Liveblogging Sidewalk Labs’ Master Innovation and Development Plan, Entry 29: The MIDP Volume 2, The Innovations, Chapter 2: Public Realm

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

The next few posts are going to be a bit threadbare, because what more needs to be said? At least for now.

Chapter 2: Public Realm (pp. 118-149)

Introduction (pp. 120-125)

Part 1: Creating More Open Space (pp. 126-149)

Goal 1: Reclaim space for the people (pp. 128-139)

Street design favouring pedestrians. Modular pavement.

Goal 2: Make the most of new parks, plazas, and open spaces (pp. 140-149

Part 2: Making Open Space More Usable More of the Time (p. 150-177)

Goal 1: Reinvent the role of the ground floor (pp. 151-166)

Flexible leasing tools (read: apps and financing), adaptable building structures (p. 150)

Goal 2: Design an outdoor comfort system for all seasons (pp. 167-177)

Based on “real-time climate data and a set of deployable weather-mitgatin fixtures – such as retractable awnings and inflatable shelters.” (p. 150)

Talk about “developing a system that proactively predicts and plans for outdoor comfort” (p. 169). At the full-scale prototype phase. (p. 170)

Part 3: Ensuring Open Space Is More Responsive (pp. 178—191)

New bureaucracy alert:

The proposed OSA would administer shared physical infrastructure. … The proposed entity could also help urban innovators, ranging from civic technologists to startups, run pilots in open space. (p. 178)

Goal 1: Establish an entity to coordinate programming, operations, and maintenance (pp. 179-181)

The Open Space Alliance: Coordinate programming, operations, and maintenance. (p. 179)

Issue: Toronto faces chronic funding shortages.

The OSA would be responsible for a lot of space that was previously vehicular rights-of-way, which would be operated more like parks but “still owned by the city and managed by its transportation department, but it would now be operated more like parks.”

These spaces would need to be effectively integrated with the local park network and would benefit from comparable levels of management and funding.

Question: how much funding would it need?

It would be a public-private partnership “jointly governed and financed by both sectors.”

All city-owned open spaces would remain owned by the government, which would participate in programming, operations, and maintenance with the OSA.


  • What would be the anticipated government/taxpayer contribution?
  • How much more would Torontonians have to pay for this bureaucracy?
  • How much would private sector be expected to pay?
  • How do you guarantee sufficient resources?

This is an odd principle

The public realm needs to reflect a truly public space — with the city retaining ownership of city-owned open spaces — while also protecting the needs and rights of private property owners on their land. (p. 181)

Why is this statement, emphasizing the sanctity of private property owners here? It seems to be responding to an unstated specific concern.

And who decides what counts as an improvement of an open space?

This would seem to be much more controversial than it’s portrayed as being:

Generally, the OSA should be set up to facilitate the ideas of others who want to activate and improve open space, rather than act as a top-down planning body. (p. 181)

Goal 2: Provide physical infrastructure that enables community programming

What billions of dollars and giving up governance control over a significant part of the waterfront gets you

There are a lot of coulds in this pitch for something that kind of underwhelms:

A teenager could join a virtual queue to play a life-size chess game projected onto the side of a building. The next day, the projected game could be Chinese checkers, and an elderly resident might sign up. Crowds could gather to watch the game in action. (p. 182)

Crowds could, but how likely would this be?

Everyday surveillance: What could go wrong?

With [the app] CommonSpace, park operators or community organizers can enter information they observe about public life into a user-friendly app, such as what assets or areas people prefer or what spaces they avoid. (p. 185)

Fun fact: The word “surveillance” appears twice in the entire main text of the MIDP (p. 1196 and p. 1220 of the consolidated MIDP). It also shows up once in the footnotes, in the title of a report. The cynic inside of me thinks that this was two times more than was intended.

Goal 3: Provide digital infrastructure that enables proactive maintenance (pp. 186-189)

Of utilities and infrastructure.

Goal 4: Connect urban innovators and public spaces (pp. 190-191)

Why is Sidewalk Labs talking about its proposed Open Space Alliance as if it already exists?

The OSA’s new policy and funding framework, which encourages experimentation, coupled with the shared physical and digital infrastructure described on Page 184, enables urban innovators, from civic technologists to businesses, to prototype their ideas in a real-world environment. (p. 190)

For the record, the OSA proposal suffers from almost all of the problems of the proposed WTMA, absent the trigovernmental steering group. No costing, no sense of number of employees. It’s a notion, not a plan. If this is the best Sidewalk Labs can do after 18 months, they can’t be trusted to manage a project like this.

Public Engagement (pp. 192-199)

Feedback on public-realm aspects of Sidewalk Labs’ proposals.

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