Dan Doctoroff stays on message at #CollisionConf Q&A

Collision 2019 - Day Two

At a question and answer session at Day Two of #CollisionConf, Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff sat down with BNN Bloomberg’s Jon Erlichman and reiterated his position on concerns surrounding the controversial project that would seek to create a new urban tech environment at Toronto’s Waterfront neighbourhood.

“We actually are not locked into any Google or Alphabet company at all…We expect to be an independent platform for innovation.”

Doctoroff stated that the smart city project will be submitting its final proposal next month, and will negotiate with the federal, provincial, and municipal governments, in addition to the agency overseeing the project, over the following months. Doctoroff said a best-case scenario would see Sidewalk Labs getting an on-the-ground approval for the project by the end of 2020. He added that in this case, Sidewalk Labs would put down its first building by the end of 2023 or early 2024.

As he has stated before, Doctoroff told the #CollisionConf audience that he envisions Sidewalk Labs to be an inspiration for other cities to “take pieces from,” and use all over the world. He said the company wants to create the physical and digital infrastructure to create a new urban tech revolution.

“We’re innovating across virtually every dimension of urban life,” Doctoroff said. “Hopefully what we will do is create an open infrastructure, open systems, standards for data. We’ll have all these systems operating together in an environment in which the system is really open. And that will represent a dramatic change to the way we think about building the city.”

Doctoroff reiterated that he intends for Sidewalk Labs to be involved in the Waterfront area as an investor, developer, and advisor over the next 20 years.

One persistent issue for the smart city project has been transparency, particularly this year. In March, it was discovered that Sidewalk Labs was looking to redevelop an area 30 times larger than its original 12-acre Quayside proposal. First reported by the Toronto Star, it was revealed that Sidewalk Labs has plans to build an underground infrastructure, an LRT, and is also looking for a share of the property taxes, development fees, and increased value of the land in order to finance this concept.

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At the conference, Doctoroff addressed concerns over Sidewalk Labs’ transparency, insisting that the company has held dozens, if not hundreds, of meetings and forums with more than 20,000 people, and has actively sought public consultation over the last 18 months.

Doctoroff also touched upon Alphabet’s plans to expand Google’s Canadian headquarters and move it down to what he called the “underutilized” Toronto Waterfront, closer to the Sidewalk Labs development. He also stated that the project would involve the development of an urban innovation institute, modelled on New York-based Cornell Tech.

Doctoroff once again reaffirmed Sidewalk Labs’ position over concerns regarding access to data and privacy. Earlier this year, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association filed a lawsuit that sought to abolish the partnership agreement between Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto. Although Sidewalk Labs was not named in the lawsuit, the suit claims Waterfront Toronto does not have the authority to create a digital governance policy for the Quayside project.

“What we have proposed, in contrast to the regimes all over the world for which there are no rules, is say…we should create an entity a government-sanctioned independent urban data trust that will have responsibility for oversight of all of this kind of data,” he said. “We [Sidewalk Labs] shouldn’t be in charge. We should be subject to the same rules as everybody else.”

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Doctoroff said the planning has been in the open for 18 months, and the management of data should be subject to a democratic, independent process. In terms of the company’s affiliation with parent company Alphabet, Doctoroff said although Sidewalk Labs is free to take advantage of Google’s products and services, the project is not locked into any deal with Google or Alphabet.

“We actually are not locked into any Google or Alphabet company at all,” he said. “We expect to be an independent platform for innovation.”

The project’s business model will be to make money from real estate development, infrastructure, and developing products and services for export, and Doctoroff said this business model is much different from Google or Alphabet’s.

“At the end of the day this will be the most innovative district in the entire world,” he said. “It will completely bend the curve on quality of life, we believe, across virtually every dimension of the way people live in cities.”

Image courtesy Collision Conference via Flickr

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Writer, globetrotter, drone pilot & David Attenborough enthusiast