Earlier this week, Waterfront Toronto released new materials on its deal with Sidewalk Labs.
These materials index 144 projects that Waterfront Toronto's evaluation committee supports, from Sidewalk Labs' 1500-page Master Innovation and Development Plan.
In other words, Waterfront Toronto has selected items from a menu that Sidewalk Labs has created.
Other choices do not appear on the menu. There is no option to pursue development with other (local) vendors, for example, to explore public or not for profit paths to accomplish the same goals, or to take development in a different direction altogether - even though contractually, Waterfront Toronto is under no obligation to pursue any proposal made by Sidewalk Labs, and is free to pursue any ideas proposed with other vendors.
Consent - never on the menu.
On February 29th, Waterfront Toronto's CEO says "he’d like public feedback on which ideas from Sidewalk Labs should be the highest priority."
Yet again, the consultation skips over critical questions - that part of the process where residents get to decide whether we want this deal (or this partner) at all. It didn't happen when the RFP for Quayside was designed. It didn't happen when the proponent was selected. It didn't happen during the last round of public consultations.
Is it now too late for these questions? Was there ever a good time? What a boon for Sidewalk Labs and its parent, Alphabet! At a time when U.S. and E.U. officials are attempting to break up Alphabet's monopoly power, in Toronto, its subsidiary is handed a platform that could give the tech giant an edge in the burgeoning market for digital infrastructure and "smart city" tech.
Public money - definitely back on the menu!
The new materials helpfully indicate where Waterfront Toronto will help lobby for regulatory change and public funding. In 24 cases, Waterfront Toronto will advocate for funds from the three levels of government. In 11 cases, Waterfront Toronto will itself provide funding. How much funding? In an interview with the Financial Post, Waterfront Toronto CEO George Zegarac "said he expects to put most of the $590 million generated by selling the land for the proposed development back into affordable housing and other services for the new neighbourhood."
If Waterfront Toronto proves to be too dependent on Alphabet and Sidewalk Labs to engage in responsible procurement, allow meaningful public consultation and exercise independent oversight over public assets, we can make sure everyone knows it, and take steps to ensure the same mistakes aren't repeated again.
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