From now until October 31st is a critical time for the Sidewalk Toronto project. Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs recently announced that if they couldn’t come to an agreement before then on some major items laid out by Waterfront Toronto’s Chair, then they would be able to walk away from the deal on Halloween. I have a few process items to flag, but before then, wanted to share a few thoughts based on a post I read on Reddit today, from one of the Sidewalk Labs’ Ask Me Anything sessions. Here’s the post in full, from a Toronto resident:
“If we are excited about the project, rather than negative, is there a constructive way to express support? It seems like the current feedback processes for the city largely are attracting the type of people who want to complain about something that bothers them personally, which makes it seem like sentiment is overall negative. I am cautiously optimistic about what the project can do for the city, but am unsure how to contribute that opinion without being drowned by the negativity?”
Few things about this, all suggestions, all up for conversation. Not trying to be preachy here, trying to help out if you are kind of lost about if/how to participate because this project and process are overwhelming.
- Write things down. If you attended the Waterfront Toronto public meetings, you’d note that there was opportunity to provide written feedback. There is a reason for this, and this extends to many public consultations. Some people aren’t talkers. Some people don’t want to get on the mic and say their piece. Whether you like something or you don’t like something, providing written feedback matters and it will be read and reported. It’s also private.
- Register support for the ideas you like. The Sidewalk Toronto project includes urban planning ideas that many people like – safe streets, new building materials, new ways to think about public and private spaces. Beyond that, no matter what you like, you should submit that feedback. There has been a lot of talk about how to move forward from here, with or without Sidewalk Labs. The ideas might be done with Sidewalk Labs, they might be done with another company. As they have said themselves, many of these ideas aren’t new. There is no reason not to use this opportunity for learning about areas where there is support or desire for new things in the city.
- Public input is one factor, not the only factor. In public process, public feedback is one factor. Waterfront Toronto will take public feedback into account when it makes its decision. Please do not underestimate the importance of registering the fact that you don’t have an opinion about what’s in the plan because you haven’t read it. That matters. My patience is thin but I’m finishing it. There are also opinions you may have without reading the plan, based on the process to date or the vendor. It matters to share things that you think may need to be considered, even if they are things that sit outside of the plan. I have a few of those.
- Consider that the assessment of this plan is about trade-offs. This tender, the procurement, asked for a lot – there is a tonne going on in this plan. As a result, the conversation has turned into disjointed fragments. Different stakeholder communities like different parts of it. Who doesn’t want sustainable building materials? Who doesn’t want affordable housing? Which start-up doesn’t want a chance to participate in this if it helps their company grow? The question is not as simple as do you like this or not. For most of it, it’s at what cost?
In addition to these small points, a few flags. As I understood it, from the public meeting I attended, Sidewalk Labs will possibly be submitting one more thing – an addendum to their draft plan – before the second round of Waterfront Toronto consultations this fall. I would hope and assume that Waterfront Toronto will be doing the same thing with the addendum that they did with the draft plan from Sidewalk Labs, which is to release it publicly as soon as they possibly could.
From there, it’s two critical months to engage on the project.
There are surveys up you can take in the meanwhile.