Critics take on Sidewalk Labs over Toronto plan; L.A.'s 1899 bike highway; Toronto ride-hail issues; Pride Month; & more!

Issue 92

Hey urbanists,

Sidewalk Labs released its long-delayed master plan for Toronto’s waterfront, and critics seem to be dominating the public debate. Plus, how L.A. almost had a bicycle highway in 1899, ride hailing is making things worse in Toronto, miners died in the D.R.C., and a bunch of great articles on Pride as the month comes to a close.

Have a great week!


Critics take on Sidewalk Labs’ master plan

Sidewalk Labs finally released the master innovation and development plan for its Toronto smart-city project this week, and people have had a lot to say about it. The plan, originally planned for the 12-acre Quayside site on Toronto’s waterfront, now covers 190 acres of the Portlands and would require the establishment of an ‘innovation’ district. The company promises it would be “the most innovative district in the world.”

Richard Florida was quick to voice his support for the project, despite his opposition to Amazon’s HQ2 in New York City. (If he’s said anything further, I couldn’t see it because he blockedd me on Twitter.) But his support was the exception to the rule.

Stephen Diamond, the chair of the Waterfront Toronto board, released an open letter addressing a number of concerns, including the implementation of an innovation district, calling it “premature,” and the fact it far exceeds the 12 acres in the original proposal. Sidewalk Labs also wants to lead development, even though that was not the role agreed to in the original proposal, and they want additional commitments from government. Diamond is clearly warning that Sidewalk Labs is exceeding the original agreement in several key aspects.

Citizens’ group, #BlockSidewalk, is calling for the project to be rejected as an anti-democratic takeover of part of the city. Co-founder Bianca Wylie makes sure to emphasize the criticism isn’t just about privacy, but democracy:

This process is reflective of corporate capture of both democratic process and regulatory process. And I want to remind people that democracy doesn't die with a bang it doesn't happen in one big event what happens is power.

Wylie questions why a massive corporation like Alphabet needs to be given so much control over a section of Toronto, and instead asserts that if the city wants to be innovative, it should do it itself. There’s no reason the public sector can’t take on such a project itself, instead of tying Toronto into Sidewalk Labs’ digital platform.

John Lorinc also dug into the appendices of Sidewalk Labs’ 1,500-word plan and found a worrying outline of five new governance bodies it says will have to be created for the project. It will use Toronto as a place to test its new products before selling them to other cities, and in exchange the City would get 10% of the profits — but only for ten years. Lorinc says the plans demonstrate a desire to push back the regulatory power of the City, and “reveal a problematic impulse to see the city more as a lucrative test bed than a host city with a distinctive political culture that doesn’t need rescuing.”

The concept of the “smart city” itself is even coming under scrutiny as more projects like Sidewalk Labs’ are put forward. Kevin Rogan wrote a particularly good takedown of the smart city this week, saying it “isn’t a technological utopia, or an environmental lifeboat. It’s a few PowerPoint slides in a conference room demonstrating that there’s money to be made. And it’s coming to you soon.”

Around the world

🥇 How much attention should we really pay to city livability rankings, and whose idea of ‘livability’ do they really represent?

Transit and trains

🇬🇧 Manchester mayor Andy Burnham unveiled an updated transit map as part of a new 10-year plan for a ‘London-style’ transport system

🇺🇸 Los Angeles bus ridership is declining as more low-income people buy cars, and now officials are trying to figure out how to improve the system

🇳🇿 A great history of regional and long-distance buses in New Zealand

🚌 Cities outside China are slow to adopt electric buses. Two new reports explore why.

🚫 Five lessons from cities taking on cars, including the importance of density, use of congestion pricing, and not being afraid to ban cars

Bikes and scooters

🚲 Two miles of a bicycle highway were built from Los Angeles to Pasadena in 1899 before the project was scrapped and a freeway was later built along the same stretch

🇩🇪 “It's dangerous out there.” Berlin is building 150 km of new bike lanes after growing number of cyclist deaths.

🇿🇦 South Africa had a thriving cycling culture in the early 1900s, but it lost status much earlier because of apartheid

🛴 U.S. cities are adopting a common standard for micromobility data

🇳🇱 50 years of Dutch anti-car posters

Cars and roads

🇨🇦 Toronto has 5,000 taxis, but around 70,000 ride-hail vehicles. Their influx has added millions of vehicle trips and shifted 30 million annual trips way from transit. In so doing, it’s taken revenue from transit, and increased congestion and emissions.

🇨🇩 ‘Illegal’ mining is a problem in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and it will get worse with EV demand. At least 39 people recently died at a copper and cobalt mine.

😡 Uber and Lyft drivers accuse companies of misleading them over AB5 messaging

🛣 U.S. states are spending billions on wasteful new highways

🇬🇧 London mayor announces car-free day on September 22

Environment and climate crisis

🚨 New U.N. report by special rapporteur on extreme poverty Philip Alston warns that “over-reliance on the private sector could lead to a climate apartheid scenario in which the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger, and conflict, while the rest of the world is left to suffer.” It would “almost guarantee massive human rights violations.”

🛢 The U.S. military is the largest institutional consumer of hydrocarbons in the world. To address climate change, the war machine must be reined in.

🇫🇷 Paris took a number of measures, including banning 60% of cars, to prepare for a heatwave that saw the country record its hottest temperature ever: 45.9ºC (114.6ºF).

🏙 Would a Department of Cities and Regions super-ministry be the best way to implement a Green New Deal?

Pride Month 🏳️‍🌈

June 28 marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. New York City is hosting World Pride, but the festivities “are dominated by a narrow elite of white, wealthy gay men and major corporate sponsors, whose financial contributions enable, yet also constrain, the bulk of gay cultural and political work.” Other groups are trying to revive Pride’s radical roots.

🏳️‍🌈 “Compared to the massive—and massively funded—Pride events that they protest, the under-resourced activists pushing back against rainbow capitalism are fighting an uphill battle.” A strong argument against the inclusion of the police in Pride.

🇯🇵 Japan’s right-wight Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, a supporter of the ‘traditional’ family, won’t be legalizing same-sex marriage anytime soon, but Ibaraki has become the first prefecture-level government to issue same-sex partnership certificates

Miriam Frank, author of “Out in the Union”, talks about the role of unions in the fight for queer rights

🕺 The Village People’s Felipe Rose talks about life in Greenwich Village as the gay rights’ movement took hold, and how the Native American community accepted him

🇺🇸 17 U.S. states have no workplace anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity

Other great reads

🇨🇦 On July 1, more than 70,000 people in Montreal move house

🚶‍♀️ New report says walkable cities aren’t just more sustainable and better for residents, but also perform better economically

🇹🇷 After a revote in the Istanbul mayoral election, opposition candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu of the center-left, Kemalist Republican People’s Party won with an even larger margin in a blow to President Recep Erdoğan’s right-wing AK Party

🇹🇷 With high unemployment and rising living costs, young people in Istanbul are moving to rural areas, but not everyone’s happy about it

🍟 Minneapolis may ban new drive-throughs in an effort to reduce emissions and improve health

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