January 18, 2019: Take action to stop corporate capture!

We are two and a half months out from Waterfront Toronto's board vote on what remains of the Sidewalk Labs proposal for Quayside.  What's new?

We ended 2019 with community members expressing concern that Waterfront Toronto continues to have conflicting roles, helping create, advocating for and evaluating the Sidewalk Labs proposal for Quayside (a proposal which remains frustratingly murky).  Waterfront Toronto staff are scrambling to address these and other community concerns, while the City of Toronto forges ahead to develop new policies around technology and data collection.  Decision-makers say these policies won't be ready in time for the evaluation of Sidewalk Labs' proposal, which features an unprecedented density of data-collecting sensors. Our year starts off with a call to action around this clear case of corporate capture (see below).

Meanwhile, the courts will begin to hear Waterfront Toronto's motion to dismiss the Canadian Civil Liberties Association lawsuit, which could shut down the entire Quayside deal. MPPs grilled Waterfront Toronto about the controversial process it used to grant the Quayside Project to Sidewalk Labs at the Public Accounts Committee in December, and have asked the agency to produce additional evidence for their review (stay tuned). For their part, Sidewalk Labs/Google have resumed intensive lobbying at City Hall. 

Read more
Add your reaction Share

December 1, 2019: Who's in charge?

UPDATE: Who's in charge, continued: Waterfront Toronto - Sidewalk Labs partnership remains murky

Image credit: Waterfront Toronto

On November 19th, Waterfront Toronto held a public briefing to update community members on the Sidewalk Labs project, following the "realignment" of October 31st.  Audience members, visibly frustrated, called for clarity over what, exactly, Sidewalk Labs currently proposed for Quayside, and whether Waterfront Toronto's role was to be co-author, advocate or evaluator of the plan (or a combination of all). 

A distrust of Sidewalk Labs, Google and Alphabet was again on display, with one audience member asking whether Google's recent grab of personal health information of millions of Americans, without the consent or knowledge of patients or physicians, wasn't enough to "cancel the plan."

Since October 31st, Sidewalk Labs has resumed an aggressive PR plan that appears to circumvent its public sector partner.  The company released its digital innovation appendix to the Toronto Star after missing a deadline to submit the plan to Waterfront Toronto's panel of digital experts.  It has begun announcing investments and initiatives seemingly conditional on Waterfront Toronto's approval of the plan, including a small venture fund and a partnership with a community college.

Read more
Add your reaction Share

November 18, 2019: Two questions for Waterfront Toronto briefing


Waterfront Toronto will hold a briefing to update members of the public on the Quayside development tomorrow night, 6-9 pm, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.  The event will be live-streamed, but if you attend in person, you'll be able to ask questions. Here are two questions we think need to be asked.

1. What is the plan for Quayside?  With Sidewalk Labs' June plan off the table (possibly), what exactly is moving forward for evaluation?  Will Waterfront Toronto commit to evaluating a definitive proposal, or will we keep having to chase a moving target?

2. Is Waterfront Toronto the author of the plan or the evaluator?  Will Sidewalk Labs help write the rules that will apply to them?  While Waterfront Toronto's Chair has asserted the agency is back in charge of the development process, we haven't seen amendments to the legal document governing the relationship between the parties (the "Plan Development Agreement").  In fact, the letter outlining the details of the realignment suggests the lines remained blurred, with Waterfront Toronto collaborating on an Innovation Plan it will later evaluate (p. 2), and Sidewalk Labs accorded a role in the development of standards and guidelines that will apply to its proposals (p.3). 


Read more
Add your reaction Share

October 31st: What's next for Quayside?

On October 31, Google affiliate Sidewalk Labs was put back in its place.

We are no longer talking about a sprawling 190 acre proposal, a new Waterfront "public administrator" or an "urban data trust." Sidewalk Labs is, more or less, back where they started: proposing a vision for the 12-acre Quayside site.  This outcome required a concerted and sustained effort by civil society - not just a single master negotiator. 

While the October 31 “realignment” seems to have turned the tables and put the tri-government agency back in charge, however, our enthusiasm remains cautious.  We need to see that problematic clauses in the partnership agreement governing the relationship between Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto (the Plan Development Agreement (PDA)) have been amended or removed. We need to see what plan, exactly, is going forward for further public consultation.

Torontonians should not have had to go to such lengths.  Having witnessed Sidewalk Labs' behaviour over the last two years, we remain convinced this vendor is not the right partner to develop Toronto's waterfront.  Yet company spokespeople have said that Sidewalk Labs needs to scale up beyond Quayside, both to prove its concepts and to make a return on its investment.  Our work is not done.

Read Waterfront Toronto's public statement on the October 31st "realignment" here; read the full text of the amendments to the Project Development Agreement here.


Read more
Add your reaction Share

Over 100 Torontonians concerned about Sidewalk Labs send Open Letter to Waterfront Toronto

Image credit: Michele Champagne

100+ Toronto-area organizations, residents concerned about Sidewalk Labs deliver letter to Waterfront Toronto Board, Management.

Yesterday, over 100 Toronto-area residents sent a letter regarding the proposed Sidewalk Labs development to Waterfront Toronto.  Initiated by #BlockSidewalk, the letter quickly snowballed to include a wide range of signatories, including tech workers, architects and artists; academics, labour organizers and entrepreneurs; residents engaged on transit, climate justice, decent work, human rights and equitable development; and residents who live and work on the waterfront and across the city. 

The letter asks Waterfront Toronto to commit to full public disclosure in its ongoing dealings with Sidewalk Labs, as the closed-door negotiations leave basic questions - including how much publicly-owned land is involved in the deal - unanswered. Unlike the pro-Sidewalk Labs letter signed by "30 civic leaders" in July, signatories have had the chance to digest the proposals contained in Sidewalk Labs' 1500+ page proposal, and the extent to which they far exceed the terms of Waterfront Toronto's RFP for the 12-acre Quayside site.

If you wish to add your name before the final copy of the letter is delivered on Thursday, please send your name and preferred affiliation and a request to "add my name to the 10/28/19 Open Civic letter to Waterfront Toronto" to [email protected]


Read more
Add your reaction Share

BlockSidewalk letter to Waterfront Toronto's Board

To:      The members of Waterfront Toronto’s Board of Directors
CC:     Mayor John Tory

In July, a group of “30 civic leaders” in Toronto added their names to a public letter circulated by the Toronto Regional Board of Trade (TRBOT), aided by Sidewalk Labs, calling for Torontonians to support the Sidewalk Labs proposal. The letter reduced concerns with the project to “details” around “data governance…and a final path to rapid transit financing.”

Torontonians’ concerns about Sidewalk Labs’ proposed test bed on public waterfront land, however, move well beyond “details,” and by the time TRBOT published its letter, expressions of concern had already outnumbered expressions of unreserved support by a large margin. 

#BlockSidewalk, a community campaign to make sure that the Eastern waterfront is developed in the public interest, has collected and curated a number of concerns articulated publicly by Toronto-area residents and organizations, written in their own words and made public at their own behest.  The authors speak from a wide range of different perspectives, walks of life and political persuasions, but all evidence thoughtfulness, care and a commitment to the future of our city. 

You can access the document here: A tapestry of concerns: Public statements by 65+ Toronto-area individuals and organizations on Sidewalk Labs’ proposed test-bed neighbourhood on Toronto’s waterfront.

As you prepare to make one of the most important decisions in Waterfront Toronto's history, we want to make sure you keep these voices in mind.

Add your reaction Share

Time to stop Google/Sidewalk's land grab!


1) Please join us at Waterfront Toronto's October 24th Board meeting to stop the land grab! We would like at least 50 #BlockSidewalk supporters there. Please email [email protected] to RSVP.

2) Please sign and circulate Amnesty Canada's call to action around surveillance at the Sidewalk Labs project! Can we get 500 #Blocksidewalk supporters to sign this and share with their networks?

October 15: Image from Amnesty Canada's letter writing campaign "Speak out About Smart City Human Rights Concerns"


Read more
Add your reaction Share

Privacy Commissioner warns Waterfront Toronto about Sidewalk Labs overreach


Last week, the province's privacy watchdog contacted Waterfront Toronto to raise new red flags about the Sidewalk Labs project.  

“The digital governance proposals set out in the [Sidewalk proposal] raise several concerns, including: a lack of independent public oversight, a cumbersome mandate that overlaps with that of my office and the federal Privacy Commissioner, and an insufficient role for the City given its experience delivering municipal services in the public interest,” Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner Brian Beamish wrote in a letter to Waterfront Toronto's chair, according to a Globe and Mail report.

Waterfront Toronto has been hearing a stream of consistent warnings about the proposal this month, from its own Digital Strategy Advisory Panel to feedback from this summer's public consultations.  Waterfront Toronto has set a deadline of October 31st for the company to address "certain foundational issues that need to be resolved before we invest in a full evaluation."

Image: Friends of Canadian Broadcasting hosts a discussion about the impact of Big Tech on Canadian Democracy, 9/25


Read more
Add your reaction Share

Sidewalk Labs wants land discount worth $500 million: Globe & Mail


Two significant developments over the past week:

1) The $500 million question.  A story broken by @alexbozikovic at the Globe and Mail estimated last week that Sidewalk Labs' "proposed deal asks governments to give up $500-million in real-estate value to make it work." According to real estate industry sources consulted in the article, this represents an estimated markdown of more than 50% in the value of this prime, publicly owned waterfront land. And more than half of this land (Villiers West), the article notes, is not currently on the market.

2) Final reports on public consultations. The final report from the first round of public consultations on Sidewalk Labs' Master Plan was released late last week.  Our hot take: few participants expressed unreserved support for the plan in its current form, while many expressed significant reservations or distrust, particularly where the over-reach of Sidewalk Labs' proposals was concerned.  Most breakout groups raised concerns about Alphabet's/Google's/Sidewalk Labs' track record, market power and/or trustworthiness; some noted that other vendors could deliver (or were already delivering) comparable innovations.

The distrustful tone of the public consultations echoed a Forum poll in July that found a majority of respondents neither wanted to live in the development, nor trusted Google with residents' data.

Waterfront Toronto has set a deadline of October 31st for the company to address "certain foundational issues that need to be resolved before we invest in a full evaluation."

Read more
Add your reaction Share

Technologists slam tech giant's proposed smart city

Image credit: Zeesy Powers, "On Privatization"


Technologists and digital experts raised numerous red flags this week about Sidewalk Labs' proposal to build a test-bed "smart city" on Toronto's waterfront.

On Monday, Waterfront Toronto's panel of digital experts, the Digital Strategy Advisory Panel (DSAP), released preliminary comments and questions on Sidewalk Labs' Master Innovation and Development Plan (MIDP).  Concerns ranged from the relevance of the proposed innovations and the plausibility of the proposed "data trust," to the paucity of the proposed revenue sharing agreement.

Representatives of Sidewalk Labs met with the panel, promising to address some concerns in a "couple of hundred"-paged "digital innovations appendix." One DSAP member reportedly responded that "as far as he's concerned Sidewalk Labs hasn't been responsive to questions and concerns from DSAP over the past 9 months."

(Our press release on the DSAP comments notes that panelists urged Waterfront Toronto to consider the market position and track record of Sidewalk Labs' parent company, Alphabet - not issues easily addressed by a "digital innovations appendix.")

Days later, The Logic, a Canadian news outlet focused on the innovation economy, released results of a readership survey showing a majority of readers believed Waterfront Toronto should not approve the Sidewalk Labs project. 

In the words of one reader, "Sidewalk Labs continues to try to market its way out of seriously addressing concerns that the City of Toronto and its residents have raised about the nature, scope, financing, and governance of its proposed development."

Read more
Add your reaction Share