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30 Toronto leaders urge support for Sidewalk Labs’ smart city plan

A group of Toronto leaders have co-signed a letter urging citizens and officials to give Sidewalk Labs’ controversial smart city proposal a chance.


The Toronto Region Board of Trade has published an open letter signed by 30 influential figures urging Torontonians and public officials to “welcome and evaluate" Sidewalk Labs’ draft master innovation and development plan (MIDP) "for the many positives it can bring”.


The letter comes just over a week since Alphabet-owned Google sibling Sidewalk Labs released the long-awaited plan for its Toronto smart city development.


The Toronto Region Board of Trade letter is signed by industry big-hitters, including former Toronto Mayors, Barbara Hall and Art Eggleton; Janet Ecker, Former Ontario Finance Minister; Medhat Mahdy, President and Chief Executive Officer, YMCA of Greater Toronto; University Professor, Dr Richard Florida; Herman Ellis, Acting Executive Director, Scadding Court Community Centre; Gail Nyberg, Retired Executive Director, Daily Bread Foodbank; and Heather Tremain, CEO, Options for Homes.


"Details" to resolve


The letter says: “From our collective perspective as leaders in the fields of urbanism, business, public policy, arts, education, social policy and environmental advocacy, we can each see aspects of this project which represent huge opportunities for our communities, and for Toronto.


"Where there are areas of disagreement or points worth debating in the proposal, we know that there is more than enough room for governments to respond, negotiate or adjust plans with the company to address them.”


"Some issues and details must be resolved like data governance and a final path to rapid transit financing."


It goes on: “Some issues and details must be resolved like data governance and a final path to rapid transit financing. However, we also believe there are many exciting ideas in this proposal that can help Toronto tackle some of the major challenges we face, whether it is a new approach to affordable housing construction (in partnership with local firms and companies), the proposed investments in a new urban innovation institute, standard-setting plans on green construction and utilities, or the proposed investments that would come with a new Google headquarters.”


The Toronto Region Board of Trade says it initiated the letter after “hearing from folks in our network who wanted to be supportive and mentioned to Sidewalk Labs that we would be doing this. In addition to our network, they helped connect us with folks that were also interested in being supportive.”


Merits and risks


#BlockSidewalk, a Toronto group opposed to the project, accused Sidewalk Labs and the Toronto Region Board of Trade of “aggressive public relations and marketing” tactics.


"The letter is a call to consider whether the ideas proposed by Sidewalk Labs are good [for] Toronto."


Cynthia Wilkey, Vice-Chair, Waterfront for All, defended her signature of the letter on Twitter, saying, “The letter is a call to consider whether the ideas proposed by Sidewalk Labs are good [for] Toronto. Many of us who have been active observers and participants from before the RFP went out the door are prepared to take the time to seriously assess the merits and the risks.”


On launching the MIDP, Dan Doctoroff, CEO, Sidewalk Labs, said: "The successful execution of this highly detailed plan would produce the most innovative district in the world."


He claimed the plan outlines a new vision for how cities can “integrate physical, digital and policy innovations to produce dramatic improvements in quality of life and generate significant economic opportunity”.


Waterfront Toronto, the public steward for the project, is due to launch consultations soon. The body, created by the Governments of Canada and Ontario and the City of Toronto, will make the ultimate decision on Sidewalk Labs’ proposal.


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