I received a question from a subscriber last week asking why we were devoting so much of our attention to the Alphabet Inc. smart city project on Toronto’s waterfront. In short, there is nothing quite like Sidewalk Toronto taking place anywhere else. One of the world’s largest tech companies has chosen—and won a bid—to reimagine the waterfront of Canada’s largest city. More broadly, it’s Google’s parent company’s first foray into urban planning, requires the cooperation of all three levels of government and is being watched closely around the world in the midst of a growing public tech lash.
It’s an astonishingly daunting project and one that warrants serious attention.
As Amanda Roth outlined in her must-read feature, when Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto announced their new agreement last week, it lacked the fanfare of the initial announcement last October. There was no rockstar photo-op treatment with the prime minister or with Dan Doctoroff, Sidewalk Labs’ CEO. The federal government issued a single tweet from Adam Vaughan, a Toronto MP. Toronto Mayor John Tory issued a press release.
The province’s only response came the next day at Queen’s Park, when Ontario Minister of Infrastructure Monte McNaughton’s claimed during question period that the Sidewalk Toronto project would create 5,000 new private-sector jobs. It was the first time we could find a public official citing that number. When The Logic asked how the province arrived at the figure and where the jobs would come from, McNaughton’s office emailed that they had pulled the numbers directly from Sidewalk Labs’ initial RFP response in 2017.
Meanwhile, Doctoroff now appears to be coming out of hibernation. In his first interview since the new agreement, airing this morning on Toronto’s Newstalk 1010 radio, he told Dave Trafford that the project is moving along as expected and that Sidewalk Labs’ relationship with the three levels of government has been incredibly positive.
“As someone who worked in government for six years in New York City, if I were looking at these governments as a citizen I’d be very proud. Because I think people are very open.”
Ignoring for a minute that government officials are repeating estimates verbatim from an RFP that has changed dramatically since it was issued by Waterfront Toronto, McNaughton was actually off by 500 jobs; the number cited in the Sidewalk Labs documentation is 5,500. That’s a large number of net new jobs to come out of the Quayside area.
For example, the Niagara region where I’m writing this from has an auto industry that, as of 2015, employed 2,900 people. For the Quayside development area, with just 12 acres, to employ 5,500 warrants more scrutiny than what we’ve seen so far.