Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff says his firm will act as a “catalyst” to help develop and deliver the infrastructure upon which the Quayside neighbourhood will be based.
In a speech Wednesday to a newly formed advisory panel of Canadian executives and urban experts, brought together to provide advice to Sidewalk Labs on proposed plans for a 12-acre technology-driven project on Toronto’s eastern waterfront, Doctoroff said the project will feature shared automated vehicles, streets that melt snow and redirect traffic in real time, an advanced electrical grid and “next-generation” stormwater management.
Other technologies will help improve quality of life for residents of the project, such as “weather mitigation tools” that can be used based on real-time “hyperlocal” measurements of rain and wind, Doctoroff said.
Sidewalk Labs will be a catalyst in helping develop the technologies upon which these innovations will be based, he said, providing an initial investment and “foundational pieces of digital infrastructure” that will allow for the neighbourhood to become an “innovation hub” — a place where other companies can build on that vision, leading to the creation of new jobs and industries.
All of this and more will require substantial investments of money and resources, and Sidewalk Labs will be an “essential catalyst” to help deliver that, Doctoroff says.
“There is no significant marketplace for funding next-generation infrastructure. And so we have taken steps to create a vehicle, backed by (Sidewalk Labs parent firm) Alphabet and eventually including Canadian partners, to do so where traditional players will not,” Doctoroff told the group.
The mostly residential project would offer not only market-rate condos, but purpose-built rentals, rent geared to income, and housing targeted at middle-income households, Doctoroff added.
Sidewalk Labs would make money by sharing in the “uptick in land value” that would accrue as a result of the catalyst role they are playing, and profiting from “some” of the new technologies they deploy being sold into markets elsewhere, Doctoroff said.
Doctoroff said the “prejudgment” of the Quayside plan and “assumptions of ill will” have taken him by surprise. “But I can assure you there is nothing more behind the curtain than what I have shared with you today,” he told the advisory panel.
His remarks come days after Sidewalk Labs, a Manhattan-based urban planning firm, released its digital governance proposals, a 40-plus page document in which the company pledged not to control data collected from public areas in and around the Quayside development.
Earlier Wednesday, Doctoroff told reporters that a “vast majority” of people’s privacy concerns around the project should be answered by the policy proposals.
Doctoroff said the plans should quell the concerns of all but the most “extreme” critics of the Quayside project.
The proposals say Sidewalk Labs would relinquish control of the “urban data” collected to an independent organization called the Civic Data Trust.
The trust will set the rules around data use, make it open and accessible to the public, and ensure privacy protection. Sidewalk Labs would not receive any special status or rights in terms of accessing the data.
Since the project was announced, it has been dogged by concerns from critics worried about privacy, the ownership of intellectual property and how data will be collected, kept, controlled, accessed and protected.
A digital advisory committee set up to advise Waterfront Toronto, the tri-government corporation partnering with Sidewalk Labs on the Quayside project, will review the digital governance proposals Thursday.
With files from Canadian Press
Donovan Vincent is a housing reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @donovanvincent