Waterfront Toronto and members of a group of tech, data and privacy experts advising the corporation on Sidewalk Labs’ proposal for a data-driven neighbourhood on the east waterfront want a master plan for the project delayed.
Members of the digital strategy advisory panel and Waterfront Toronto met Thursday with Sidewalk Labs to discuss a set of proposals released by the U.S.-based firm Monday afternoon. The proposals outline strategies for handling privacy, and the collection, control, and access to data that would be collected from a “smart-city” neighbourhood Sidewalk Labs wants to build on a 12-acre site near Parliament St. and Lake Shore Blvd. E. called Quayside.
The issue of collecting data concerning residents and visitors to the neighbourhood has been a controversial one. In the new proposals, Sidewalk Labs has pledged not to control the data collected at the site and is calling for a special civic data trust to do so based on “responsible data use” guidelines.
But some members of the committee advising Waterfront Toronto threatened to resign this week, saying Sidewalk Labs’ proposals don’t go far enough.
There was no talk of resignations after Thursday’s meeting. Instead, there was a general call for both further meetings to discuss the proposals and a delay of the draft master plan Sidewalk Labs was hoping to deliver early next year. The panel members said more time is needed to grapple with the myriad issues and questions raised by the data issue.
“We need to have the time to do this properly,” he said.
Clement said he wants to know how data collection will impact individuals at Quayside as well as the broader community.
“Will all public spaces (there) be subject to video surveillance?” he asked.
The meeting heard that a lot of the specifics around how data will be used in real-time scenarios at Quayside are still being worked out.
Sidewalk Labs officials apologized for the delay in getting the proposals to the digital panel.
“Some of this (was) just taking more time for us than we hoped, and we are sharing our progress as we go,” spokesperson Micah Lasher said.
Waterfront Toronto, which owns the land in question and is overseeing the project, is mulling over the digital governance proposals and also calling for a delay of the draft master plan, Kristina Verner, vice-president, innovation, sustainability and prosperity for Waterfront Toronto, told the meeting, held in the corporation’s boardroom.
Waterfront Toronto will have the “final evaluation” over the Quayside project and “nothing will proceed” without the corporation’s approval, Verner said.
“We are currently re-examining the timeline for receiving the (draft master plan) to ensure there is appropriate time for the (digital advisory panel) and others to review the whole proposal and engage in meaningful public consultation,” Verner told the meeting.
Michael Geist, chair of the panel and Canada research chair in internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa, kicked off the meeting criticizing the time the panel had to digest Sidewalk Labs’ digital governance proposals this week.
“I’m not convinced that the initial proposals, tabled about 72 hours ago, meet the vast majority of privacy and data concerns that have been (expressed about Quayside),” he said.
“Part of the frustration is that the panel hasn’t been able to engage in substantive review and provide real feedback and advice,” around data, he added.
But after the meeting he struck a more conciliatory tone.
“It was a really positive meeting. I think going in there has been a lot of controversy associated with this project, and I think a lot of questions whether a panel like this could provide real value and help influence some of these policy issues. I came away feeling that the door is open to that now,” he said in an interview.
He said timelines around the master plan were “a bit aggressive” given the many questions around data governance.
The meeting heard that “civic labs” — forums for detailed explanations of topics pertaining to the Quayside project such as digital governance, cyber ethics, privacy and intellectual property — will be held next month, and those meetings will inform public round tables scheduled for December. The roundtable discussions will feed into the master plan.
Craig Nevill-Manning, one of Sidewalk Labs’ lead engineers, told the meeting that the firm’s main goals for Quayside aren’t centred on data or digital technology, but instead increased mobility for residents — there are plans for automated cars to serve the neighbourhood — climate sustainability and improved building design.
Lasher said he couldn’t immediately say after the meeting what the calls for the delay in the drafting of the master plan mean for the project’s timetable.
“I think we recognize there is a lot of work to be done here, a lot for Sidewalk Labs, Waterfront Toronto, and the public to work through and we have to make sure that’s done right. That’s more important than any timetable,” he said in an interview.
Donovan Vincent is a housing reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @donovanvincent