Sidewalk Toronto at Quayside | ?m | ?s | Sidewalk | Snøhetta

Lenser

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I suspect that COVID was one of many factors that led to Quayside's demise. Another key factor was Sidewalk Lab expecting more political and financial support from the provincial and federal governments.

When first announced, Trudeau and the Liberals were extremely vocal in their support. The proposal fit in perfectly with the government's ribbon-cutting-innovation agenda. However, the public outcry of Amazon HQ2 in New York and deepening public suspicion about Big Tech definitely quashed the government's enthusiasm. Meanwhile, the Ford government was always frosty towards the proposal and unlikely to carry it along.

While I strongly opposed the proposal, I acknowledge that Sidewalk scooped up a lot of talented planners, architects and engineers, and I hope they can adapt their skills for a different and better employer.
Yes... I was thinking along the same lines. Amazon cynically dangled the idea of their second headquarters and waited for jurisdictions across North America to eagerly weigh in, each offering a variety of incentives in hopes of securing the elusive prize. Turns out many cities were wary of letting Amazon in with so little strings attached. In the end it just looked like Amazon gaming all the cities in hopes of getting the most financial support in exchange for the least resistance, the least risk exposure. Just like any big company, they want a bankable return on their investment. Magical tech visions and promises of a brave new future aside, it's certainly nothing altruistic; it's just business.

Sidewalk threw in the towel but the real story has yet to be written. The post-mortem accounts of what actually went down will one day make for fascinating reading. Meanwhile, it remains possible to capitalize on the best of what Sidewalk had to offer in the way of great new buildings on Toronto's waterfront. It's not over yet.
 

Lenser

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Hmm?...What Google of today and tomorrow wants could be tame compared to what the governments of tomorrow will want
looks to me like personal data and privacy will mean squat in the near future
Imagine Alphabet working in concert with government in the future; that's the more likely scenario. The big tech giants are already tremendous lobbying forces in their own right; the lines between the private sector and government are increasingly being blurred. Now imagine a company like Google working on behalf of a government you despise, using your own data to track you, predict you, corner you. As per @ericmacm, that's a sure-fire formula for dystopia. The potential for abuse is massive, the temptations too great.

We may indeed be hurtling toward a world where privacy doesn't exist. We'd be fools to pretend that doesn't harbour gravely negative consequences.
 

Lenser

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So you say. And you're happy with that? Do you believe we are embracing a better life?

I believe there is a modicum of privacy left, myself. But the tech giants would prefer that we accept that privacy is irrelevant, if not wholly extinct, for the simple reason that it becomes much easier to harvest us. We as individuals are in a gigantic experiment where what we do and consume is being farmed, mined, sorted, weighted and measured... and that experiment amounts to a double-edged sword - one which can wage ill as easily as it can confer tangible benefits.
 

DrillBit

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Imagine Alphabet working in concert with government in the future; that's the more likely scenario. The big tech giants are already tremendous lobbying forces in their own right; the lines between the private sector and government are increasingly being blurred. Now imagine a company like Google working on behalf of a government you despise, using your own data to track you, predict you, corner you. As per @ericmacm, that's a sure-fire formula for dystopia. The potential for abuse is massive, the temptations too great.

We may indeed be hurtling toward a world where privacy doesn't exist. We'd be fools to pretend that doesn't harbour gravely negative consequences.
Mousetraps are getting more efficient, mice get smarter. Never-ending race. Nowadays people use VPN to hide their location. Imagine what tools future will bring ?
 

Lenser

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I take comfort in that, yes - but the battle will be ongoing.

There are places where some form of state-sponsored surveillance is much more prevalent - I'm thinking of the UK where CCTVs are seemingly everywhere, at least in the big cities. But also in Chinese cities - the latter country, with its emerging strata of state-controlled social credit, gives me the willies. The notion of living in a state-implemented surveillance regime is not exactly something that makes me jump for joy. That's why I get nervous about Alphabet and Amazon, Apple and Facebook - they are entities which are, in some ways, more powerful and resourceful than many countries. It gives me pause.

This however is a thread about Sidewalk Labs, so I'll button up and leave off. I really hope that some good will come from this failed venture. The land is still there and development will occur. The city will benefit. It's just a question of degrees and of how exemplary the architecture and civic imagineering will be.
 

WislaHD

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I don't think Covid-19 or profiteering had anything to do with Sidewalk pulling out.

Sidewalk wasn't in this to make a profit. If they were, they wouldn't have invested millions into marketing and would not have hired every lobbyist in the city to work for them. They were heavily in the red for this project and that was okay from their perspective because their objective was to experiment with new technology, especially to see what they can do with aggregate data collected from a neighbourhood wide scale as @ericmacm described. I believe that was always their game-plan.

Why did Sidewalk pull out? I think there are a number of important factors if I were to speculate.
  • First and foremost, I believe that Waterfront Toronto likely mislead Sidewalk Labs about the prospects of owning the entire Portlands. WT likely dangled the fruit in front of Sidewalk throughout the bidding process only for it to become increasingly evident that Sidewalk Labs would have to expensively and patiently bid for every individual parcel of the Portlands. There will be other municipalities in North America that would be happy to sell off everything at once to them.
  • There is private property not owned by WT but by private sector developers sitting between Quayside and the Portlands, and those developers likely had no intention of selling to Sidewalk since the uplifted development value of their land likely surpassed any offer Sidewalk could have given them for an undeveloped lot.
  • Dan Doctoroff stated that he was surprised at how resistant to development our civic institutions were. This is true, if you don't want to play by our rules. Sidewalk did not want to play by our rules. They found themselves in a conundrum as ultimately, our civic institutions and provincial legislation are still more important than the desires of big tech, and Waterfront Toronto did not have jurisdiction over Toronto City Planning or the provincial Planning Act to intervene on their behalf.
  • Project timelines. I think this is among the most important factors here. They operate in Silicon Valley world where results are demanded and achieved quickly. The timeline of development approvals on the City side, the RFP and bidding process for the land in the Portlands from Waterfront Toronto's behalf, and the even longer time line for approving mass timber buildings through the Ontario Building Code would have stalled any development Sidewalk desired to a 10+ year timeframe, which is an eternity in the tech landscape.
  • Lack of any government subsidies. I don't think Sidewalk or Google care much about burning their money on experimental products and ventures, and they certainly don't need the subsidies, but from a macro viewpoint, they want to encroach further onto the public sphere by lobbying for government subsidies and tax reliefs whenever possible, as a form of precedent setting and local political buy-in.
  • Toronto's slow transit development probably was one of the final nails in the coffin. Their plans simply did not work without the Waterfront LRT, which the city and province are still no closer to building in 2020 as they were in 2017.
I think also, they were very surprised and taken aback at the level of civic resistance, engagement and conservatism from both our institutions and general population - even from the academic, professional, and intelligentsia circles. Here in Toronto, we make attending public meetings for development proposals into a sport. They encountered a population here in Toronto that was not only overall smart and educated (especially on tech and the implications of aggregate data), but also would not readily accept large encroachment onto privacy within public sphere without many questions being asked. There are many jurisdictions across North America where the population is way more relaxed, and way less engaged with what's happening in their neighbourhood, and they can simply pursue their plans elsewhere instead of here where the powerful Toronto media and internationally connected social circles would constantly barrage Sidewalk with questions on surveillance and negative press.
 

Lenser

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I believe profitteering was indeed a big part of the Alphabet equation - they're playing the long game, after all. They were willing to sink a ton of resources into the project because it was deemed a crucial test bed experiment. Had it succeeded they would then be able to export the model to other cities and reap a huge windfall. Profit motive is still very much alive. Only the biggest companies can play this kind of game because it requires very deep pockets to finance it. Sidewalk Labs is one such player, considering the immensity of the parent company that ultimately backstops it.

They're not done, either. They'll move on in search of another, more accommodating place to conduct the experiment. There's lots of dosh to be earned and they're well aware of it.
 

Lenser

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The bigger question now is who is waiting in the wings to swoop in and capitalize on Sidewalk's departure, and how long it will take to see that redevelopment.
 

ericmacm

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Agreed on both of your points, @Lenser and @WislaHD.

I think the key to this is that Sidewalk really underestimated Toronto. Traditionally, to many Americans, Toronto is viewed as a smaller market than it actually is. Toronto also has a trendy image, which would have been good for Sidewalk's branding. They probably thought that the process would be similar to that of larger, but middling American cities, where they would literally be begging for the investment and sell them the land wholesale. The decision to pull the plug was absolutely being made before COVID-19 even happened.

Sidewalk is most certainly not dead, though. I doubt it will return to the Canadian market. Our other large cities would probably give Google just as much of a headache as Toronto did. I suspect it will resurface in an American city such as Austin, Denver, Nashville, or Portland, where oversight and opposition will be less of an obstacle.
 

AlbertC

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Homegrown tech innovators ready to jump in at Quayside after Sidewalk Labs’ exit

Sun., May 17, 2020


 

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