More Broken Process, Maybe an Exit Flag Too – The Time Between

Today the Wall Street Journal reported that Alphabet Inc. is “teaming up with its subsidiary, Sidewalk Labs LLC, and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP) to launch an infrastructure holding company that is being spun out of Sidewalk.” Like the idea or not (and some clearly do), reminder that this is only one piece of Sidewalk Labs’ plan.

There are exactly two times when this announcement about the OTPP should have been made. The first one has passed, which would have been within the plan. The second one would have been when Sidewalk presented their fully final plan, their addendum to the MIDP – whatever it is they’re going to submit as their final plan to respond to Waterfront Toronto’s requirements, public feedback, and a few other panels and advisory committees. If, of course, they’re doing that.

Unless, unless of course, this is an exit flag.  This announcement may also be the beginning of an exit from Quayside with continuity for Sidewalk’s global endeavours.  A way for everyone to move on if the particulars of Quayside fall apart – face saving in a way, hey we accomplished this thing over here. All’s well that ends in something. Maybe?

But going back to a Quayside focused assessment:

In a democratic process, people need to be able to follow a coherent packaging of information to understand what they are assessing.  Which means you have to package it in a way that people can follow along, and consider all the factors at the same time.

The public keeps getting tossed around. It’s not clear if Sidewalk wants to deal with a 12 acre proposal, not clear if Sidewalk wants to adhere to Waterfront Toronto’s requirements, and by extension, the three levels of governments’.  Are Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs even pretending to adhere to the Plan Development Agreement anymore? Does the creation of a new Sidewalk company WHILE this negotiation is going on create entirely new lines of accountability without Waterfront? I’d assume yes, and that this all does, but also doesn’t, have anything to do with Quayside? If so, again, no problem, and I’m sure the lawyers can answer this all, but wow is this ever getting confusing to follow. Who benefits from the confusion, more confusion?

Few other notes here:

Sidewalk continues to show the public how it does its business. It’s happy to continue with fractured narratives and piecemeal conversations and critique. There’s never a chance to look at the whole thing because it’s never how it’s presented. They don’t know how to talk about it all at once and neither does anyone else. Other than to say it’s big.  It’s like trying to convene a conversation about how the entire government works.

When Sidewalk did their deputation to the City a few months back, they were so happy to say they were barely using any of their own tech. My guess is we are headed for a whole new round of announcements of partnerships, deals, etc. between now and the next plan, or maybe in the next plan. This accomplishes a few things – it builds out the supportive constituencies  further.  It may also water down accountability, if companies are working through Sidewalk rather than with government directly. And finally, and again, the worst part, is that they’re framing and setting the entire table for a neighbourhood, its economy, and local governance. They’ve spread themselves over and into so many nooks and crannies that they can point to all their collaborators and partners and claim themselves some kind of urban convener. Was Waterfront Toronto struggling to do procurement before Sidewalk? Is that really the problem they wanted help with?

Sidewalk interpreted what it was asked to do with this RFP, no doubt, and did it. They built and sold a big future that many now see themselves in, and have pushed Waterfront Toronto right against the wall to be the ones to take it away. Even though it’s not real.  And they should.  What an absolute wreck of a process.


“Looking in the Broken Window” by Blue Dragon Photos is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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