Good afternoon. Bonjour. Thank you to the members of the committee for having us here today.
I am Dan Doctoroff, CEO of Sidewalk Labs. I am joined by Micah Lasher, our head of policy and communications, and John Brodhead, our director of policy and strategy.
Sidewalk Labs was founded in 2016 to look at new approaches to challenges facing cities around the world. We are a subsidiary of Alphabet, the holding company that also owns Google. Our focus is on combining people-centred urban design with cutting-edge technology to achieve new standards of sustainability, housing affordability, mobility and economic opportunity.
On March 17, 2017, Waterfront Toronto issued an RFP seeking an innovation and funding partner to “help create and fund a globally-significant community that will showcase advanced technologies, building materials, sustainable practices and innovative business models that demonstrate pragmatic solutions toward climate positive urban development.”
The RFP centred on Quayside, a roughly 12 acre site at the foot of Parliament Street, while also noting that the selected partner would “contribute appropriate financial resources and/or solution components to support building and district level solutions for the eastern waterfront” and “assist in developing a viable and implementable model of sustainable transit along the eastern waterfront into the Port Lands that can be supported by a combination of government and private sector funding.”
Upon reviewing the RFP we saw an extraordinary opportunity to make Toronto the home of our marquee project, and we operated on the assumption that it would take everything we had to win. We were fortunate to have the support of our parent company as we decided to devote more or less the full resources of Sidewalk Labs toward our response. Had we been a more traditional business, we would have been unable to do this. We had also assembled a team with deep expertise in urban innovation, and our willingness to spend $50 million U.S. on a planning process, entirely at our own risk, was, I imagine, unique. All of this made us unusually well positioned to compete in a rigorous and fair process.
I would encourage you to read the RFP submission we voluntarily published and to seek the release of other submissions to have the fullest possible picture of what led to our selection by Waterfront Toronto seven months after the issuance of the RFP, in what Waterfront Toronto has said was the second-longest procurement in its history.
I want to pause to make clear what rights we did and did not obtain from that procurement. What we won was the right to make a plan, at our expense, for consideration by Waterfront Toronto and the three orders of government. We did not win any development rights, no land was transferred, and the entire process upon which we have embarked and which we funded came with no guarantees. In the end, Waterfront Toronto's board may simply decide not to implement the plan we put forward.
In late October 2017 we began the work of creating what we and Waterfront Toronto call the Master Innovation and Development Plan. We built an outstanding Toronto team, and I am so proud that John Brodhead is part of it. Our very first interactions with John came well after the public announcement of our selection by Waterfront Toronto, and John accepted an offer of employment from us only after review and clearance from the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
Over the last year, we have engaged in a public consultation process whose scope, I believe, is unprecedented. Even more noteworthy is that it has all occurred before we have even tabled a proposal. Unusually for a private company, we making our plans in real time and in the public eye.
We've hosted four major public round tables, convened six advisory groups comprising more than 70 experts, consulted extensively with a citizens reference panel, participated in ongoing dialogue with Waterfront Toronto's digital strategy advisory panel, and invited all interested Torontonians to visit our headquarters down on the waterfront and engage with members of our team. To date, we have had in-person substantive engagement about this project with more than 20,000 Torontonians.
I would also like to highlight our approach to privacy and data governance, given the important work of this committee. Canada has a strong foundation of privacy laws around personal information and recognizes privacy as a fundamental human right. Consistent with Canadian laws and values on privacy, we made early commitments with regard to responsible data use, including to the principles of privacy by design, to de-identification and data minimization and to not selling personal data from this project or using it for advertising purposes.
During our consultations, we heard concerns about the collection of data in the physical environment by cameras and sensors—what we call “urban data.” This is proliferating in cities today in a way that is largely unregulated and non-transparent. We see this project as an opportunity to build on, and in no way replace or supplant, existing Canadian privacy laws and to put into place the most robust governance framework for urban data that exists anywhere.
With that in mind, we have proposed the establishment of an independent organization to oversee the collection and use of urban data and to do so in a way that protects the public interest while encouraging innovation. We believe this could make Quayside a globally noteworthy place, not because urban data is collected there, as it is in so many other places, but because of how well urban data collection is governed.
I should note that we offer these ideas with enormous deference to privacy regulators, with whom we have consulted extensively, and to Waterfront Toronto's digital strategy advisory panel, this committee and those policy-makers and government officials who we recognize are the ones responsible for deliberating and making decisions about the rules of the road at Quayside, by which we will abide.
Today, after our immersion in dialogue with the people of Toronto and talented city-builders in and out of government, I am more convinced than ever that this project can meet the ambitious objectives Waterfront Toronto articulated in its RFP.
Our comprehensive plans for sustainable development will mean that this neighbourhood produces seven times less CO2 than other Toronto neighbourhoods. Our innovative approach to tall timber design and construction at a scale never before attempted will catalyze a new industry and end-to-end supply chain in Ontario and will help to achieve new levels of affordability that will stand in positive contrast to the luxury condominium towers that have proliferated along the waterfront.
Our housing program will help to create a truly inclusive community, with 40% of units delivered below market price: half meeting traditional definitions of “affordable housing” and the other half targeted at middle-income Torontonians who are getting priced out of the city's core. Our mobility plan will support light-rail expansion, provide exceptional bike and pedestrian infrastructure, reduce traffic congestion and improve pedestrian safety.
In every instance, technology will be used in the service of these goals, never as an end unto itself, and always subject to the robust data governance regime I discussed earlier.
Taken together, our plans will create tens of thousands of jobs in Ontario. They will create a dynamic “people first” community, to which other neighbourhoods in Toronto and, we hope, cities around Canada and the world can look for ideas about how to tackle critical challenges.
It has been a privilege to be able do this work—which you can probably tell I feel so passionately about—in Toronto. I'm glad to be here with you today and I welcome your questions.
Mr. Doctoroff, I don't think anyone on the committee would quibble with your public service in the city of New York; your record is pristine, I believe. I don't think anyone would quibble with the noble objectives of Sidewalk Toronto that you outlined, but in the absence of the final plan, given the opposition by some members of Toronto council, the opposition we're told that exists quite deeply within Queen's Park, the provincial government, I just have to ask, for the record—and you may smile at this—is Sidewalk Toronto one of your parent company's, one of Alphabet's, famous moon shots?
For the benefit of other committee members, the Alphabet moon shots are audacious projects in which large amounts of money are invested, but if these projects don't pay off, the company walks away from them. I learnt from an article recently that Alphabet's moon shots last year, these ventures it walked away from, lost $865 million, which is quite a bit more than the $50 million you represented here.
Is there any way that Sidewalk Toronto could be considered a moon shot by your parent company?
I will say a couple of things. The first one is that any project that seeks to break new ground and is particularly committed to reaching out and getting people's feedback before everything is clear is naturally going to be a recipient of concern and criticism. To be perfectly honest, we welcome the concern and criticism, because we believe very strongly that it makes us smarter and more sensitive and makes plans ultimately better.
I would completely disagree with the characterization of this dystopian place. I think you're going to find as we are finally able to put the entire plan together that it will be one of the most people-friendly, dynamic communities anywhere, and that people are going to be truly excited about the fact that it will be coming, hopefully, to their city.
As I said, we were given a challenge as part of the RFP process, and that was to break new ground to solve problems that we know virtually every major city in the world, especially Toronto, is increasingly facing. It's not easy to do that. We've been trying to play that out in public and get people's feedback, and that's a messy process. I do believe that what we're going to come back with will hopefully reignite that excitement you had.
I should also point out—and I'll go back to what we said in the opening statement—that we don't have a right to do anything. All we've been doing is putting together a plan that, in relevant parts, you, the provincial government, the city government and Waterfront Toronto, hopefully, with the opinion of the public, will have an opportunity to say meets those lofty objectives or it doesn't.
I think part of the concern is this. I respect this commitment to de-identification and to the civic data trust, but you have to understand that when you tell me, a citizen of Toronto, that there are going to be sensors and cameras all over the place, I'm very worried about the prospect. You tell me that Google is involved, and I'm very worried about that prospect. When I know that Alphabet is involved, I worry about the prospect. I appreciate that, but I think knowing that, internalizing that and understanding when you talk about this...that is the basis of great concern.
I was recently in Brussels and met with the EU data protection supervisor. His deputy said—I think others have said the same—that we're so worried about Big Brother that we forgot about the companies that are “Little Sisters.” When we talk about cameras and sensors everywhere, that's what I would worry about.
I think you are right to say that ultimately this is up to a public-facing body to make a final decision; you're right to say openness and de-identification respecting personal privacy, and data protection.... Is there a sense of what privacy laws apply currently?