Report Back: Post-Sidewalk Labs: What's Next?

June 1, 2020 by Lara Muldoon

We need to aim high. We need to dream big and we need to believe that Toronto can do that.

When Sidewalk Labs announced in May 2020 that it was cancelling its planned development of Quayside, a 4.9 hectare parcel on Toronto’s waterfront, the School of Cities convened a virtual panel to discuss the future of the project. Panelists discussed the increasing demands for targeted and sustainable innovation faced by cities in service of the public good and what comes next after this major announcement.

Expert panelists included Nasma Ahmed, Director of the Digital Justice Lab, Ann Cavoukian, Executive Director of the Global Privacy & Security by Design Centre, Kwame McKenzie, CEO of the Wellesley Institute and Shoshanna Saxe, Assistant Professor of Civil and Mineral Engineering at the University of Toronto. The panel was moderated by School of Cities Interim Director and Associate Professor Matti Siemiatycki.

Thank you to all panelists and attendees for their fascinating perspectives and thought-provoking questions.

Discussion Highlights

Kwame McKenzie - "What we have a choice to do at Quayside is to focus on how we produce a more sustainable, greener, and more equitable city. We need to stick to the existing requirements in the [2017] RFP. We've got some feedback from Sidewalk and we need to build on that rather than replace what Sidewalk have done. We have the opportunity to test elements of the 2020 Declaration for Resilience in Canadian Cities such as the responsible use of land, accelerating the decarbonization of our transportation system, and embracing sustainability in the built and natural environments."

Ann Cavoukian - "I’m not at all opposed to collect data to measure how things are working. Privacy is all about control, and the uses of privately controlled data. At the moment there is such a trust deficit, and concern for privacy is at an all-time high. If you commit to the principles of privacy by design, it applies equally between the public and the private sector."

Nasma Ahmed - "The boundaries between the public and private sector in the Sidewalk Labs project weren’t clear at the outset. Moving forward, we have to set principles and values, and to frame the “sandbox” with the private sector, whereby innovation can still occur, but within these boundaries."

Shoshanna Saxe - "Waterfront Toronto are really ambitious and inspiring leaders in urban development. They have delivered lots of interesting public space. The waterfront is an improved place from years ago. Waterfront still has Quayside and the massive Portlands. Going forward, we need to aim high. We need to dream big and we need to believe that Toronto can do that. Part of the excitement with Sidewalk coming in is that they were big, and they were fancy. We have ambition here too."

A full recording of the event can be found here: