Above: a city-run respite site providing temporary shelter spaces located near the Quayside/Sidewalk Labs site
We hope this newsletter finds you, your family, friends and communities safe and well.
We know the COVID-19 crisis brings dire consequences for many of us. It has affected how we live and how we work - for many of us, creating uncertainty about our livelihoods and shelter. In the midst of this uncertainty, we recognize an opportunity for all of us to create a more equitable community.
So at #BlockSidewalk, even as our personal priorities have shifted to keep everyone safe and afloat during the pandemic, we believe it is more important than ever to ensure our public Waterfront benefits the people of Toronto and responds to the needs of Torontonians as expressed by Torontonians.
Last week, Waterfront Toronto announced it has pushed back the decision date re: Sidewalk Labs/Quayside - for now, till June 25th. This is a good first step - we’ll need time as a community to re-assess many of our priorities, particularly those involving public resources. The only certainty is that we can't continue business as usual.
Waterfront Toronto has moved the deadline for public comments in response to its February 29th public consultations till Thursday, April 9, 2020.
This gives community members a little more time to raise some of the major questions that have arisen in the intervening month. How have the priorities and needs of Waterfront Toronto's sponsoring governments changed? What discussions have Waterfront Toronto staff and board members had with government partners about future priorities? How should plans for Quayside and the Port Lands be revised to reflect our changing realities? How can community voices be invited into the discussion to ensure future development responds to community needs?
We recommend sending your questions and comments directly to the emails provided by Waterfront Toronto: [email protected] and [email protected], especially if your comments depart from the guided feedback form provided by the agency.
UPDATES - RE-EVALUATING QUAYSIDE
We have said from the outset that the Quayside project went off the rails when Waterfront Toronto failed to first ask Torontonians what we would like to see happening on our waterfront. Instead, Waterfront Toronto turned to Sidewalk Labs to find out what Toronto needed, and has tried ever since to sell us a corporate vision developed by Google’s sister company. This vision, from the very beginning, called for technological innovations to solve urban problems. Yet as recently as last month, a report by Waterfront Toronto’s own Digital Strategy Advisory Panel questioned whether the digital solutions on the table were necessary or helpful in addressing the problems Toronto faces. That assessment, of course, came pre-COVID-19.
Since then, priorities have changed quickly. It turns out that decades of neoliberalism, tax cuts and the search for “efficiencies” have left the public sector under resourced, infrastructure flailing and our society vulnerable. The last thing Toronto needs is yet another project that aims at handing over public resources – in the form of public land or government subsidies – to one of the richest corporations in the world. A project that further privatizes public land, public resources and even government roles takes us in the wrong direction.
Over a year ago, we asked Waterfront Toronto to re-set work on Quayside so that the development remain under public control and would begin with the true needs of Torontonians. COVID-19 has exposed these true needs.
We need to build up our welfare system and social safety net.
We need a robust health care system ready to tackle future pandemics.
We need an economy that puts people and their health above profits, and protects home-grown small businesses and tech start-ups.
We need affordable housing for exactly the kind of workers who keep us safe, keep us fed, and ensure our mobility.
We need a new vision for Quayside - and Waterfront Toronto needs to change course soon.
There is no need to leverage valuable waterfront land to further enrich Alphabet and its corporate shareholders - we need to make sure our public resources help us meet our most basic needs. Let’s continue to #BlockSidewalk as we collectively work together to rebuild our communities post COVID-19. Stay tuned.
Thorben Wieditz, "Waterfront Toronto, Google's de facto development arm in Toronto." Socialist Project, March 27, 2020.
Constance Carr and Markus Hesse, "When Alphabet Inc plans Toronto's Waterfront," Urban Planning, March 13, 2020.
Ian Austen, "You can't fight City Hall. But maybe you can fight Google," New York Times, March 10, 2020
Sarah Wray, "City Hall loses patience over LinkNYC delays," Smart Cities World, March 6, 2020.
Kate Kaye, "This startup whats to help smart cities. But they don't know where its data comes from." Fast Company, March 6, 2020
Thorben Wieditz (op-ed), "Waterfront Toronto continues its Kafka-esque Quayside saga, but why?" Spacing, March 5, 2020.
Dan Wu and Greg Lindsay, "How to design a smart city that's built on empowerment, not corporate surveillance." Fast Company, March 2, 2020.
Alex Bozikovic, "In Toronto, Sidewalk Labs is getting closer to building - but what?" Globe and Mail, March 1, 2020.
Stay safe. Keep well. In social solidarity with you all, while physically apart. Follow us on Twitter (@blocksidewalk) or Facebook (@BlockSidewalkTO) in between emails. Note: our Facebook handle has changed.