No Longer Liveblogging Sidewalk Labs’ MIDP, Entry 50: Coda

And just like that, it ends, with Sidewalk Labs, the company that bragged how Google’s deep pockets allowed it to play the long game, that six months ago said it was in it for the long term, turning its back on the Quayside project. CEO Daniel L. Doctoroff claims “economic uncertainty” related to the global pandemic, which, I don’t know. The Toronto waterfront remains some of the most valuable undeveloped urban land in North America, and post-pandemic, a recession-scarred Toronto, you’d imagine, would be quite receptive to the promise of new economic investment.

Doctoroff’s letter has all the markings of an exercise in saving face, but that shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s been clear for a while now that this project was being maintained by a combination of bureaucratic inertia and the extent to which both organizations had bet the farm on this obviously flawed project. Which isn’t to say that its collapse was foreordained; personally, I figured they’d get something, no matter how unwieldy, across the finish line (see: face-saving).

In a just-published article in The Conversation, Dr. Natasha Tusikov and I reflect on some of the policy lessons this debacle can teach us. After all, there’s no shame, necessarily, in failure: Waterfront Toronto got in over its head with Sidewalk Labs and the original RFP. These things happen.

What’s less forgivable is the failure to learn from these mistakes. Dr. Tusikov, I and many, many others identified these issues very early on. But instead of listening to people who actually knew what they were talking about, instead of following fundamental good governance principles, Waterfront Toronto at every turn obfuscated, deflected and denied. I’ve detailed numerous examples over fifty-plus posts, totalling over 100,000 words, but just to remind you, here are a few greatest hits:

  • Claiming a children’s day camp as a form of public consultation.
  • Months after the (secret) Framework Agreement had been signed, appointing a part-time, volunteer Digital Strategy Advisory Panel to provide a sheen of legitimacy to an agency with no digital expertise. And then failing to give them the time to do their analyses – not that a part-time panel can make up in any way for the absence of skilled in-house analysts.
  • Holding a whirlwind July 2019 “consultation” on the 1,500-page Master Innovation and Development Plan, before anybody – including its own analysts – had fully digested this monstrosity.
  • Reducing the consultations to the status of a sideshow by issuing its own demands (the real demands) before even collating the responses.
  • The October 31, 2019, agreement with Sidewalk Labs, which picked-and-chose a list of technologies from the MIDP, called it a plan, and claimed that they had amended the MIDP, without releasing an amended text. Or a (non-existent, or at least inconsequential) revised economic, social or environmental analysis.
  • And the original sin, in the RFP, engaging in a co-governance venture in the first place, then claiming, upon the release of the MIDP, that Waterfront Toronto was now supervising Sidewalk Labs (despite the governing Plan Development Agreement stating they were in a joint relationship), and then, post-October 2019, they were back to working together again.

The tragedy is that the lessons that Dr. Tusikov and I (with an assist from Dr. Zachary Spicer) point out were obvious a few months into the project. This project should have been shut down the moment former Waterfront CEO Will Fleissig was shown the door in July 2018. Because of Waterfront Toronto’s … hubris? ignorance? arrogance? … everyone who correctly saw the Quayside disaster for what it was has had to spend the last two years playing defence instead of using our skills to promote positive change.

Waterfront Toronto needs to go under the microscope

The three levels of government responsible for Waterfront Toronto need to undertake a serious investigation into every aspect of what can only be seen as a colossal governance failure on its part. The Auditor General of Ontario has pointed out substantial structural flaws, and the extent to which it has engaged in stringing the public along in this process should be very concerning to anyone interested in good governance.

But now that it’s over, hopefully Sidewalk Labs’ departure will allow the people who have devoted so much time to this project to go and build something positive, rather than spending our time trying to avert disaster.

Final kudos

It’s somewhat ironic that the two events that most set this endgame into motion were the election of Waterfront Toronto nemesis Doug Ford (which led to the shaking up of Waterfront Toronto’s Board) and a global coronavirus pandemic. But, of course, it wouldn’t have gotten to this point without the hard work of many activists, most notably Bianca Wylie and the #BlockSidewalk coalition. As Dr. Tusikov and I point out in The Conversation, the Quayside project had implications that reached far beyond Toronto; for that reason alone, Wylie and #BlockSidewalk’s activism should be mentioned in the same breath as the activists, including Jane Jacobs, who thwarted the Spadina Expressway in the late 1960s.

While the Digital Strategy Advisory Panel and its members ran the real risk of being co-opted by Waterfront Toronto, potentially endangering their own reputations, their critiques were invaluable in giving reporters an “official” voice to quote in their stories. After all, it’s much harder to dismiss criticisms coming from inside the house. In the business community, Jim Balsillie is another person who has done more than his fair share to highlight the myriad problems with this project.

Edited to add: And I can’t believe I almost forgot to mention the principled resignations of Julie Di Lorenzo (from Waterfront Toronto’s Board), and Saadia Muzaffar and John Ruffolo (from the Digital Strategy Advisory Panel). The pressure to go along to get along should never be underestimated: It takes courage to stand up for your principles in the face of wrongdoing.

Finally, shout-out also to the handful of academics who did their jobs in critiquing an obvious flawed project, even when it seemed like we were rolling a boulder up a hill. This is what we get paid for.

Posted in Quayside | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

No Longer Liveblogging Sidewalk Labs’ MIDP, Entry 49: A letter from Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff

At The Conversation, Dr. Natasha Tusikov and I share a few thoughts on the policy lessons learned from the Quayside debacle. Reposted below:

Sidewalk Labs’ smart-city plans for Toronto are dead. What’s next?

On May 7, the Google company Sidewalk Labs announced that it was withdrawing from its partnership with Waterfront Toronto, and its plans to create a smart-city neighbourhood called Quayside.

The surprise announcement — attributed by Sidewalk Labs CEO Daniel L. Doctoroff to “unprecedented economic uncertainty” produced by the current COVID-19 pandemic — brings to a close one of the most bizarre and ill-conceived policy debacles we’ve ever come across.

It is hard to exaggerate the extent to which the entire Quayside development was not just a mess, but an obvious mess. This was a multi-billion-dollar deal between a land-development agency with no previous experience with foundational smart-city issues like data and intellectual property and a tech company created in 2015, with no track record in urban development.

Built on data and secrecy

Smart cities are built on data, yet Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs proved extremely reluctant to even discuss data governance issues almost a year into their partnership. This, even though Sidewalk Labs’ main, if not only, competitive advantage is that it is an affiliate of Google, the world’s pre-eminent data company.

And when it came time to produce a plan, Sidewalk Labs instead delivered an orgy of mandate-exceeding ideas thrown together in a glossy, four-volume, 1,500-page sales brochure.

The Quayside project comprised over two million square feet of developable space and four hectares of public space. (Sidewalk Labs)

This was a project shrouded in secrecy, engulfed in scandals, featuring a governance style that could most charitably be described as “making it up on the fly.”

Significance of withdrawal

The Quayside debacle matters for all Canadians in two important ways.

First, Canada’s underdeveloped data governance framework would have meant that Waterfront Toronto, a land-development agency isolated from direct public accountability, would have had the power to shape subsequent and consequential Canadian data governance regulation.

Second, Sidewalk Labs’ presence in Toronto would have effectively committed Canada to a digital economic-development policy framework centred on a single foreign data company. Canadian policy-makers would have been under enormous pressure to regulate in the best interests of Google, rather than Canadians and Canadian tech firms. While this mentality worked well for Canada in building a manufacturing base, an economy based on intangibles such as data and intellectual property doesn’t work the same way.

Lessons for future projects

Even in failure, Quayside can teach us lessons about how to deal with the growing number of projects that have data or intellectual property components. We have the opportunity to design digital infrastructure policies that will contribute to our well-being. Some of the most important lessons (developed with our colleague, political scientist Zachary Spicer) include:

Policy-makers need to take data and intellectual property seriously. Data is used to determine everything from traffic flows to access to welfare. It is economically valuable in and of itself, as is intellectual property.

Don’t make policy with a vendor. Waterfront Toronto’s original sin in its March 2017 request for proposals was to share policy-setting on crucial issues like data and intellectual property with a private company. This is not just a problem for public accountability, but can lead to fundamental conflicts of interest when it comes to deciding who should control data and what should be done with it.

Develop data and intellectual property frameworks before entering partnerships with private entities. Waterfront Toronto’s other major error was not understanding the importance of data and intellectual property at the beginning. In a knowledge-based economy and society, data governance is a fundamental issue affecting economic development and fundamental human rights. Governments need policies to deal with these issue, and while there have been some moves on this front, we are woefully behind where we should be.

Develop digital expertise at all levels of government. In a scathing 2018 report on Waterfront Toronto, Ontario’s Auditor General concluded that neither Waterfront Toronto nor the province of Ontario had the expertise to deal with smart-city issues. This has to change, at all levels. We need people who understand how the digital economy is different from a manufacturing economy, and the related social policy issues.

Rethink the role of private platforms. Similar to platforms in other areas, Sidewalk Labs’ fundamental idea was to make itself indispensable to the delivery of public services. We need a broader conversation about the desirability and long-term viability of for-profit private platforms delivering public services, from health and transit to housing.

Finally, urban development should start with the community and avoid “technological soultionism.” Sidewalk Labs started with a set of cool tech that they tried to convince Torontonians they needed. Instead, cities need to start by asking residents to identify their needs and then consider all possible options without assuming that the answer to every problem involves big data and new technology.

Developing future policy

The two-plus years Waterfront Toronto spent pursuing this folly has left the Quayside project back at the starting line, but there’s no reason why we can’t learn from its mistakes.

We now have the opportunity to carefully develop smart-city policies in consultation with Canadians that will improve our standard of living and quality of life.

Posted in Quayside | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Once more, with feeling: Facebook’s new Oversight Board continues to be an attempted end-run around actual regulation

Of course it will be a “reputational shield,” as The Guardian puts it. That’s the whole point of these types of exercise. So long as Facebook makes the rules, it holds all the cards that matter.

Global platform governance is an issue area in dire need of more International Political Economy analysis.

Reposting some comments from Twitter:

No, Facebook’s oversight board does not solve its legitimacy problem.

I wrote about how to evaluate such platforms, and FB’s board in particular, in this paper.

Global #platformgovernance is an example of Dani Rodrik’s global governance trilemma: You can only have two of the following three: democratic governance, national sovereignty and hyperglobalization.

With its oversight board, FB has chosen hyperglobalization — one ruler for everyone — and the (neutered) nation-state, who will have to take whatever Facebook decides. So whatever legitimacy this board has, it’s certainly not democratic.

Instead, Facebook’s strategy is to claim legitimacy for its plan and itself by saying that it’s going to rely on human-rights experts. Which sounds fine; after all, you’re not against human rights, are you?

The problem here is the same one we find in pretty much every other area of global economic governance, namely that not only do “experts” have honest policy disagreements, but different societies have different views on what the means and ends of policies should be.

In his excellent and highly readable book, The Globalization Paradox, Rodrik points out that European and American policymakers have very different tolerances for risk in their financial markets. Who’s correct? That’s the point: it’s in the eye of the beholder.

Global legitimation via expertise only works with shared agreement over both means and ends. You don’t have that in most areas of economic policy, and you certainly don’t have it when it comes to platform regulation.

(I note in particular that Facebook lumps Canada in with the United States, with the US having 25% of all board members. Fun fact: The two societies have VERY different views on speech regulation.)

So how do you adjudicate between honest but potentially irreconcilable differences if you can’t rely on experts? Rodrik argues convincingly that in economics, you should leave countries with enough policy space to set their own way if they believe it’s necessary.

This is the exact opposite of Facebook’s (and every global platform’s) approach.

And once more, with feeling: The key issue isn’t whether you’re basing your system on “international human rights”, but who defines what international human rights means. There can be legitimate differences regarding how to legislate “international human rights.”

For example, one human-rights norm that Facebook and its supporters conspicuously and consistently ignore: the right to democratic self-determination. In the face of honest disagreements, who gets to decide? In this case, it’s Facebook initially and then it’s rule by experts.

After all, courts don’t have legitimacy just because they’re transparent and follow the rule of law; it’s because they’re grounded in a democratic system. This board has no such legitimacy.

Facebook’s advisory board is what it always has been: A transparent attempt to stave off actual regulation by (democratic) nation-states. Because at the end of the day, somebody always calls the shots. I’d rather have that person face some sort of (democratic) accountability.

Finally, so much of what’s written in this area could be improved by some exposure to some International Political Economy. Rodrik’s got some useful insights, and if you want to understand power and platforms, check out Susan Strange’s States and Markets.

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Rethinking the world

Some useful suggestions from Aisha Ahmad on how academics should work in these unprecedented times, none more helpful than her advice to use the current moment to question our assumptions about how the world works:

In the spirit of distraction, and in addition to my never-ending series of Quayside posts, I’m going to try to use this blog to highlight interesting articles that get me thinking about everything that’s happening. I’m doing this primarily for my own education, but hopefully some of you will find it interesting or useful and not too banal or obvious.

If these entries don’t do it for you, I recommend my old university friend Giles’ blog, One-Way Mirror, where he mostly reviews science fiction and fantasy books and films. He’s a great writer.

First up is Branko Miloanovic: The Real Pandemic Danger Is Social Collapse:

“The world faces the prospect of a profound shift: a return to natural—which is to say, self-sufficient—economy. That shift is the very opposite of globalization. While globalization entails a division of labor among disparate economies, a return to natural economy means that nations would move toward self-sufficiency.”

We were already seeing moves in this direction: a renewed focus on national industrial policy, particularly as it relates to artificial intelligence and digital policy more generally (what I’ve been calling digital economic nationalism), the increasing tendency to identify tech companies by their country of origin, and the China-US cold war over tech policy and 5G. Then there’s the question of climate change, which you’d think will eventually have an effect on the viability of air transportation and international cargo shipments.

Add to that the declining relative power of the United States, the indispensable country in global governance, and you have a recipe for a shrinking world even without the novel coronavirus.

Societal collapse, warns Milanovic, is not an impossibility in the U.S., or elsewhere:

The movement to natural economy would be driven not by ordinary economic pressures but by much more fundamental concerns, namely, epidemic disease and the fear of death. Therefore, standard economic measures can only be palliative in nature: they can (and should) provide protection to people who lose their jobs and have nothing to fall back on and who frequently lack even health insurance. As such people become unable to pay their bills, they will create cascading shocks, from housing evictions to banking crises.

Even so, the human toll of the disease will be the most important cost and the one that could lead to societal disintegration. Those who are left hopeless, jobless, and without assets could easily turn against those who are better off. Already, some 30 percent of Americans have zero or negative wealth. If more people emerge from the current crisis with neither money, nor jobs, nor access to health care, and if these people become desperate and angry, such scenes as the recent escape of prisoners in Italy or the looting that followed Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 might become commonplace. If governments have to resort to using paramilitary or military forces to quell, for example, riots or attacks on property, societies could begin to disintegrate.

Canada’s position in such a world: a small country in the North American region whose world will shrink largely to the continent we share with a superpower that is working through a lot of issues at the moment. There’s a good chance that we’re about to enter a new era in Canada-US relations, if we haven’t done so already.

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Making the most of your visiting fellowship, or What I did in February in Berlin

I’m writing this from Berlin, where I’m just about to conclude a monthlong visiting fellowship at the Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society. It’s been an all-around fantastic experience – thanks to everyone at the Institute for being such generous hosts. Since it’s the end of my time here – I’m heading back to Canada on Sunday, assuming that the coronavirus doesn’t sweep Berlin in the next 48 hours – I thought I’d share a few thoughts about why I think it worked out so well.

Warning: This post contains some humblebrags, mainly because I’m very happy with how much I got accomplished.

  1. The importance of preparing for your fellowship

I took this fellowship as part of my half-year sabbatical. Sabbaticals are supposed to be a time to regroup, change directions or engage in the intensive research and/or writing that’s hard to do when you’re teaching and carrying out departmental administrative duties. (For the non-academics out there: it’s not a vacation; it’s actually a chance to do more research-focused work.)

Of course, one’s obligations don’t just evaporate once your sabbatical starts. My strategy was to start the fellowship a month into my sabbatical. I used that first month to take care of some remaining teaching obligations as well as some smaller projects so I could devote myself full-time to the project that was bringing me to Berlin.

I’m happy to report that this deck-cleaning allowed me to concentrate on my main project, a manuscript that really needs to be written now. So, that was good.

  1. Choosing the right institute

The advice here is straightforward: go to an institute where the people are interested in you and your work. This seems like a no-brainer, but if the match isn’t great, you won’t get much out of the experience. These types of things are supposed to be mutually beneficial: a chance for you to learn from others, and they from you.

That’s exactly what I got from the Weizenbaum Institute, which has a great interdisciplinary cohort of researchers – mostly other research fellows and doctoral students, which is also great since doctoral students as deep in the work and the literature as any tenured professor (perhaps moreso). Most importantly, we were all studying variations on internet governance, data and intellectual property, but from a lot of different perspectives. As a result, I’ve received really valuable feedback from so many people here.

Beyond the informal chats, the Institute generously hosted a workshop to discuss some of my manuscript-in-progress (co-authored by Dr. Natasha Tusikov), as well as a lecture, where I presented a paper on global platform governance (a previous version of which is available here).

It also helps that everyone here is incredibly friendly and open. Also, they have absolutely the quietest open-concept office I’ve ever been in. Very conducive to getting lots of distraction-free work done. If you’re interested in digital/internet issues from a societal perspective and want to do some work/research out of Berlin, drop them a line.

  1. Travel is good

As a Canadian, one of the other benefits of working at the Weizenbaum Institute is that it’s far away from my North American comfort zone. If you can swing it, travelling to another country is a nice way to see how the rest of the world thinks, and to help you identify your own biases. For example, a lot of my recent research is focused on increasing government involvement in the economy. While this is a worldwide trend, it looks differently in Europe, where industrial policy never fully fell out of style, than in Canada, where we haven’t really thought in those terms in over 30 years. As a German-Canadian former colleague at the Library of Parliament once remarked, “Neoliberalism in Europe means something different than neoliberalism in Canada.”

  1. A distraction-free, disciplined work schedule

One of the benefits of a visiting fellowship is that you get rid of the distractions and obligations of your everyday routine. It is, in other words, a chance to get a lot of work done, so take advantage of that.

My main goal at the Weizenbaum Institute was to rework significantly a book proposal and three chapters. I also have several papers and chapters that need attending to, as well as a forthcoming volume I’m co-editing on internet governance. So, I’m not lacking for things to do, but the book is the priority.

My strategy was to work weekdays from 9-12 on the book project, break for lunch (there’s a cohort at the Institute that gets lunch every day, and lots of good restaurants around), then back to the book from 1-4. From 4-6 I work on my other projects. While not every day went according to this schedule, most did.

And it worked! In the past month I was able to: complete the book proposal and totally rework my three chapters; finalize a journal article for submission; prepare and present two in-town seminars (and another in London just before I arrived in Berlin); hold a (very useful) manuscript workshop; begin preparations for a chapter for another project; edit some chapters for the aforementioned edited volume; prepare a submission for the Quayside evaluation; and come up with a pitch for a long-form oped I’m considering.

Yeah, it’s been a good month, work-wise.

  1. Have a project, and focus only on that

While I got a lot accomplished during my previous fellowship, it was a lot of little things – finishing an edited volume, some interviews, a whole slew of conference papers. This time, I arrived with one project – write the damn book – and stuck to it.

That said, I also made sure to schedule a few presentations over my time here (which all went very well), as well as attending a few talks. It’s all about that academic exchange.

  1. Get to see the city

Travel for a fellowship isn’t just a chance to work in a different (and hopefully inspiring) environment; it’s an opportunity to see a different part of the world. So you should do that, no matter where you go. Here’s what I got up to when I wasn’t writing.

  • Eisbären hockey: I got to four Eisbären Berlin hockey games, and they were great fun. The hockey itself isn’t NHL calibre, but it’s professional hockey played at a high level. There’s less contact than in the NHL, which I actually like. And in the final game there were around four fights(!). From where I sat, the lack of contact meant that the fights felt more meaningful, rather than just an extension of the more brutal side of NHL hockey.

While the hockey may be a step below the NHL, as an entertainment product German hockey is actually more enjoyable to watch live than an NHL game. There are no TV timeouts to interrupt the flow of the game, the cheer section behind the home goal keeps the energy up (even if it’s weird that their cheering rarely mirrors what’s actually happening on the ice), and the players all shake hands at the end of the game (something the NHL should institute to make the game seem less macho and self-serious). Plus at the beginning of each game, the mascot or a kid uses an upright bear-shaped sled to deliver the puck to the referee. It’s adorable.

And 46 euro gets you a seat at centre ice.

I’m just disappointed I didn’t get a chance to see Berlin play my favourite team, the Kölner Haie.

  • Weekend road trip!: As a Canadian the best thing about Europe is that it’s Just. So. Tiny. Last year, my home base was 4 hours from Paris, 90 minutes from Amsterdam and 4 hours from Berlin. Berlin, meanwhile, is only four hours from Prague, which, as you’d expect, is quite charming. Beyond the usual sights, I also got to see US punk-gospel heroes Algiers (a fantastic live band), and my first-ever opera, La Bohème, at the stunningly ornate Prague State Opera House.

So, opera is basically the Latin Mass of theatre, right? Also, Act 1, Scene 2 of La Bohème felt like a hangout comedy that I could’ve watched forever. Anyway, I enjoyed the hell out of it all. Which is why yesterday, here in Berlin, I attended my second-ever opera, The Barber of Seville (adapted from an old Bugs Bunny cartoon, I believe). And I’ll be going to my third-ever opera, Carmen, tomorrow night. If you’re on a continent known for opera, might as well do the opera thing while you have the chance.

  • Art galleries. Got to see a whole lot of great art in Berlin and Prague. Highlights included the Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg’s collection of surrealist art (Berlin), the National Gallery Prague’s Trade Fair Palace location, whose permanent collection of modern art is something else, and Berlin’s Hauburger Bahnhof’s exhibit of the finalists for Preis der Nationalgalerie 2019 – some exceptionally cool stuff there. Also, art in a bunker!
  • What else? Saw a couple of concerts – Yacht and Poliça – in Berlin. Very enjoyable. Oh, and while it happened in the pre-Berlin week I spent in London, I finally saw Hamilton! For the past five years I’d gone out of my way to avoid hearing any of the music (with the exception of “Cabinet Battle #1”) or reading anything about it, so I had no real idea about what it would be like, other than it was supposedly a “hip hop musical.”

The delayed gratification was more than worth it. Hamilton has to be one of the most remarkable works of art in any medium that I’ve ever had the privilege to experience. It really is a monumental artistic achievement, although hopefully it won’t represent the pinnacle of American society. We’ll see how the election goes.

In particular, I wasn’t prepared for how well Lin-Manuel Miranda captured the spirit of being in your early twenties and looking to make your mark on the world, and the importance of the friendships that you make at that time of your life. For a musical about such monumental historical events and people, it’s a very human-sized play. Definitely worth the wait. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack nonstop for the past month.

  1. Ditch social media

One thing that I think really contributed both to my productivity and my general sense of well-being in Berlin was getting off Twitter almost completely (I did come back on a bit in the last week or so related to the Waterfront Toronto-Sidewalk Labs consultations). Staying off Twitter helped me focus on the long-form writing that’s our bread and butter. I wasn’t distracted by hot takes or or the groupthink panics of the moment: Turns out, if it’s important, it’ll probably filter into the newspapers.

It was also refreshing to step away from the relentless snark and negativity that defines Twitter. The staccato one-liner is not a healthy form of conversation for anybody but stand-up comedians.

And staying away from Twitter helped me focus on my work, rather than wallowing in pointless comparisons with how everyone else in my field is doing. That’s never a good idea, because somebody’s always doing better than you.

Here’s the thing: Being an academic is the best job on the planet. I get paid very well to read and write all day, every day. I get paid to teach interesting things to students at the beginning of their life’s journeys. It’s great to be surrounded by all the enthusiasm and hope that comes with that. And I think I’m pretty good at my job. All of these things are independent from what other people are doing.

And I’m writing this from Berlin! One of the world’s great cities. When I was a kid, I never thought of travelling farther than Toronto. Since then, my job has taken me all over the world. I mean, I was a visiting researcher for eight months in Australia – literally the other side of the planet. And now, Berlin. I still sometimes stop and laugh at how improbable all of this is.

  1. Get a nice apartment

Finally, I made sure to rent a (furnished) apartment that felt comfortable enough to hang out in. For me, the most important part (besides a comfortable bed) was a decent kitchen and a large living room. The upside was that I looked forward to coming back to the apartment at the end of the day and didn’t feel a constant need to escape.

Although I didn’t plan it this way, the apartment’s lack of a TV turned out to be an extra bonus. I still streamed Star Trek Picard (which is just getting better as it approaches its endgame) and revelled in the Edmonton Oilers’ playoff push, but I also got a fair bit of recreational reading done: a few Beckett novels, Clive James’ hilarious Unreliable Memoirs, about growing up in Sydney, Australia, and Between the Woods and the Water, in which Patrick Leigh Fermor recounts his mid-1930s journey across Europe by foot (a recommendation from my friend, Michael Forbes).

This reading list really has nothing to do with planning a successful fellowship – I’m mostly noting it because it’s the most sustained non-work-related “serious” reading I’ve done in years.

Like I said, a good month.

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