Toronto Tomorrow
July 14, 2019 1:26 AM   Subscribe

A Big Master Plan for Google's Growing Smart City - "Google sibling company Sidewalk Labs has revealed its master plan for the controversial Quayside waterfront development—and it's a lot bigger."[1,2]
A new approach for inclusive growth - "Toronto's eastern waterfront presents an extraordinary opportunity to shape the city's future and provide a global model for inclusive urban growth. Sidewalk Labs is honoured to present the Master Innovation and Development Plan (MIDP) for the Sidewalk Toronto project as a comprehensive proposal for how to realize that potential."[RFP; MIDP; IDEA]
Sidewalk Labs finally publishes its smart city master plan - "The company has released its long-awaited MIDP for Quayside and the broader Eastern Waterfront."

Here is Sidewalk Labs's big plan for Toronto - "The $1.3 billion development is being billed as 'the most innovative district in the entire world.'"

Alphabet's Sidewalk Labs unveils its high-tech 'city-within-a-city' plan for Toronto - "Ten new buildings of mixed-use development consisting primarily of thousands of new residential units, as well as retail and office spaces, all made from mass timber."[3,4]

Google's Sidewalk Labs plans massive expansion to waterfront vision
Google's futuristic development on the eastern waterfront, Quayside, is only the first step in an expansive and ambitious plan to build new neighbourhoods — and new transit — throughout the entire Port Lands, the Star has learned.

In return for its investment in this vision, Sidewalk Labs wants a share of the property taxes, development fees and increased value of city land that would normally go to city coffers.
Alphabet's plans to track people in its 'smart city' ring alarm bells - "Sidewalk Labs proposes a new and largely untested solution to handling collected data — an urban data trust, which would provide independent stewardship of data and approve how it is collected and used."[5,6]

also btw...
posted by kliuless (33 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
 
kliuless, this is awesome. Many thanks for all of this.
posted by carter at 2:55 AM on July 14 [4 favorites]


kliuless, this is awesome. Many thanks for all of this.
Agreed. I'm starting an urban planning degree this September, so this is right in my wheelhouse. I've bookmarked it so I can read through some of it tomorrow at my nothing-to-do job that I'm doing while I wait for uni!
posted by winterhill at 3:01 AM on July 14


From the top Citylab link:

Sidewalk Labs has said from the start that it hoped to redevelop the entire waterfront, but its original agreement with officials was limited to the small Quayside lot. In February, however, leaked documents obtained by the Toronto Star showed that Sidewalk Labs was devising plans to develop about 350 acres surrounding that parcel, and that it would seek profit through property taxes and development fees that would normally be directed to city coffers.

That's hugely concerning, for a start. Google is going to start levying its own property taxes? - Or "just" ask for abatements?
posted by carter at 3:37 AM on July 14 [5 favorites]


Reading a bit more, Google are planning to develop the waterfront as a some kind of hub, and then basically depending on property speculators to develop the surround district of 350 acres, and then rake off the property taxes from these spec builds. What could go wrong "Do No Evil," etc.
posted by carter at 5:06 AM on July 14 [4 favorites]


I'm hearing from a friend who's just finished a contract with them that infrastructure is the next big thing for the tech giants.

See this

Google said it would contribute $1bn over the next decade to the construction of new housing close to its offices in Silicon Valley, marking the biggest attempt yet by a leading technology company to alleviate the region’s acute housing shortage and traffic congestion.
posted by Mrs Potato at 5:34 AM on July 14 [3 favorites]


I agree, I would maybe say "applying wide-scale IoT platforms to extract and leverage value in built environments blah blah" to be more specific, but yes, they are maybe after building some demographically-typical tech worker ghettos.

From that point of view, Toronto could just be their prototype/test bed to gather data to build out at wider scales elsewhere.
posted by carter at 5:51 AM on July 14 [2 favorites]


In other words, Toronto could be a "permanent beta" for Google's idea of what a "smart city" should be.
posted by carter at 5:52 AM on July 14


There is an enormous amount of pushback on this from "Toronto" so much that if there wasn't a contract I doubt there would be political will to create one. We need to destroy this corporate colonization of public spaces; crush it deader than dead.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:58 AM on July 14 [19 favorites]


Carter:
In other words, Toronto could be a "permanent beta" for Google's idea of what a "smart city" should be

That doesn't seem to be demonstrably worse from what we've done so far unless I'm missing something. Most construction projects are built to the lowest common denominator of profitability and no thought to the long-term consequences. At least this is being transparent about what it hopes to achieve.
seanmpuckett :
We need to destroy this corporate colonization of public spaces; crush it deader than dead.
What happens afterwards to the city? A continued lack of green development or another commercial real estate developer raises funds and proceeds to build zero affordable housing? I get the kickback on the data trust as it is not a proven concept but their incentives align with what they say on the tin (at least as deeply as I've read.) I want better cities and while this has problems so does where we currently stand. What do you think is better suited to going there?
posted by 27kjmm at 6:17 AM on July 14


As per the links above, they're not really being transparent about it at all. The nicely-designed publicity documents for this project, created after 'community consultation' etc., are all inclusion and sunshine. The claims about property speculation are from internal Google documents, dug up by the Toronto Star.

The fact that this is not 'demonstrably worse' than anything else is a pretty low bar to be aiming for.
posted by carter at 6:41 AM on July 14 [6 favorites]


This Article?

That sounds like an update powerpoint from the middle of the process and what they released today addresses that. If you're referring to something else, please link me. I would hope that the expect the property to get more valuable after spending billions of dollars. I don't see anything that seems immoral given the idea that this should be a sustainable way to invest in infrastructure.

Yeah, to be clear I don't think they aiming for that bar, I think they've cleared it easily. Compare it to the most recent announcements about "innovation districts" in Miami. [1] There was no discourse or revision as we've seen through this project. So while imperfect, better.
It's more comprehensive, transparent, and has concrete measures on how it expects to reach its economic goals.
If this doesn't work, where do think progress will come from or how would you make it better?
posted by 27kjmm at 7:41 AM on July 14


The city, led by democratically elected officials can and should make these decisions on infrastructure building - funded by taxes on corporations like Google. Google is not paying its share of taxes, then using those profits to “invest” in Toronto so they can then skim off property tax revenue. This is a private-public partnership, but no one in Google seems to be using the term. 3P’s (which this is a variation of) have gone horribly in Ontario - smaller hospitals for more money is just one example. “Starving the Beast” is not a new concept, just one that Google hopes Torontonians aren’t going to mention.
posted by saucysault at 8:04 AM on July 14 [6 favorites]


So, what happens to the neighborhood when Google cancels it?
posted by schmod at 8:07 AM on July 14 [11 favorites]


Toronto is so stupid. Come on guys, agree to whatever, let the multinational invest billions, and ONLY THEN change the rules of the game, or just expropriate as required. What are they going to do? Move the sensors, the infrastructure, the buildings? Take your cue from what governments do to mining companies - you can't move mines either.
posted by Mirax at 8:11 AM on July 14 [2 favorites]


@saucysault
Agreed. Sidewalk shouldn't put a shovel into the ground until it has gone through the process which it is navigating right now in response to the RFP that the city originated. However, this isn't a $1 lease for 99 years for a sportsball team.
As a 3P, I don't think it is wrong in principle for Sidewalk to be able to make the investment and make some revenue from it. I don't know Toronto but I'd prefer someone else on the hook for the multibillion-dollar infrastructure bond that they would have to raise to match this investment and deploy their resources elsewhere. I am not in favor of reducing Google's tax burden, only allowing Sidewalk Labs to recoup its costs from building out the infrastructure from the developers who later build on top of those literal pipes. I have not seen any indications that a Google Tax Break is part of the discussion at this stage.

This is a project of immense scale with some issues but I honestly think most people haven't even cracked open the PDF. (I've been reading this all morning, and I'm not even close to done) Skepticism around controls and timelines are warranted but the project hasn't even gotten finalized. It seems like people want it to fail regardless of the underlying merits.

This doesn't even touch the public data stuff which I understand why people would be skeeved out about.
posted by 27kjmm at 8:32 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


As an overeducated communist Canadian I don't need to eyeball their PDF to be able tell Google to please not do this to my country. They can do this to some other city inside the USA.

In fact they are banking on a non US city being a pushover. That in itself is an outrage.
posted by polymodus at 9:02 AM on July 14 [8 favorites]


Sure, NIMBYism is a fair and reasoned response.
How exactly are they banking on that?
posted by 27kjmm at 9:14 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


That's like saying people opposing colonialism is a form of NIMBYism which is fucking offensive.
posted by polymodus at 9:34 AM on July 14 [8 favorites]


And maybe skip the rhetorical sea lioning while replying to me.
posted by polymodus at 9:36 AM on July 14


I have not seen any indications that a Google Tax Break is part of the discussion at this stage.

That is because they already get an enormous one. Which is what I am protesting, they need to demonstrate they are paying their fair share of taxes before I would even consider them an ethical partner. If they are walking into this deal with dirty hands, why would I believe their behaviour would improve when they have even more leverage over the government?
posted by saucysault at 9:56 AM on July 14


The city, led by democratically elected officials can and should make these decisions on infrastructure building

What, like the clusterfuck that's the SF Bay Area? Look, after 25 years of seeing the Bay Area cities repeatedly sabatoge area mass transit, low income housing and every other livability initiative, its pretty damn obvious that's what they were elected to do. The voters of Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale and all the others voted those clowns into office to do exactly what they doing.

The voters care about the following: keep the value of their homes appreciating, keep THOSE people out of town, get good schools for their kids only and fix potholes and street lights. Oh yeah, and occasionally they whine that "something should be done" about the increasing number of homeless encampments. To expect communities will elect governments that are enlightened, well, don't hold your breath.

But look on the bright side "Waterfront development" means its probably going to be abandoned within 25 years due to flooding. Because global climate change doesn't care about tax incentives.
posted by happyroach at 10:12 AM on July 14 [2 favorites]


[27kjmm, this is an actual moderator. You need to step way back and let this thread run without responding to every comment, and definitely without getting snarky and defensive when people disagree.]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 10:20 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


I just want to make public my prediction that the Up Zoning of Oregon's cities is going to result in the destruction of comprehensive land use planning in Oregon within the next 50 years due to the unforeseen political consequences of this change.
posted by Pembquist at 12:04 PM on July 14


"In February, however, leaked documents obtained by the Toronto Star showed that Sidewalk Labs was devising plans to develop about 350 acres surrounding that parcel, and that it would seek profit through property taxes and development fees that would normally be directed to city coffers."

referring to:

"In return for its investment in this vision, Sidewalk Labs wants a share of the property taxes, development fees and increased value of city land that would normally go to city coffers."

I am extremely uncomfortable with Google getting a cut of the tax revenue directly, without its being a nonprofit, without government having absolute control over the funding.

I feel similarly about redevelopment agencies, as implemented in California: RDAs provided efficient and uncontrolled transfer of public revenues into private businesses without oversight or guaranteed performance.

If it is a private enterprise, then let Google buy it, build GoogleGoodLand, and charge admission. If it's a public good, then let's vote on it, and create an agency with oversight and control. There's not much in between those two for me.
posted by the Real Dan at 12:25 PM on July 14 [6 favorites]


Toronto is so stupid. Come on guys, agree to whatever, let the multinational invest billions

Haha, no, in Canada the approach is for the government to invest the billions, then sell it at way below cost to the private company in the future.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 1:42 PM on July 14 [7 favorites]


Yeah, I blame Mike Harris (and his 905 voters) for his dismal dysfunctional vision of the future, which Tranna hasn't quite recovered from since then. There have always been urban planners in City Hall and Metro Hall that can design concepts like this, but they keep getting sidelined by waves of populist politicians. So when we get bored, we then look to an outside savior to fix things.
posted by ovvl at 3:50 PM on July 14


Metafilter: As an overeducated communist I don't need to
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 4:18 PM on July 14 [1 favorite]


I think we have tried something like this before.
posted by davejay at 5:37 PM on July 14


Thanks kliuless, amazing post, a lot to take in and a great roundup of North American development thought. I'm not from there either but

Strip away all the fancy graphics, balloons, kayaks bobbing at the quay, building fenestration, and soft landscape and look very critically ... also be wary of an overly thick* presentation document. Google is in the business of massaging information.

Also look very critically at anything involving First Nations. From afar it looks like Canada's natives get a poor deal, somehow I don't see Google setting a precedent there.

Very hard to take a developer seriously when they state "We are mindful of a history of broken treaties" while at the same time trying to treat city-scale development as a tax break.

A project I worked on where I was producing and assembling the info pack - which I really believed could be reduced to a poster, but which my boss insisted be an attractively-bound hundred page wodge. I did warn him ... so we walked in and the wodge was handed to the country's highest profile land lawyer who said ... "ahh, another fucking phone book" and dropped it with an unceremonious thump where it never emerged again. In my experience fancy graphics hide more than they reveal.

I've had a peep at one of the pdf's (ch 4). They are making the right noises but at least here in NZ it is hard to ensure developers don't throw out all these things as the budgets and timeframes tighten - this was certainly the case in the redevelopment of Christchurch post quake.

Red text is horrible to read on any colour background.

And I'm on record here in NZ for complaining about thick, pretty documents.
posted by unearthed at 8:37 PM on July 14 [8 favorites]


unearthed, I upvoted you partially because I agree with you completely, but what really got me over the line was "wodge".
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:44 PM on July 14 [3 favorites]


posted by kliuless at 12:12 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]


Toronto's astonishing growth: Will it matter to Buffalo? - "'I don't think most Americans understand the scale of what's going on in Toronto', said Frank Clayton, a senior research fellow at Ryerson University."
posted by kliuless at 5:43 AM on July 23


The voters care about the following: ... fix potholes and street lights.

I'm not even sure they care about that -- SV has the worst suburban roads I've ever had the misfortune of driving on. El Camino in Mountain View, and Homestead and Wolfe in Cupertino come to mind most readily, but everyone seems to have a pet terrible road.
posted by pwnguin at 7:16 PM on July 24


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