in economic output for Canada each year (GDP), including $11.8 billion in Toronto, which represents a more than six-fold increase in value added to the Canadian economy compared to status quo development by 2040. (p. 500)
So, I used to work copyediting tables at Statistics Canada.
Sidewalk Labs: you have a typo in the second column of row 1 on page 501: $11,769,431,015 should be $11,769,431,016.
Moving on, this $11.8 billion of annual GDP for Toronto would be equivalent to about 3.5% of its 2014 GDP.
Impact 3: The largest city building project in North America (pp. 502-503; not listed in Table of Contents)
This section highlights the project’s effects on construction. All I’ll note that it’s depending on an unproven technology – factory-made timber skyscrapers.
Part 4: Exploring Economic Impact Further into the Future (pp. 504-515)
This section continues the imagineering, wondering what could be done if these developments led to the development of even more waterfront land, with a brief detour into the Bloor Viaduct.
One final note: the further out one’s predictions go, the less reliable they become. Fittingly, the world “could” does a lot of work in Part 4.
And with that, we’re finished Volume 1: The Plans. Next up: Volume 2: The Innovations. I’m hoping for less repetition because it would be nice to read something substantive. But also more repetition, because this project is soul-destroying.