Mary Rowe [00:00:46] Hi, it’s Mary Rowe from CityTalk and CUI and we hoping to hear from Richard Joy, but we seem to have lost him at the very moment. There he is. Richard, over to you, please.
Richard Joy [00:00:55] Thank you very much. Sorry I didn’t get my cue there. But yeah, my name is Richard Joy. I’m the executive director of ULI, Urban Land Institute, Toronto, and very, very pleased to be participating in this co-production of ULI Toronto and the Canadian Urban Institute. It’s not the first time we’ve collaborated, but the first time we collaborated as a webinar. It’s a great pleasure as CUI many of you don’t know, but also happen to be in good times, our roommates, we cohabitate together on St. Patrick’s Street and collaborate on other things and now we get to collaborate on this. This was a very nimble webinar, to say the least. We brought together the idea very quickly in response to the news about the sidewalk lab. Some of you from the you allied world have just heard a webinar, in fact, that just ended minutes ago with DanDoctoroff and Amanda Lang discussing the rationale for the big news that we heard last week. So with that and because we have such a hugely packed amount of material to cover with a big panel, that’s going to be very capably managed by Mary Roy. I don’t know how you do it, but one of five that you doing this week. I’m going to turn it over to you, Mary, and wish you all the best of luck. And I’ll look forward to a great, great discussion. Thank you.
Mary Rowe [00:02:24] Thanks, Richard. We’re always happy to work with our pals that you rely on us. He suggested we are roommates. So in that at the time of cozy, being able to continue to be on good speaking terms with your roommates is a good thing. I’m the president CEO of Riverton student and welcome to City Talk. We’re doing these a couple of times a week. And as Richard suggested, for some reason this is our May Madness week. CUI is involved with five of these every day. So if you’ve got time on your hands midday, why don’t you just join in every day to hear about some pressing topics in urban life? On Wednesday, we’re doing one in partnership with a number of folks, including at York University and the Go to Institute in Berlin. And I actually won’t be on that one, but everybody else will. And we hope you’ll tune in on that. So today, as Richard suggested, we wanted to put up quickly a conversation, a space, to have a conversation to try to make sense of what is the future for smart tech in Canadian cities. And we’re very, very appreciative to have these five agree to come on at such short notice and help us navigate that. This is what city talk seems to be about, is how do we make some sense of meaning and understand what’s going on around us since konbit CUI is put up to other platforms City Watch Canada and City Talks or a city share Canada, both of which are updated daily by partners and volunteers across the country. And if you have time in your hands and you can give us 30 minutes or an hour to watch one of those cities or the city in which you live and identify smart things that are going on in civic things that are happening with the community or business community or different sectors, please volunteer with us and Cauvin response at CUI dot org. These broadcasts emanate from originate rather than here in Toronto, and Toronto is the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit Annishnabec, and the Chippewa and the hodhan Ishani and the Wendat peoples. And it’s now home to many, many diverse first nations. Anyone in Maiti? People from across Turtle Island Trotta was also covered by trees. Your teen signed with the Mississauga’s of the credit and the Williams trees, which were signed with multiple Annishnabec, nations. And we are always cognizant and appreciative of our ancestry in the traditional lands that we occupy. And we also acknowledge that these conversations are taking place while we still have thousands of Canadians engaged in first-line emergency response, saving lives, keeping people safe. And we never want these conversations to be seen as supplanting that or in any way operating in isolation from that. And we we we have these conversations because we want, as I suggested, to try to connect the dots. But we are aware that multiple governments continue to be under extraordinary pressure and other first responders working with them. These conversations are about practical things. What are we seeing? What do we see? What’s working, what isn’t, and what’s next? And as we suggested, the departure of sidewalk labs, the decision this side of a collabs made last week opened up a space for us to talk about where a smart tech and what is the future. And this is the beginning of a conversation. I know people familiar with this topic broadly aren’t afraid of Twitter. So you can feel free to use hashtag city talk and engage there. And the conversation just needs to start here and continue. Also, we have a chat function, as many have already seen. And. And so what we don’t like is for you to feel free to offer comments. All of you online in the chat, you can offer comments. You can ask questions. Often people in the chat respond to each other more quickly than our panelists can. So it’s a really good resource. And as I’ve said before, what goes in the chat stays in the chat. It’s not Vegas. So just remember, you put something up there. It’s gonna be there for for eternity. And we’re going to publish it. And when you are offering comments, could you make sure that you offer them to panelists and everyone so that everybody sees it? So this hive mind can the problem solve with you? The we keep that chat function open a little bit afterwards. So the panelists drop off and maintain and go about their business. But the chat stays open. So if you want to continue, have a conversation, feel free to do so. As you know, we’re recording. And we will post this chat and we will post the will post the session and the chat and a summary that we do after each session up for people to watch again. And we’re actually finding that we have all the previous sessions we’ve done for weeks, everyone. We have it all up there. And we’re finding that hundreds of more people actually go and watch these things are either again or get introduced to it. So please feel free to share it with your colleagues if if they’re interested. And the reference to the Amanda Lang conversation with Dan Doctoroff will post. And we post lots of resources in the chat. So every time a panelist utters some smart online reference or a book or something, we’ll put it up on a track. And we as I said, I wanna thank you all for chiming in and helping us with this one and making it happen. And we’re really delighted to have you all members on this session and hope you’ll tune into small city talks. As I suggested, usually Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays this week, every day and always on Friday, we talk with the mayor about what’s really going on. OK, so it’s a new day. Is it a new day for smart tech in Canada? And Canadian cities were eager to hear what you say. And we’re always happy to have somebody give us some perspective from a different place. And so toReform is joining us. She’s based in New York City, but she’s actually temporarily in Palo Alto. I think. Vollertsen Whereas California Sun and we’re in California. I’m in Tahoe at the moment. Well, you’re in Tahoe. Wokingham Ralph, you’re in town. Talk to us. You know, you’ve got a really interesting perspective for us. And everybody here in this in this panel is active in the smart city and the smart tech domain and has been for some time. You got a lot of wisdom to share with us.
Mary Rowe [00:07:56] So tell me what you’ve been seeing and we’re very interested to hear from California. What are you seeing as the impact of COVID on the sector and communities and the relevance of smart tech now. Over to you Tara, just give us 90 seconds on your perspective.
Tara Pham [00:08:10] Cool. Thanks. As as just quick context, my company makes a camera based sensor that measures all modes of transportation at street level, and we do that in a completely privacy first way. But in order to provide a more equitable transportation data. So we specialize in measuring things like pedestrian and bicycle traffic rather than just car counts. And what I’ve been seeing is actually really an uptick in interest in remote monitoring and understanding that I think a lot of cities actually need to provide more space for people recreationally, which in many densities means closing off streets to cars. And that’s actually something that I think is exciting and maybe something to be optimistic about. So I’m seeing that obviously through our businesses, cities want to measure that in order to kind of have there before, during and after. My hope is that cities actually create some of these interventions, not just as kind of quick builds projects, but actually as permanent changes to their master plans and for us, that means it’s not just traffic safety between people and cars, but actually thinking how can we change the streetscape entirely not to be so car first at all. But actually, you know, if you didn’t have cars parking and driving on the road, how can we actually make these spaces more enjoyable for people to be out with their families safely and socially distance? That’s really the point of it.
Mary Rowe [00:09:44] Is California trying to run you back to New York? You sound like a New Yorker right there. They’re saying its cars should be a fewer cars on the streets. Just just just asking.
Tara Pham [00:09:52] I mean, actually, to be honest, in New York City has been rather slow to adopt. When you consider how dense it is and how quickly some other cities did adopt these changes. So in that way, I’m a little grateful for the pressure that this is created to act and really make some big changes to streets.
Mary Rowe [00:10:10] You’ve raised a couple of points which we’ll come back to. One is measurement. The the role of tech in terms of evaluating and carrying what is actually going on. And secondly, what if it’s going to stick? What are these modifications? OK. Let’s go next to Brian. Brian, you’ve got a storied history in this domain. What are you saying? 90 seconds on what your perspective?
Brian Kelcey [00:10:30] Well, I’m sure we’ll come back to Quayside details later today. But on the broader market and the opportunities I’ve had to to talk to a few companies under difficult circumstances over the last last few weeks, I think what we are seeing is that. Anything that depends on new rounds of VC financing, anything that depends on large amounts of financing generally, which I include Quayside in that mix, is being reconsidered. And I think the good news for a number of reasons from that unfortunate problem is that a lot of companies, especially small Canadian companies, are starting to focus on moving as rapidly as possible to serving customers with the technology that they’re developing. What I’m not seeing and what’s what’s kind of frustrating for me and disappointing is that my role on the Quayside debate was, you know, I work for the Board of Trade. At that point, we were very supportive of Quayside moving forward. But we’re also extremely supportive of having strong federal regulation, something like what the EU has with the GDPR regime that’s out there so that innovators and citizens are concerned about these technologies wouldn’t be operating in a vacuum when people start talking about contact tracing and what’s what’s legal, what’s principle in that environment. And here we are. We’re now seeing that a serious debate is taking place about the use of those technologies and the rules still aren’t in place. So it’s time for everybody to turn their guns away from hating the company of the months. Like many due to the sidewalk and let’s get together and get a level regulatory playing field so that we know what the rules are.
Mary Rowe [00:12:02] OK, so the whole notion of the venture capital, what’s going to happen there? And as you suggest, rules. Okay. John Jung, let’s hear from you. What do you see?
John Jung [00:12:12] All right. Well, as you may know, I deal with communities all across Canada, but also globaly and various sizes, not just urban centers. We look at rural and small cities as well. And so, you know, one of the key things that we’re going to be coming out of this is the fact that people have to get engaged at the local level to develop their smart city plan so that it’s more sort of people centric and holistic approach to what’s going on in their communities. And many of them, particularly in the rural communities, are finding they just don’t have the enabling infrastructure. They’re missing that broadband, that essential utility that’s that’s missing. So how can companies in those communities even begin to do things and thrive? So they’re forced to go into bigger urban centers where this is possible. And many of them don’t even go to places in Toronto. They’ll go into the United States or elsewhere. So we’re losing that innovation. You know, it’s it’s not only an issue of creating a startup ecosystem. We have a problem with scaling. And what we need to do is look at all of the different tactics and strategies and our communities to be able to do that. And what I’m seeing is communities are beginning to not only look at the essential utilities that are necessary and infrastructure, but they’re also looking at their strategy, not just projects. You know, everybody is now living in a city lab environment. We’re all experimenting. What what communities are saying, like I’m looking at a number of them with CUI. I did a smart city plan for Mississauga for instance working on others in Durham and elsewhere. I’m seeing that all around the world that people are now saying as they’re coming out of that truck and rescue. Let’s reimagine our communities now from a different point of view. And I think you have speakers here today on the panel that’ll be able to talk about some of those things. We talk about open, resilient, ethical cities and so forth. So why not take a new look at how we should approach that? Now that we’ve come through the system of COVID and post-COVID era.
Mary Rowe [00:14:23] I think we’re still going through it. I think that I hear you. You’re the optimist. It’s a moment, isn’t it? Siri, let’s hear from you and then we’ll go to you on the way after you. Siri.
Siri Agrell [00:14:32] Sure. I think what I’m seeing both on individual level and on a community level is that we are viscerally living through a sort of case study and the opportunity of technology and government and that that threats and the concerns and the challenges of it. Right. Everything that’s kind of allowing us to stay connected, understand what’s going on to buy things. All of that is being enabled by technological tools, and that’s hugely important. We’re seeing an acceleration in that, but we’re also seeing the problems with that. We’re seeing you know, we’re understanding that, you know, talking through Zoom is not the same as talking Face-To-Face, that working from home is not the same as working in an office. That when you’re only using those tools, there is going to be a disproportionate issues of access and equity that we’re going to see only certain neighborhoods or, you know, as the point was just made, certain municipalities who have the infrastructure, the tools, the money to actually access it. So it’s we’re living through that promise. And that threat of these things. Right. We know that they’re necessary. You know, I hate the term smart cities. It’s about government modernization. Government modernization to me has always been about service continuity. You need these tools so people can access service, but you have to do it in a responsible way, you have to make sure that we’re not just trading away all of that to one, you know, one company, because we’re also, I think, learning as the society right now what happens if we decide I’m only going to buy things through Amazon. We are trading away our main streets. Right. So we’re all living through these things in real time right now.
Mary Rowe [00:16:09] Yeah. We are sort of a global pilot, aren’t we? It’s a global pilot project or a global petri dish. Jean-Noe Let’s hear from you and your perspective from Quebec and out of different communities you’re working with.
Jean-Noe Landry [00:16:19] Absolutely. Thank you very much for for the invite. So obviously, I think we all kind of saw that news. Yes. Well, last week. And it did for for for us. I mean, it’s also thinking about, well, this isn’t this isn’t all about sidewalk labs or the Quayside project. But the key side project amplified and brought to light a number of different issues that were already on the radar, but really kind of accelerated or forced a conversation and due to these kind of hard-fought mobilization that took place. I think we’re in a better place now in terms of the discourse and the kind of conversation around principles that should be underpinning our vision and the way that we talk and work through different decisions as it relates to open, smart cities. And, you know, we’ve we’ve done an exercise of coming up with a like the key side project litmus test or the key side litmus tests, for example, as we learned from that experience. And how do we work in support communities across Canada to mitigate some of those risks? And there’s a lot that can be done, and I’m happy to elaborate on that. But maybe more to the point around like smart technology, when we talk about smart technology, we’re talking about data. Right. That’s the enabling that, that the stuff that makes technology in many ways work. And so when we conn- connect and observe the world around us as it unfolds with that pandemic crisis, you know, there’s a few things that we can kind of deduct and that we’re we’re already seeing, one of which is that the the rapid pace of the corona virus is not only testing the capacity of of health system, but it’s also showing how our data infrastructure is deeply fractured. Right. And particularly inside communities as well. And in between them and across different levels of government. So we know that publishing reliable data requires time and resources, which, you know, communities, especially at this time, are struggling and are hard pressed to be able to mitigate the risk and to address health concerns. But this is a time for collecting and cleaning and standardizing data efforts with a long term perspective and really kind of charting the course of where we want to end up and how do we create a data environment that’s rich for the future as we come out of this crisis. The key issue also that’s been noted is the data privacy, you know, piece of the conversation. There’s been a couple of initiatives and things that have come up over the last few weeks, kind of really kind of stating what are these principles from, you know, how can we be cautious about privacy? And so I’d point to kind of the statement that came out by open media recently. But also last week there was a joint statement released by the federal, provincial and territorial privacy commissioners with a reminder on key principles to consider. So that we need to really pay attention to that, because this is about compliance and it’s also about building trust and seizing this opportunity to have a new kind of conversation, as we’re, you know, as citizens look to government for, you know, four kind of competent leadership and response. So this is the time when we can actually have a window to talk about privacy in ways that are that are new that might have been available to us in the past. And lastly, I think when we talked about a coordinated data response, different scales obviously apply. I think John made that point. And it’s not just between cities or different levels of government. It’s also in this particular context between neighborhoods themselves and how smart technology needs to have that economic data. It’s the economy of scale, but inside within kind of territorial boundaries of a city administration. Let’s stop there for now.
Mary Rowe [00:19:50] Go ahead, Brian.
Brian Kelcey [00:19:51] Yeah, just just to cut in on one small thing, that’s a pet peeve. I’m not really disagreeing with Jean-Noe, but maybe supplementing in that. And it certainly pertains to the sidewalk Quayside debate as well as that. I think one of the challenges with the whole so-called smart cities, milieu or genre, if you like, is trying to define where that line is. I’ve never defined it as simply including data software, although that’s obviously the most controversial, most well-funded piece of this. But I think we’re leaving a lot on the table if we don’t take a more traditional management school definition of innovation to include physical technologies, improved construction and improved productivity in infrastructure, construction of better and greener materials. That’s part of the promise of this this whole area. And obviously, data and software is interlinked with that. But. I would hate to go through the rest of the conversation nudging all of us those off the table, because for me, much of what was most interesting of our Quayside, and much of what’s most interesting about the sector is stuff that doesn’t necessarily need advanced software or vast data to be contributing to life in cities.
Jean-Noe Landry [00:21:01] So I just wonder I agree with that, if I may Mary. Because for us, it’s an open, smart city. And when we unpack open, we don’t just talk about data and the governance piece we talked about. Yes. The software, but also the engagement and the inclusive aspect of cities that’s participatory share. Cities that sharing cities as well, being cities. There’s a there’s a lot there. So we we use the OpenNorth definition of an open smart city that I can refer to in the chat here.
Mary Rowe [00:21:25] I just I John, I can see you want to and I just want to just interject and say let’s if we can try to keep the conversation as grounded in what we’re really seeing. Because I’m I’m I know that many of you have written about this. You’ve been talking about this. You’ve been waiting around principles and concerns. And here we are in a global pandemic. And if the tech community I want to get rid of Smart, I would love it if we could abolish this term. Smart. I’ve hated the hierarchical nature of that. But anyway, I don’t know what the other option is. I know, John, you chose intelligent, which doesn’t really. But because I used to say I’m in for dumb cities. But can we can we get it to have a conversation? This is a profound moment for this tech sector to make remarkable contributions to making cities more livable, equitable, resilient. All that stuff in your sector, do you think? Live up to this? Will it? Will it deliver on our serious language, the promise and the threat? Can we see the promise, triumph? John, you go next.
John Jung [00:22:25] Well, we did get rid of the words Smart cities about two decades ago. And we took on the word intelligent communities trying to be more holistic. Where I’d like to go with this, too, is the question of talent, because when we’re dealing with tech companies, you need to have the talent to be able to not only develop the innovation, but to run them to scale up and do a lot of different things that we’re able to do. If you have the kinds of companies that we evolve like Shopify that came out of Ottawa. The best Ottawa company. And really look at how we partner with the universities and with libraries and maker spaces and so forth that actually bring that knowledge workforce to bear Canada.
Mary Rowe [00:23:17] So, John, John, rather than speaking aspirationally, just tell me, do you think we have that sector? Do we have the talent?
John Jung [00:23:25] We do need to look at look at the Toronto water record? Well, universities that we have in the area and the kind of applications. Take Waterloo. You’ve got the communitech that works very closely with universities, with companies, and then also engages the citizenry. So this is a thing called the triple helix or quadruple helix if they talk about in Europe and Asia and so forth. We have that here. We have some great examples in Toronto. Look at that. We’ve got some fantastic startups that are happening here in accelerators.
Mary Rowe [00:24:07] So let’s talk about that. What happens when a venture capital decamps? Is that going to threaten the robustness? Siri, you were working for one of these big firms trying to pull this together. Is the exiting of venture capital a bad thing? Is that a good thing?
Siri Agrell [00:24:21] Well, I think there’s not an exiting venture capital, right. There’s a ton of venture capital money. Part of the issue here is what are we investing in and how. Right? What is the return? There was always a correction happening in tech in terms of the inflation we are seeing around companies that probably didn’t deserve that. So I think there’s a little bit of a reassessment of what the V.C. should where they should be putting their money, where, you know, expectations of revenue. When it comes to there’s there’s tons of venture capital money. The problem I think with this conversation and where we just kind of went is that we’re still sort of segmenting. Right. We’re talking about the tech center. We’re talking about smart communities. Those lines don’t exist anymore. Right. There is not a tech sector that works in one neighborhood that has one kind of person. Everything is a tech company. Right now, every government has to have a layer of tech. Every company has to have a layer of tech. We can’t act like it’s a bunch of kids in a basement and whether they’re gonna help out or not. Every every company has it right now. And there are amazing things being done. There is that there’s amazing suggestions. I think the great thing about this and you know, how it is rallied, what we would call the tech sector is they realize that these tools can be used. They want to be a part of that. They’re seeing that there is a line in and I think to their credit. You know, a lot of governments have opened the door on the right, the provincial government, Ontario created a portal for tech companies to say, here’s my here’s what I have, here’s how I think it can be used. So I think there’s a lot of great movement there.
Mary Rowe [00:25:59] What do you say Siri to this notion? I mean, you worked at municipal government and you’ve worked in a bunch of sectors. And about John’s point about enabling infrastructure. You know, we we continue to have vast parts of the country that don’t have broadband. And we’re seeing people in library parking lots just trying to get Wi-Fi signals in their cars or in their stand. Well, that can can can I hear you don’t want to call the sector, but can could we? Is there a moment here where we’re going to double down and say we have to come out of this with universal broadband? I don’t know. What do you think?
Siri Agrell [00:26:35] Absolutely. And I think it’s it’s a hugely important thing in terms of equity, access, geography, but also in funding. Right. And I think part of the problem, part of the reason that so many governments are behind on this is that there has not been funding for this level of infrastructure. Right. So for 20 years, we have talked about, you know, oh, bureaucrats got new computers. That’s such a waste. Who signed off on that? That’s right. Why? That’s gravy. Why are we spending money on this when really these are the tools that allow for service continuity for us to actually provide the things that people need. So absolutely. I think the huge opportunity here is for the federal government to realize that the access to broadband infrastructure should be universal, should be everywhere. We have a disparity in the city of Toronto. Imagine what that disparity is in northern Ontario or in the north of Canada. It’s completely ridiculous that that’s not funded properly. And I think we also need an infrastructure funding stream that is about, you know, the tools. Right. Actually investing in the tools that are going to allow us to serve people in the best way possible.
Mary Rowe [00:27:43] So there is this tension between investment in big systems like universal broadband and all the big tech solutions. And then a company like yours, Tara, that’s actually a small – I’m assuming a relatively small company and you’re trying to have a catalytic impact based on the technology you’re bringing into the market.
Tara Pham [00:28:02] Yeah, well, I just to Siri’s point, I also just wanted to add, I think one of the talking points that we can use as communities is that actually improving our infrastructure helps our resilience. And one thing that we’ve seen in this pandemic is that, you know, traditionally in my work, when I talk about resilience, I think about resilience. I’m thinking about transportation systems. So I’m thinking about green infrastructure and differently designed streets. But we also now are actually seeing that our digital infrastructure is part of a resilience strategy going forward. So issues of digital divide and making sure that we can engage communities fairly is going to be an important investment of governments. And, you know, the fact that we have so many people and this is, you know, it sounds like in Canadian cities, definitely true American cities as well. So many people that don’t have basic access to digital infrastructure, we can’t make the argument that we are appropriately engaging communities and getting community feedback if they can’t even tune in to our community meetings.
Mary Rowe [00:29:07] So where do you see that getting solved Tara? What do you think the solution is to the local level?
Tara Pham [00:29:12] They are big infrastructure projects. I think that yes, they are big infrastructure projects. I think the question is how do governments fund this? And frankly, you know, I’m not an economist and I do get nervous that right now in the US and I imagine Canada its similar, like they’re just blanket bailing out companies through this time. And so, you know, how do we actually reserve capital or how do we finance these larger infrastructure projects after this bailout? That’s a big question. I will say back to your original questio to me. One of the hardest parts about being a small company that sells to cities is obviously the procurement process. So I think one thing that is interesting to see in COVID is we also see cities flagging different purchases suddenly as emergency response. And I think that’s actually a signal of maybe normal procurement processes just not being slow fast enough or right sized maybe is a better way to put it. I’m ready for, you know, why we have various procurement processes and laws. It’s so important. However, we’ve sort of overcorrected with anti-corruption laws to actually just favor really giant companies that can tolerate these extremely long procurement processes. And being a small company in that space, like I will say, not to toot our own horn, but we operate in more than 20 cities and we’re a total anomaly. Given that we haven’t raised very much VC. We were just, We were lucky in that in selling to cities, we had something very unique and very targeted. But there are many strokes of luck that I can point to that we’ve had to make it this far as a company. And that included philanthropic funding, which is very difficult in general for tech companies to receive. Academic partnerships, definitely. So we need to find other ways to get especially, I think Smart City or Urban Tech Company is funding because the truth is, I think being overly reliant on VC means that we’re encouraging companies to have incentives that aren’t aligned with the communities they serve. And so we need to figure out better ways of funding smaller entities who who are not so bound, for example, to public stakeholder, public stakeholders and communities, definitely, but not public companies whose only stakeholders are driven by profit.
Mary Rowe [00:31:49] I mean, we have an initiative that at CUI could bring back Main Street, and we’re very interested in whether local procurement policies can actually start to help stimulate local businesses and Janaway. I know you want to step in. I just know there is some keenness on the chat. Here to talk a little bit about what do we see the impact of sidewalk labs departure be on the future of the sector. And I I want to let I guess, you know, I’ve been divorced so I know about starter marriages. And I guess I’m I’m curious whether or not people have a sense collectively that did we learn a lot through the two years or so? And are we now ready to, you know, find our forever friends? I don’t know what the right metaphor is, Jean-Noe. Why you go first and then we’ll go to some others who want to weigh in on that. Please go ahead.
Jean-Noe Landry [00:32:35] I think there’s probably like four key learnings that we can deduct or extract from the Quayside project kind of experience. One of which is the question of who’s data. Right. That was really at the core of, you know, a lot of the issues that that came up defining what we mean by that. Is it public or private schools? Obviously, a kind of regulatory frameworks, but it’s also about different models of shared governance as well, which creates a lot of opportunities for innovative ways of integrating different perspectives in the way that we actually manage and provide oversight around decisions that are made based on data that’s collected publicly. Then it’s the the open procurement piece. So we talked about procurement. So I think there is a huge now incentives that we’ve seen around like market neutral analysis. That’s actually something that’s a very, very high value and a lot of interest from communities to be able to do that well, it’s going to level the playing field, operate in transparency and gauge having methodologies that are, you know, that that enable you to make better decisions about the choice of solutions themselves. The digital divide piece was was mentioned a few times. Well, you know, that that’s a requirement. Now, when we talk about, you know, the divide, the digital divide – dividing out, what does it mean for engagement in the design of future cities, not just participating in online conversations, but actually raising the level of education around the issues that are discussed in the context of, you know, a framing of sets of problems that are not the day to day of most people, you know.
Mary Rowe [00:34:09] By the way who redirecting your comments to, though, when you say these must be done by whom? Well, I’m saying the game this way. Or are you saying governments should or what do you think so?
Jean-Noe Landry [00:34:20] Well, this is where we’re at the crux of the supply and demand. Right. Because there needs to be kind of a way that we’re learning from, you know, the procurement process from the city of Toronto and waterfront. And how do we extract kind of learnings for cities writ large that are now investing in new kind of I.T. solutions and smart tech and whatnot? So in my mind, anybody who’s working with cities to do capacity building or, you know, injecting, even funding in kind of cities, we need to be extremely mindful of that open procurement or social procurement aspect. So these are obviously by design.
Mary Rowe [00:34:53] These are principles that you would embed in the procurement process that a municipal government or a government agency would engage in. Brian, I know you mean something. Do you want to add some comments here about what we can learn and what what does it look like now going forward?
Brian Kelcey [00:35:09] Could go on for hours. No, I’m not. I will not. But I’m not sure everybody has learned lessons yet. But the number one thing I’m certainly drawing my attention to in a similar way, both as historical commentary to Jean-Noe’s point and a lesson that governments can take on this is that sidewalk as a company was blamed and hit for a lot of things that were called for in Waterfronts original RFP. So much of this process has been governed by an RFP out of waterfront that asked for the moon, asked for Utopia. Asked for comments on how the proponent would finance transit build more efficiently, bringing new data technologies, plan to have your neighborhood build more affordable housing. All of that was packed into this giant RFP. And then surprise, surprise, it becomes an unwieldy conversation just to get closure on the real estate deal part of this, which is where I think things really collapsed. A real estate deal which we would’ve seen a company paying, you know, six close to six hundred million dollars in cash for public land that’s empty, which would’ve been one of the largest private purchases of public land of its kind in Canadian history. We’re losing that money. We’re losing the jobs. We’re losing the profile. But I was always somebody who believed that the sector was strong enough. And I’m not afraid to call it a sector that if we can have procurers, governments, businesses break up the individual ideas and lessons that were such a subject of debate with Quayside. And if we can have the federal government step in now, please, and actually create a level regulatory playing field so that nobody’s wondering about privacy issues with the five hundred other companies that are treading through this water, then I think we can. We can still vault from this experience quite successfully.
[00:37:01] So Brian, your notion of procurement. Tara, just a second to go back to Jean-Noe, because I cut him off and we didn’t get your fourth point. Jean-Noe what was your forth point?
Jean-Noe Landry [00:37:09] Well, if the fourth point was integrated, smart city planning in current plans so that smart city planning isn’t that flashy project on the side here. And I think there’s you know, I can see the head nodding here in terms of like, you know, a bit of consensus, because we need to we need to be able to understand and operate in the language that cities are working. At the same time, we don’t want to be kind of constrained by that terminology at the detriment of creating new silos that could bring more inefficiencies within. And if urban planning writ large within city contexts.
Mary Rowe [00:37:40] Tara, you want to jump in?
Tara Pham [00:37:41] Yeah. So related to actually both of the most recent points from Brian and Jean-Noe. I think there’s an exciting opportunity for cities to learn from tech mutualistically in an open forum. We are so we are a vendor to sidewalk labs. We had sensors at Quayside development at 307. What I will say, I think that sidewalk actually did more vetting of our technology than any of our municipal customers around the world for the most part. And it was because of the public pressure. So I think that there is opportunity and systems were created as learnings out of this. And and part of what was interesting about their process is we already existed as a technology that had a very rigid privacy by design policy in everything that we do. And what I liked about working with them is that they actually learned from us and that as well, they kind of surveyed what are best practices across the industry. And they took things that we were doing and extrapolated them forward. You know, more thinking ahead into city scale and applying the same level of rigor even to other companies or I won’t say our competitors because we’re fairly unique, but certainly to, you know, maybe our peers in different verticals that have different applications. And definitely, you know, coming from that tech company perspective, I can say a lot of our job when we sell to cities is actually education. Many of the cities that we work with, especially smaller cities who maybe don’t have data, dedicated data, scientists on staff or technologists, you know, in this realm on staff, they’re actually looking to us for answers about what our best practice practices and privacy. And so I appreciate when that’s more of a conversation and what I think Sidewalk did well for us was to have those conversations in a public forum and present that information. And so hopefully, you know, that is a learning out of all of this that we can take forward.
Mary Rowe [00:39:47] You know, this is a dynamic. It’s been in cities forever between a big, big, big, ambitious, what used to be called master planning processes versus smaller, more organic, hyper local, organic. It’s often shorthanded about the Robert Moses, Jane Jacobs to cities. And I think that one of the dynamics we saw play over in Toronto in the last couple of years was an apprehension about big tech and where the control is. Suggest some of you asked, whose data is that? It raised all these questions about who actually owned things and who was leading things and wasn’t usurping government, et cetera, et cetera. Do you thinking that? Is there an opportunity now for us to really plant a different kind of garden? I don’t know. What do people think or do you think we need to find another large player? We see this in the ride hailing services. Big players come in and set a standard. What do you think? Do you think we’re gonna norm it to some a different? Siri?
Siri Agrell [00:40:48] I think that was always what needed to happen. Right. And I think that part of you know, part of the problem with the conversation is that we we acted a little bit like this conversation started, you know, began and ended with sidewalk. Right. Cities have always innovated. We’ve always been trying to find new tools. We’ve always had struggles with this kind of thing. I think for me, you know, the lessons out of this and the things we have to work on is that cities are really difficult. Right. Urban issues are really difficult. I think everybody learned that as a result of that. I’m so happy to hear how well they worked with you in terms of like, you know, figuring out, OK, well, how do we deal with all these different things? Because I think, you know, my experience with Sidewalk and with a lot of people who, you know, a lot of technologists come into that urban space is that they haven’t seen the complexity of it. And, you know, the most generous interpretation of government is that sometimes government moves hard or slowly because it’s very difficult when you can’t have unintended consequences for different elements of the population. When you have to think about equity issues and access issues and data and all those things, it’s it’s hard. It’s complicated. So technology companies learning to work through these things with government is important because these are difficult issues. And not just the data pieces, but we’re talking about building physical spaces, right? We’re talking about building buildings and building roads and things like that. I think the other lesson here is that we have to do this and we have to be aware of the land grabs. And I think this is a threat that I see very much right now in terms of the conversation. Does that accelerate that procurement that we’re seeing? You know, the fundamental issue with Sidewalk and Brian kind of alluded to this is that it was about land, right? They wanted a big piece of land, not a little piece of land for sure. Everybody does.
Brian Kelcey [00:42:29] They were offered a big piece of land that they bid on.
Siri Agrell [00:42:32] They were operated by somebody who didn’t own it. Unfortunately,.
Brian Kelcey [00:42:35] What waterfront does actually on that parcel, that’s what makes you.
Siri Agrell [00:42:39] I’m talking about the port lands on your own [Unrecognized] [Unrecognized].
Mary Rowe [00:42:44] Gang. If you took the land peace out of it, I guess is the question, isn’t it? Is it feasible to do these things without.
Siri Agrell [00:42:53] And I think that that’s the point I’m trying to make. Mary, how do we define the land grab? Right. So what how do we work with amazing companies who are coming up with new ways of measuring data? Seeing how we’re interacting with the space without trading away too much land and by land, I mean we’re just any any kind of sort of real estate in the public. Good. And I think the other thing to your question is that there was never going to be one partner in this. Right. Just like any other type of procurement. You’re not like, well, I’ll just let this one company do all of the roads or I’ll let one company build all of the schools. That should never be the answer. Right.
Mary Rowe [00:43:27] But we got what we have. It’s not that wouldn’t be the first time we’ve done that. We have suburbs that were built that way and we live with the results of them.
Siri Agrell [00:43:37] Exactly. And so I think we need to recognize that maybe that’s not the right path and that, you know, we need to be finding the right partners for the right projects and be a little bit. I think the great lesson here is that everyone’s been like, oh, this is actually a little bit more complicated than we thought. We need to we need to actually go down a layer. We need to find a bunch of different partners, a bunch of individual companies who are doing incredible things and learn how to work with them rather than being dazzled by all the smart guys from New York. Want to fix everything for us. Let’s do it.
Mary Rowe [00:44:06] It could just as easily been smart guys from Woodstock. Right. I mean, it’s not just because I think we have to be careful about that. We love to be anti-American when they’re given a chance. I don’t think it’s just that. But what do you say, Siri, to the notion that John said at the beginning where he wants to see municipal governments develop plans? And I think, you know, Tara is saying she has to educate cities. And I think we all know this, that that how are we going to get the right frameworks in place that Jean-Noe is saying is so essential. Can we do it? Can we do it quickly enough gang, can we get can we equip municipal governments don’t have enough money as it is, you know,.
Siri Agrell [00:44:40] It’s the biggest it’s the biggest issue. And just a quick point on this. When I was in the mayor’s office, it was a huge struggle for me that there was no bureaucratic equivalent to me who was thinking about these issues? There is a definite lack of capacity there. That’s a huge problem. And the thing that I find strange about it, you know, when I had this conversation with the city manager at one point about tech and he’s like, well, I don’t I don’t understand technology. I’m like, you don’t understand how to build a swimming pool either. You couldn’t build a swimming pool for me, but you understand that cities need them, that they need to be safe, that people enjoy them, that you fill them with water. Right. Like you understand how to procure a swimming pool. And so I think that that absolutely we need people in government who who understand how to work with technology. We need amazing technology partners who understand that government is hard and understand that there are issues that they might not have thought about when they first developed their products and be willing to have a conversation.
Tara Pham [00:45:34] I just want to add something to that point, which is that some of this technology is very difficult. Like the thing that we kind of gloss over is actually to build in privacy requires more work in the R&D of the tech. And so making sure that that happens at every level is really key. How we ended up with companies like Google and Facebook is that intentionally or not, some of their earliest data collection was kind of just, you know, their Trojan horses were using their products, not realizing their gleaning all this other data, really. And that’s why privacy by design is so important for us. We have to go so far above and beyond any old CCTV or surveillance company to do what we do. Well, so to Siri’s point, having experts built into cities, I mean, I think more cities actually need that position of, you know, technologist, whether and not CTO, the CTO of a city is often doing something very different. A lot of I.T. departments, but having technologists and even vertically focused like I’ve had the pleasure of working with some technologists for the public realm. And that’s like a very niche role that ends up being so important in in the city.
Mary Rowe [00:46:56] Tara, Tara, what about that? Is there a way through COVID for it for that sector to be much more engaged in offering tech solutions and tech interventions to strengthen the ways in which cities were not are not functioning well? So our division, rather than optimizing for things that are nice to haves, I think that’s part of the dilemma, is that if people’s sector was engaging and making cities more livable and resilient for vulnerable populations works, addressing some of the real Gordian knots we got, maybe they would be better, more inclined to welcome the interventions.
Tara Pham [00:47:32] Yeah. So there’s there’s a bit of a conundrum because the venture capital sector controls a lot of where tech goes and unfortunately they have a a extreme distaste for companies that sell to government. And some of that is merited because government is slower than, you know, a consumer to purchase, let’s say. So I think there needs to be some reckoning there. I think also, you know, cities and technology companies need to meet each other somewhere there. I don’t know that this is the answer, but what COVID could provide is a little bit more urgency around certain things and that would help both sides.
Mary Rowe [00:48:12] You already are seeing we are seeing in Canada, governments are making decisions quite quickly about lots of key things.
Tara Pham [00:48:19] Yeah, I mean, we’ve seen some mistakes. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I’ll say on the US side, we’ve seen some governments really mess up. We’ve been trying to move too quickly. So you gotta be careful. But my hope is that we can find the silver lining in all of this and fight right things to kind of gain momentum on.
Siri Agrell [00:48:40] Mary, I think the responsibility does lie with government to articulate what the problems are they’re trying to solve. Because I think that a lot of tech people are guessing and they’re like, oh, we have this thing. But fundamentally, a lot of the issues that government have are below the surface. They’re not very good at explaining this is the problem we’re having that we need to fix. I think now is a great opportunity and governments are starting to do that. Oh, God, we don’t know how to communicate to this group or we don’t know how to manage this kind of curb issue when they have they have to put those problems out there. And I think there’s tons of companies that can can help solve them.
Tara Pham [00:49:19] Oh, sorry, Yeah, tactical recommendation there is. We’ve seen one thing that works very well is RFPs that are really focused on the end problem or the challenge and not prescriptive with the solution. And so that allows companies to get some background issue on the problem and suggest a solution that maybe the city staff haven’t considered yet.
Mary Rowe [00:49:40] So we’re back to procurement. Jean-Noe and then Brian. Go ahead Jean-Noe
Jean-Noe Landry [00:49:45] Yeah. So just to just to jump on a couple of comments that have been made. So in terms of problem framing, absolutely. I agree. However, I don’t think that it should be government that only defines what the problem is for procurement processes. We’re in in a situation now where there’s a desire and a hunger for engagement. Right. There is a proximity. There’s a trust. There’s a kind of dependencies that exist between citizens and their public institutions. They want to participate in processes that enable them to provide their perspective on city services that are better adapted to their needs and the problems that impact them like on a daily basis. So that’s one thing, and then from a RFP perspective. Well, this is an opportunity to build in, you know, open source and open data as necessary or when when the opportunity is there for companies to compete. But then also a benefit, a broader ecosystem. And from the perspective of, you know, the smart city discourse, well, you know, whether there’s an alternative model that’s been promoted in the Canadian context for the last few years, and that’s been through the leadership of the the infrastructure, the infrastructure, Canada at the federal level. And if you look at the principles of the this must be the smart cities challenge run by the federal government on openness, integration, transfer ability and collaboration. You know, these are all things that if those would have been the terms by which sidewalk would have competed with, you know, with the RFP, we might have been in a very different situation than that. We ended up in the context of Toronto.
Mary Rowe [00:51:20] We have such an ambivalent relationship with risk taking in Canada, don’t we? And who’s the who were the risk takers? And Brian and then John. Go ahead, Brian.
Brian Kelcey [00:51:28] Oh, one question. I don’t think I have an answer to in my head right now from the whole sidewalk and Quayside experience is one that was raised by Jean-Noe a couple comments ago with respect to I mean, I think the reason why Waterfront tried to be so ambitious with its RFP and the reason why sidewalk labs as a company may have been so interested in bidding there was that the RFP was consciously an effort to to achieve the kind of integration that some were talking about earlier and that the risk with being much more focused, as Tara talked about, which I think, you know, is probably the the best of worlds we’re going to get for the time being anyway. But the risk is you’ve got a bunch of niche technologies that are kind of grafted onto an older government system and an older planning system, an older construction methods and everything else, rather than actually integrating the digital with the the construction piece, with the infrastructure management and maintenance and so forth. And so, you know, part of my problem, looking at those experiences as it was, is that just is a dead is there or is there some other model where it’s actually going to be possible to get three or four different players, whether they’re in the same company or separate companies who can serve us those different public purposes together to be providing services to neighborhoods like this so that we aren’t in a situation where, you know, my mayor’s office experience is in Winnipeg and you know, the reason why they’re always digging up the streets to put it another hydro line and then fix another waterline. Yes, it’s because of all layers of infrastructure were built separately and then they still don’t coordinate, you know, in the 21st century, and that’s the case where, you know, Mayor Tory right now is still struggling to get everybody to to know to do their digs at the same time to repair the infrastructure.
Mary Rowe [00:53:20] So you’re here reiterating Siri’s point that we need integrated and continuity.
Brian Kelcey [00:53:24] And also we also need a procurement process that actually does that without burning the people who show up to bid with with an integrated proposal.
Mary Rowe [00:53:34] Right. yes. I hear you. OK. Tara, the Siri. And then we’ll go to John.
Tara Pham [00:53:38] Yeah. I mean, I think that was sort of the dream of the Quayside project, right? Was like, we’re gonna get to start fresh, do everything right from the beginning. And the challenge of working with cities as you have often hundreds of years of staggered innovation by proprietary companies, many of which don’t exist anymore. And so now you’re trying to make it all interoperable and easily upgradeable. And it’s just it’s it’s difficult. So if I had to speculate about sidewalk labs next step, which, you know, like I said, we are a vendor to them. But I have this is just me personally speculating. I think that Quayside was a bit of a science project and now they have to think about how to actually be a business. And that means building solutions are actually meet cities where they are because cities are not where the Quayside proposal was or, you know, it’s not they’re not starting from scratch. They’re working with many, many layers, both physical, infrastructural and bureaucratic and political.
Mary Rowe [00:54:41] We could go on this conversation a long time. And I can see in the chatbox people raising a whole bunch of issues which which, you know, we’re gonna we’re going to learn over time what this what the implications are for what’s happened and what we will learn. It’s not all going to be digestable here in an hour three days after the decision. But I’m going to ask each of you just to very briefly and I’m really cautioning on briefly because we’ve got five minutes to go here. And in terms of Canadian cities moving forward and the promise back to Siri, the promise and threat of smart tech, two or three key things that you would urge us to be focusing on as we emerge from COVID. John, you first and really brief 30 seconds each. Basically, John,.
John Jung [00:55:20] What I was going to talk about was the need for us to recognize that this is about economic development as much as it is about getting out of this pandemic. The next steps, what are we going to be doing with that? We lost an opportunity to piggyback on some exceptional brand. That’s really been important. But how can we not take this and really build an innovation hub or some kind of an opportunity that brings together real Canadian strength in the tech sector? And I think that was one of the challenges and soemthing that we need to move forward with.
Mary Rowe [00:55:58] Brian?
Brian Kelcey [00:56:00] I’m going to go and what sounds like a tangent, but say, you know, one of the most hopeful things I’ve seen in the last last few weeks is the Mayor Tory and Deputy Mayor Ana Bailao pushed through a motion here at City Council where they’re going to use modular construction to build affordable housing. And that’s the kind of thing that Quayside was talking about in terms of their handling the construction side. It’s the kind of practical innovation that solves a real problem by allowing you to build something you need more quickly, something other cities and other regions are far ahead of us on. You know, if we can cross that bridge after years of dodging the opportunity to start doing that, then then I’m hopeful that that cities are are catching the the opportunity to to actually use this crisis to start doing things more quickly and to integrate technology without assuming it’s a utopian solution to all problems.
Mary Rowe [00:56:52] Doesn’t have to of the other. I mean, and even just simple things like getting providing connection between cities so that as is being pointed in the chat by Kathleen , who was in Vancouver at the time, and Vancouvers been doing modular for two years and here we are. Finally, Toronto is learning. And how do we how do we accelerate learnings? I think that’s part of that pressure we may be under, is that you want every city to learn from what the sidewalk experience has been here and what are the things that we can extract from it. Sorry, that’s me not my computer. Jean-Noe, 30 seconds to you.
Jean-Noe Landry [00:57:22] That’s a we’ll we’ll definitely be learning about sidewalk for the years ahead. Obviously, you know, you can anticipate a number of different kind of PhD theses that will probably come out of very experience and which is a good thing. Right. And coincidentally, I think we also have in the smart cities challenge itself, you know, supported by the government of Canada. Other other case studies like Guelph, like Montreal, all like Bridgewater that have abided by those values that I described earlier. So for me, this is you know, it’s it’s recognizing what took place, having an honest conversation and in the context of COVID. It’s also about, you know, being being able to adopt a mindset where there’s a certain kind of tolerance for risk in the public and actually speaking about issues that have a direct impact on, you know, public officials as well as decision makers, your elected representatives as well as citizens, and kind of using risk as a trust and engagement measure there and talking honestly about it. I don’t think we have to we can’t just kind of create internally, then deploy and then ask for feedback. It doesn’t make sense anymore in this context.
Mary Rowe [00:58:26] So, yeah, I mean, as you suggest, there’s all sorts of risk that government is taking now in terms of how it’s investing money. Are the citizens thinking about re-opening lots of things, Siri and then Tara, you’ll take us home. Siri, thirty seconds on what? What’s the learning for Canadian cities?
Siri Agrell [00:58:42] I hope the learning is to, you know, push past umbrella terms like innovation and risk that don’t mean anything and talk about what are we actually trying to do and what are we actually afraid of. So the two questions to what end and at what risk. Let’s actually be specific about that. What are we trying to achieve? For me, it should always be about the people, not in terms of business or safety or whatever. What can technology help us achieve for the residents of our cities or our communities? And what are we worried about? Even if we don’t know how to solve it, can we start talking really about what are the things we’re trying to protect and work together to make sure that we do that as best as we can?
Mary Rowe [00:59:22] To what end and at what risk? Right. Last word to you from sunny California.
Tara Pham [00:59:29] You guys took all my my points. So the thing I’ll add is I’m really excited about what legibility for city looks like being able to access all this information because both to Jean-Noe and Siri’s points actually understanding what is the risk and getting buy-in from communities to enable their policymakers to make those risks. The fear is that you won’t get reelected. Right. But if we can actually say here the values that we want to meet and here’s what we’re going to measure to to assess the success of a project and if they meet these or not and then make a call whether to proceed or or end it. I think that that’s a process we actually need to give our voters and our constituents the credit of understanding. And then the last thing I wanted to say was about inspiring people. There was a conversation briefly here about talent. And I think one of the saddest things in tech is that our greatest minds went to go develop tech for more clicks. And this is actually an opportunity for us to show people who care about technology how to give to their communities and actually like build meaningful things instead. So hoping that this can be a catalyst for that.
Mary Rowe [01:00:42] It’s hard to imagine any challenge greater than a global pandemic to make us. We’re all in the COVID business now, right? We all have to be about how we respond to COVID. So on that note, can I just thank Siri, Brian, Tara, John and Jean-Noe for joining us and helping us, as I suggest, make sense of this in terms of what does it look like, smart tech for Canadian cities with the departure Sidewalk Labs, as I suggest that the conversation carries on it. Hashtag city talk. We’ve been very happy to have you. Yes, we published the chat. Yes. We’ll do a transcript. Yes. This video will be put up. And tomorrow, join us at midday where we’re going to talk about infrastructure, investment and stimulus with two former federal ministers who know how that system works. So I hope you’ll tune in with us and then tune in every day this week for another city talk. Thanks for joining us, everybody. Really important conversations.