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Sidewalk Labs Pulls Out of Toronto
May 7, 2020 8:02 AM   Subscribe

The future of Toronto's waterfront is still unclear, but Sidewalk Labs will no longer be involved. posted by Fish Sauce (26 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sidewalk Labs: the google+ of sidewalks.
posted by Fizz at 8:06 AM on May 7 [11 favorites]


Finally some good news.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:17 AM on May 7 [15 favorites]


Is it just me, or does google kill a lot of products?
posted by a complicated history at 8:18 AM on May 7 [2 favorites]


My best guess - google wanted the city to pay for the rehabilitation of the former industrial and port lands they wanted to develop. And looking at the city's current financial outlook (when your city's income is mainly based on land transfer taxes and nobody is buying property right now....) they realized the city's not going to have any funds for this project any time soon.
posted by thecjm at 8:21 AM on May 7 [2 favorites]


That's a very standard ask, brownfield remediation. It's effectively impossible to build on those sites, from a regulation or finance point of view, even if they could get permission to do so. The land effectively has negative value. Public remediation, or at least funding for it, is the only real way that land can ever be put back into any kind of use.
posted by bonehead at 8:34 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]


Shame, some genuinely descent ideas in terms of building science and urban design. 11/10 chance the technology / data collection elements would have gone the way of the google Grave yard after 10years, but at least it will leave a set of interesting buildings to draw lessons from. Now nothing. Lots will stay empty or be filled with generic condo developments with questionable longevity. The google branding and Silicon Valley outreach style didn't help. Simultaneously, the inability for western societies to at least entertain rapid urban experiments is going to backfire. I'm not a big fan of google, but they have fuck you resources and at least tried to direct it in prosocial designs with the expected cost of privacy. If they can't succeed in Toronto then it doesn't bode well for anyone else.
posted by dirtyid at 8:39 AM on May 7 [4 favorites]


I read this as "Now that real estate has cratered, Sidewalk could get this closer to home, for less cash, and with fewer pesky citizens demanding transparency".

I'm really glad they've gone. Their consultations were a joke.
posted by scruss at 9:02 AM on May 7 [9 favorites]


I'm absolutely thrilled. This deal was corrupt right from jump, when Sidewalk received preferential treatment over other bidders, almost nothing that Sidewalk proposed actually required Sidewalk (vs some other vendor), and their "consultations" were riddled with manipulations, half-truths, and other questionable behaviour. Good riddance, frankly. Although this affair may have tanked Waterfront Toronto's reputation.
posted by Fish Sauce at 9:22 AM on May 7 [5 favorites]


That's pretty good unless someone even slimier steps in from the shadows to take over.
posted by acb at 9:42 AM on May 7


Good bye, good riddance! Tell your friends in the valley what a bad investment we are.
posted by rodlymight at 9:44 AM on May 7 [5 favorites]


I read this as "Now that real estate has cratered, Sidewalk could get this closer to home, for less cash, and with fewer pesky citizens demanding transparency".

Or the massive unemployment in the US means US tech jobs' starting salaries might drop to Toronto levels. No more "Ontario has top-flight computer engineering programs and our CS grads made 2/3 what they would in the States" as a sales pitch to SV tech firms.
posted by thecjm at 9:50 AM on May 7 [4 favorites]


John Lornic has a good take that looks at Toronto's political culture and how it differs from the environments Quayside's* proponents were used to operating in:
Former Waterfront Toronto CEO Will Fleissig — who, in early 2017, ordered the RFP that put this whole melodrama in motion — was clueless about the city’s political culture, and, more specifically, the deep history of why the agency existed in the first place — two critical mistakes. Consequently, he attempted to perform a graft with incompatible tissue and then couldn’t figure out why it didn’t take.

Point is, local history matters, and rarely has that lesson been more in evidence than during this extended debacle. About a year in to the process, I asked a WT executive if they understood why the culture of consultation and transparency was so foundational, and not just so much procedural wallpaper. They didn’t.
Indeed, Fleissig had blithely zapped the institutional memory in favour of a culture of boosterism and techno-babble that may have played well in San Francisco but offered nothing useful to the Torontonians who were deeply invested in the generational city-building project that WT has been mandated to carry out.

Doctoroff, for his part, arrived with an executive team and a set of lobbyists who assured him that getting to yes in a city besotted by the tech industry’s cash would be like taking candy from a baby.
*Quayside is the name Sidewalk Labs used for its version of the waterfront redevelopment pilot, and is distinct from Waterfront Toronto's redevelopment mandate.
posted by Fish Sauce at 10:27 AM on May 7 [6 favorites]


Alas, now we Torontonians will never paddle a Dragon Boat up to a daytime outdoor screening of “Le Voyage dans la Lune” while a some dude plays guitar on a barge with hardwood flooring.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:50 AM on May 7 [11 favorites]


I’ve had friends and family both within this organization and working for coordinating municipalities for google Fiber projects. From their experiences on those projects it’s patently clear to me that google does not have the patience or understanding necessary to tackle large-scale infrastructure projects. Physical reality is complicated, expensive, and time consuming to modify and it always looks easier from the outside.
posted by q*ben at 11:01 AM on May 7 [14 favorites]


> Fish Sauce: "John Lornic has a good take that looks at Toronto's political culture and how it differs from the environments Quayside's* proponents were used to operating in"

Linked from that article is this one which suggests that one of Sidewalk Lab's key proposed innovations was (apparently) establishing a system of quasi-governmental authorities, except beholden to Sidewalk rather than, say, the public:
The “summary of management entities” in that part of the master development and innovation plan (MDIP) itemizes five new bodies that will wield non-trivial governance, operating, and revenue-generating authority over these geographies. [...]

From Sidewalk’s point of view, the deployment of new technologies that touch on all the myriad ways in which people and vehicles move through urban space may seem to demand the kind of operational oversight that simply doesn’t exist in a municipal government, with its rigid silos and public accountabilities.

Sidewalk’s solution, though, seems to be about pushing back the City’s authority and replacing it with semi-privatized bureaucratic SWAT teams that owe their existence to SWL and will likely never forget or challenge that connection. This outlook, which I suspect is inscribed deeply in the thinking of Sidewalk’s founders, is apparent in many aspects of the MDIP, with the company arguing that existing public sector approaches need to bend or yield if the firm is to deliver on the tech, jobs, investment and related bounties proposed in this document.
posted by mhum at 11:34 AM on May 7 [6 favorites]


Alas, now we Torontonians will never paddle a Dragon Boat up to a daytime outdoor screening of “Le Voyage dans la Lune” while a some dude plays guitar on a barge with hardwood flooring.

And nothing of value was lost.
posted by acb at 11:40 AM on May 7 [3 favorites]


I just heard premier Ford say “Just watch, we’re going to do something great.”

Buckle up, it’s monorail time!!
posted by rodlymight at 11:47 AM on May 7 [5 favorites]


Good riddance.

Now, these. THESE are sidewalk Labs [for the Twitter-averse, it's a visual pun consisting of stock photos of Labrador retrievers on sidewalks].
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:14 PM on May 7 [2 favorites]


Oh blah. That means that Failson Ford's Casino and Ferris Wheel is back in play, since he also had to reinstate the Liberal licence plates (which were either a Rae or Harris thing, no Liberals in sight).
posted by scruss at 12:29 PM on May 7


Does anyone here have any familiarity with the West Don Lands development that's been going on? How does it work as a neighbourhood? I went there once for some Pan Am Games related event and have driven and walked through it a couple of times and from that kind of cursory experience it seems OK. What was Sidewalk Labs bringing in their proposal that was better than that?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:35 PM on May 7


mhum: Yeah, issues of governance and power were always at the core of the local opposition to the Quayside project, and it sometimes felt like the same-old-same-old in the sense of where power and money would flow, and to whom, and who would be left out of the fruits of the project (regardless of the rhetoric), and who might even be actively harmed by it. Toronto is a decade deep into an unprecedented housing crisis that is now widely understood to be a result of the very neoliberal power dynamics Doctoroff and his company planned to exploit/exacerbate, and nothing about Quayside felt like it was being done in good faith. As Nasma Ahmed has said (Twitter link), it was a "utopian corporate future that cosplayed as community." Most of what went on felt like it was ripped from the pages of Against the Smart City (scroll down to the second entry from the top), a wonderful little book by MeFi's own Adam Greenfield. The entrenchment of existing power imbalances cloaked in the language of "innovation" and "change," the complete misunderstanding of what a city is and what makes it work, the complete lack of interest in understanding local needs and culture or even acknowledging local expertise, the assumed primacy of "business" and "tech" over any other kind of structure or process, the full-court-press of propaganda... it's all in there, and it was eerie to see it play out in my backyard.
posted by Fish Sauce at 3:35 PM on May 7 [2 favorites]


The Beaverton is maybe a little too on point: Toronto vows to continue gentrification with or without the help of Sidewalk Labs.
posted by rodlymight at 6:04 PM on May 7 [4 favorites]


Alas, now we Torontonians will never paddle a Dragon Boat up to a daytime outdoor screening of “Le Voyage dans la Lune” while a some dude plays guitar on a barge with hardwood flooring.
On the plus side.. while you might lose those opportunities you probably won't have to worry about being devoured by monorail-car-sized genetically engineered herons, so that's a bit of a relief.
posted by Nerd of the North at 6:52 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]


And don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.
posted by Twang at 7:32 PM on May 7 [2 favorites]


Or the massive unemployment in the US means US tech jobs' starting salaries might drop to Toronto levels

Which might have some effect on the culture at Canada's big-deal STEM universities, because it's a bit more difficult for 18-year-old CS and soft eng majors to act like masters of the universe if they're expecting to make Toronto salaries.
posted by blerghamot at 8:19 AM on May 8


Which might have some effect on the culture at Canada's big-deal STEM universities, because it's a bit more difficult for 18-year-old CS and soft eng majors to act like masters of the universe if they're expecting to make Toronto salaries.

I assure you that 18-year-old CS and soft eng majors will act like masters of the universe regardless of renumeration.
posted by Merus at 8:02 PM on May 8


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