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.

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