More than seven months into the planning process of Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto’s Smart City initiative, lobbying registrations suggest that companies affiliated with Sidewalk Labs, and that are subsidiaries of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., may be well-positioned to capitalize on the development project.
An analysis of lobbying records by The Logic shows that eight people have registered to lobby the City of Toronto on behalf of three companies with connections to Sidewalk Labs. These are in addition to the 22 people from Sidewalk Labs who have registered to lobby the city since October 2017.
All three of those affiliates—urban health initiative Cityblock Health Inc., urban transit systems company Flow Inc. (now called Coord) and digital infrastructure company Intersection Parent Inc.—registered to lobby the city within 48 hours of each other between November 13 and 14 of 2017. All three companies named Sidewalk Labs and Alphabet as beneficiaries, and listed both as parent companies.
Sidewalk Labs may be the face of the Sidewalk Toronto Quayside development, but lobbying records suggest that other Sidewalk Labs-affiliated companies may be positioned to capitalize on the high-profile venture.
The registrations occurred on the same day that Mayor John Tory visited Sidewalk Labs’ New York offices to learn more about the company’s partnership with Waterfront Toronto to develop the Quayside district. None of the affiliated companies were listed on the mayor’s public itinerary that day.
Since Sidewalk Toronto won the bid to develop the 12-acre plot in a downtown Toronto neighbourhood on October 17, 2017, there have been 18 meetings with city officials, including senior staff from the mayor’s office, at least three of which Mayor Tory attended. In November 2017, Tory also met with representatives from Cityblock and Flow.
This is in comparison to only four meetings Tory has taken with other major lobbying forces Rogers Communications and RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust over the same time period, as well as some of the Sidewalk Labs-affiliated companies’ direct Canadian competitors, such as Toronto-based ecobee and Kitchener-Waterloo-based Miovision, who have no current lobbying records with the city.
“Sidewalk is partnering with Waterfront Toronto on an exciting proposal for Quayside,” said Don Peat, Tory’s director of communications. “The mayor’s office has met with them, as we do with many parties, to learn about their company, their goals and the work they want to do in the city.”
Sidewalk Labs said it is being proactive of any requirements.
“In our registrations with the City—particularly those registrations that require the anticipation of discussions before they happen—our general approach has been to cast a wide net with regard to subjects that might be discussed and entities and individuals who might be involved,” said Dan Levitan, a spokesperson for Sidewalk Labs, in an email.
Sidewalk Labs-affiliated companies who have registered to lobby Toronto officials.
Cityblock Health Inc.
An independent project of Sidewalk Labs with plans to operate primary-care clinics that provide medical, behavioral and social services to patients on Medicaid and Medicare in underserved U.S. neighbourhoods. The company has also developed a tech platform called Commons that works as a repository for electronic medical records and community health data, which can be accessed by both clinicians and patients. In Toronto, Sidewalk Labs’ project vision document says it plans to integrate health and well-being into the build environment and everyday living.
Coord, incorporated as Flow Inc.
Spun out of Sidewalk Labs in February, Coord is a data company that collects information on traffic, tolls, parking, curb space and transit routes, with a mind to sell it to companies and municipalities to simplify things like transportation, ride-sharing and bike-sharing. The company was incorporated as Flow Inc.
Intersection Parent Inc.
Founded by a group of investors led by Sidewalk Labs in 2015 through the merger of digital consultancy Control Group and outdoor advertising specialist Titan. The firm is best known for managing free Wi-Fi hotspots in cities including New York and London, which generate revenue through digital advertising spaces on both sides of internet-providing kiosks.
Waterfront Toronto, the organization created by all three levels of government and tasked with revitalizing the waterfront, said it hasn’t been in discussions with any of the affiliates.
“Our planning efforts are with Sidewalk Labs directly,” said Carol Webb, project communications manager with Waterfront Toronto, by email. “We are still in the process of developing a plan (the Master Innovation and Development Plan) for Quayside and there is no current commitment to use any specific solution or provider.”
Communications between the City of Toronto and Waterfront Toronto are not subject to lobbying bylaws and, as such, do not require registration.
Both Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs said they would follow fair procurement principles once the plan is completed and approved.
Intersection Parent Inc., Coord (Flow Inc.) and Cityblock Health Inc. are not subsidiaries, Levitan told The Logic. “They are companies Sidewalk has invested in and helped to form.”
Intersection, for example, was founded in 2015 with the merger of Titan Outdoor and Control Group by a consortium of investors led by Sidewalk Labs. Most recently, it raised $150 million in a venture round led by Graham Holdings Company. Both Cityblock and Coord are considered spinoffs of internal Sidewalk Labs projects which have since become independent. Dan Doctoroff, founder and CEO of Sidewalk Labs, sits on the boards of all three companies.
Also lobbying the city as of October 2017 is Nest Labs, a developer and manufacturer of smart home technology, with Google listed as its beneficiary. However, there is no indication that its lobbying efforts are specific to Quayside.
Since Sidewalk Labs’ development bid was announced last October, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mayor Tory in attendance, the company has revealed few details about its plans, inviting some criticism from community stakeholders regarding privacy rights. The framework agreement reached between Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto has not been made public; however, a summary was released in November 2017. Waterfront Toronto rejected an access to information request for the full text.
In an executive committee meeting this past January, the City of Toronto identified the procurement process—along with data privacy and intellectual property—as key issues to be addressed throughout the 12-month Master Innovation and Development Plan process. In the meeting, the City outlined its expectations that the “parameters for implementation can be established in line with City of Toronto objectives and the larger public interest.”
The planning process is expected to be completed in October 2018. Until that happens, it remains to be seen how Canadian competitors will stack up next to Sidewalk Labs’ affiliates in bidding on contracts for the Quayside development.
Miovision Technologies Inc., a Kitchener-Waterloo-based smart intersection and traffic technology company, announced a partnership with Detroit in June to build the “world’s smartest intersection,” with technology that puts it in direct competition with Alphabet’s Coord. Miovision told The Logic that they have met with Sidewalk Labs on more than one occasion.
“There are some important questions about architecture—both technical architecture and market architecture—that remain to be answered,” said Kurtis McBride, CEO of Miovision, of the Sidewalk Toronto project. “The technical architecture they implement will largely define their market architecture.”
“It’s not clear to me, if you live in a Sidewalk Labs city, what the market architecture will be,” said McBride, adding that it is surprising that there are no answers on this front over halfway through the planning process.
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A representative of Sidewalk Labs said they don’t consider Miovision a competitor to Coord.
Sidewalk Labs maintains its affiliates’ involvement is one piece of a much larger project that will benefit many Canadian companies.
“Core to the mission of this project is to create the conditions for startups, entrepreneurs, and Canadian businesses to innovate and prosper on Toronto’s Waterfront,” said Levitan. “We have said publicly that we do not anticipate that Sidewalk Labs—or our siblings and subsidiaries—will provide the lion’s share of technology involved in this project. We are focused on making a plan that makes Toronto the global hub of urban innovation, open to a wide range of people, companies, start-ups, and ideas focused on improving life in cities.”
Sidewalk Labs has five months remaining in its 12-month planning process. Last Saturday, doors were opened on 307, an old fish processing plant on East Lakeshore that has been turned into an experimental workspace for the company. A draft plan is expected sometime this summer, with a full version to be released in October.
This story has been updated to reflect additional comment from Sidewalk Labs.