Partnerships for Smart City Retrofits: The Case of Toronto’s Quayside
The phrase city technology innovation is related to the term “smart city.” City technology innovation refers to the implementation of technology that contributes to a smart city. Such innovation would add to and/or improve upon existing city systems such as energy, waste, water, buildings, food, and transportation. Installing electric car charging infrastructure would be an example of introducing innovation into a city. This is a smart addition to a city because more chargers would support the choice to use electric vehicles over combustion engine cars and thereby reduce local pollution and climate-change-inducing greenhouse gases. The International Telecommunication Union defines a smart city as an “innovative city that uses information and communication technologies (ICT) and other means to improve quality of life, efficiency of urban operation and services, and competitiveness, while ensuring that it meets the needs of present and future generations with respect to economic, social and environmental aspects” (Kondepudi 2014, p. 13; Mueller et al. 2018).
This chapter focuses on the governance of city change including the integration of high technology into city systems, illustrated with a case study at Toronto’s Harbourfront. Many agree that it is at the city level, rather than at regional or national levels, where we will see the greatest progress on climate change mitigation and adaptation, for a variety of reasons (Hughes 2017). A UNEP estimate is that cities may spend approximately US$41 trillion by 2030 on new water, energy, and transportation infrastructure to accommodate growing populations (UNEP 2013). These impending investments in smart sustainable changes are in accordance with an urgent requirement to address the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), for example, Goal #11 Sustainable Cities and Communities and Goal #13 Climate Action. Making city systems smarter through technology enables higher levels of sustainability overall and thereby addresses most of the UN SDGs, either directly or indirectly.
Many high-tech “smart city” implementations are happening around the world, for example, in cities such as London (UK), Copenhagen (Denmark), and Oslo (Norway) (C40 Cities 2017). In London, the city is informing the public about smart city climate initiatives together with the reasons for them. Citizens’ buy-in is critical for the success of climate mitigation strategies, including the related technological investments (Burch 2010; Tvinnereim et al. 2017). One of London, England’s education approaches is to provide real-time air quality warnings. Using technology at bus stops, roadside, and online, these systems display forewarnings at up to 2500 bus stops about high and very high pollution levels. Air quality alerts are also sent to 700, 000 followers of London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s Twitter account. This information helps to justify changes such as London’s 12 low-emission bus zones to be completed by 2020. The lowest emission vehicles, such as top-of-the-range Euro VI buses or hybrid-electric buses, are allocated to these zones in designated lanes (C40 Cities 2017). London has also recently announced that it will acquire 68 new electric double-decker buses for two routes exclusively served by e-buses (Morris 2018). When citizens understand that their health is otherwise at risk from pollution, the Mayor of London can more easily justify new technology investments including “the largest pure electric double-deck bus fleet in Europe” (Morris 2018).
Another smart city technology story is Copenhagen’s. Copenhagen has become an exemplar happy sustainable city with a goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2025 (Booth 2014; C40 Cities 2017). As of 2017, Copenhagen has been working with utilities to implement a central information technology platform including data collection and analysis of electricity, heat, and water systems from smart meters in municipal buildings (C40 Cities 2017). They are gathering detailed information so that the city can identify utility issues and plan upgrades. With payback periods of 6 years or less, by 2016, they had already found significant heat and electricity savings. This eco-efficient evidence has justified the platform system for implementation by some large privately owned buildings.
C40 Cities provide many case studies, and the third one described here will be an example from Oslo, Norway. Norway has a significant reliance on its oil and gas industry, as does Canada. Oslo’s city greenhouse gas reduction plan, to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2020 and by 95% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, incorporates many new technological solutions. Oslo has a full suite of 16 solutions planned in the areas of smart mobility, energy, and governance. Although the country’s economy has been heavily reliant on the fossil fuel industry, Oslo still plans to reduce car traffic by 20%, phase out fossil fuels for heating and public transport, and improve procurement standards so as to focus on eco-efficiency. The city outlines a holistic set of benefits expected including climate change mitigation, improvement of the local quality of life, and increased employment. Oslo’s determination to meet its goals is reflected in a carbon budget which is folded into its city budget, including targets for all city departments.
The three previous case studies of technological retrofits, of which there are many more described at the C40 Cities site, incorporate new integrated smart city technologies. The International Telecommunication Union defines a smart city as an “innovative city that uses information and communication technologies (ICT) and other means to improve quality of life, efficiency of urban operation and services, and competitiveness, while ensuring that it meets the needs of present and future generations with respect to economic, social and environmental aspects” (Kondepudi 2014, p. 13; Mueller et al. 2018). Cities have used different partnership approaches to facilitate development, including smart city implementations, and the public-private partnership is often discussed today.
Types of Partnerships and Their Implications
Although public-private partnerships (PPPs) often facilitate “smart city” implementations, how the city designs evolve (Van den hurk and Siemiatycki 2018) and to what extent the private partners have control versus public control are important factors to consider as impacting outcomes (Sarmento and Renneboog 2016). A PPP differs from traditional public sector procurement because in a PPP the public sector does not get involved in project management (Sarmento and Renneboog 2016). Instead, this is left to a private sector partner. The public sector chooses one private sector partner to deliver and finance a long-term, integrated infrastructure project under specific terms and conditions for defined project outcomes (Hodge and Greve 2010; Sarmento and Renneboog 2016; Van den hurk and Siemiatycki 2018). The private sector actor then hires subcontractors and manages the project for the planned outcomes. However, some literature suggests that the PPP structure could influence outcomes as compared to past public sector management (Sarmento and Renneboog 2016; Van den hurk and Siemiatycki 2018).
No matter how the project is structured, retrofits should be designed and built with a long-term view, in the best interests of the city and its citizenry, but this general statement could be interpreted in various ways (Gordon 1996; Van den hurk and Siemiatycki 2018). For example, some literature would suggest that value for money and basic functionality are more often outcomes of PPPs, as evidenced in Ontario, Canada (Van den hurk and Siemiatycki 2018). In contrast, public procurement has put the architect foremost for long-term architectural impact, beautification, and wider city enhancement as one might find in Jørn Oberg Utzon’s Sydney Opera House or in Frank Gehry’s Bilbao Guggenheim Museum. These types of monumental structures attract the world’s notice through beauty and distinctiveness. The cities are identified by their landmark structures.
This chapter considers additional issues relating to PPPs where private technology companies are at the helm instead of traditional developers. A lead technology partner could also build according to a short-sighted agenda and with uncomfortable results for city dwellers, including data security issues (Bliss 2018; Sarmento and Renneboog 2016; Van den hurk and Siemiatycki 2018). Where PPPs of the past could be criticized for not delivering projects geared for pubic inspiration and only basic satisfaction, smart city PPPs could also have technology glitches.
Toronto’s High-Tech Quayside Plans
Toronto’s development of part of the eastern side of its Harbourfront through a PPP, “Quayside,” is a smart city case study in progress where a technology partner, Alphabet (re: Google), has been identified. Because the technological design would be without precedent, especially in Toronto, it may be difficult for partners to evaluate it until after project completion and the new residents provide feedback, especially if there is a lack of transparency throughout project design and development (Sarmento and Renneboog 2016; Valverde 2018).
Once such a project is built, turning back is difficult as evidenced by the western side of Toronto’s Harbourfront (Gordon 1996). The area is packed with condominiums, lacks sufficient public green space especially considering Toronto’s growth, and is largely controlled by and changed according to the preferences of local business representatives instead of local resident representatives (Waterfront BIA 2017). The area has not been considered a prime example of waterfront development (Gordon 1996). A recent report explains its continuing challenges which ultimately relate to a permanent deficit of public space, not reclaimable because of the built environment (Waterfront BIA 2017). Although population projections suggest that by 2066, Toronto will reach 13.1 million people and more people will squeeze into the core near the Harbourfront, the eastern side of Harbourfront is following a similar path of over-congested development as on the west side, again repeating the same mistake of not planning for sufficient public space for millions more inhabitants (Preville 2016).
However, according to a C40 Cities case study (2017), Toronto has a 2015 climate change mitigation and adaptation plan to increase resilience called TransformTO which foresees the city using 75% renewable energy by 2050, transportation having 100% zero-carbon emissions by 2050, all new buildings having near-zero emissions by 2030, and all existing buildings retrofitted by 2050. Toronto’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2020 and by 80% by 2050. While Toronto is focused on building public infrastructure such as multi-model transportation systems in respect of these goals, the C40 Cities blurb is silent on increasing park space or “green infrastructure” which is crucial for climate adaptation, for example, in reducing the urban heat island effect (Gill et al. 2007).
Although Toronto’s overall goals are admirable and all new eastern Harbourfront developments would have to contribute to them so as to enable their realization, Toronto is known for allowing private interests to dominate (Gordon 1996). Real estate developers have trumped municipal planning, partly due to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), recently shut down in 2018, but now possibly being resurrected again with the new premier of Ontario (Hansen 2018; Willing, 2019). A new Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) may lead the way to future municipal priorities over those of private development in Toronto, but this is yet to be seen (Rau 2018). While the unbridled growth of Toronto’s built environment has been a point of pride because it reflects expansion, immigration, and economic development, the visible outcomes have not been optimal as glass and steel high rises anchored in concrete dominate the skyline (Brown 2017; Kuitenbrouwer 2012). Outcomes for a parcel of Toronto’s eastern Harbourfront, dubbed “Quayside,” are not yet clarified, but the situation has already been widely criticized and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has started legal proceedings to stop Quayside (Valverde 2018; Vincent and Ferguson 2019; Wylie 2018). This chapter will describe what is known to date and integrate some previous literature to add thoughtful and comparative reflection on what could be done.
Transparency and Democratic Decision-Making for Social Capital Building
Transparency has been discussed in literature as critical for ensuring that projects are conducted and built in the best interests of the local public who are the main long-term stakeholders (Brinkerhoff and Brinkerhoff 2011; Sarmento and Renneboog 2016). They will live in, experience, and use the area incorporating various technologies as part of city systems. Quayside entails a 12-acre plan that is understood as expanding to cover 800 acres of prime Toronto property including the Port Lands should the parties agree on the smaller 12-acre agenda. This PPP is named Sidewalk Toronto, a joint initiative by Waterfront Toronto and Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs (WaterfrontToronto 2018). It is a holistic and vague development plan expected to include mixed-use space, transportation, parks, waste management, water, and energy systems together with data collection (Bozikovic 2017; Valverde 2018).
At this time, Quayside has not yet been granted to Alphabet, although there is an assumption it will be after a year of planning. Because Waterfront Toronto represents the public side of the PPP, Torontonians are relying on this government agency to ensure transparency and engagement of citizens in the design. Although Waterfront Toronto is a government agency, the board is made up largely of appointees from the business community, adding to some concerns for the public interest (Valverde 2018). In any case, a public engagement plan has been laid out by Sidewalk Toronto including a series of publicly accessible town hall discussions over 2018 and other outreach efforts (Sidewalk Toronto 2018). The main criticisms to date in the press relate to the continuing vagueness of the plans together with data privacy concerns (McLeod 2018; Valverde 2018; Wylie 2018). Through the town halls in 2018, efforts have been made by Sidewalk Toronto to alleviate data privacy and use concerns by, for example, presenting an initial data use framework. The project may not have had the best start, however, as the author attended a developers’ conference in Toronto in 2017 where the Quayside plan was unveiled but no feedback was solicited. When the author spoke up at the session and emphasized the need for parkland, this was treated as an unwelcome comment, and the presenter answered simply that parks are expensive. Transparency is in question for this project, and it could be related to the uncertainty of the plans. Also, the CEO of Waterfront Toronto has recently stepped down, but explanatory details for his departure have not been officially released, although some in the press have assumed connections to the vagueness of the Quayside plans (Powell 2018; Roy 2018).
Who makes the design decisions for smart city changes is consequential. For example, local stakeholder and citizen input could be primary or foreign technology elites could dominate, as would appear to be the case at Quayside. Literature has pointed to the differences between PPPs and public procurement where in the former, the corporate partner chooses a design partner as a subcontractor, whereas in the latter, the government usually works with a designer/architect who is viewed as the master of the project (Van den Hurk and Siemiatycki 2018). The implied consequences are that the public loses inspiration, beauty, and a social focus in the design and the related enjoyment, pride, and social capital building in their city that they may have otherwise had in case architects had led (De Souza Briggs 1997; Van den Hurk and Siemiatycki 2018). Traditional developers may deliver functional results that make them money while meeting public budgets so that politicians cannot be accused of over spending the public purse (Sarmento and Renneboog 2016; Van den hurk and Siemiatycki 2018). In the case of Quayside, a technology company is planning the community which turns both traditional developers and architects into subcontractors. We are not yet sure of the full consequences for Quayside and the Port Lands, but the recent build-out of the east-central part of Harbourfront is condominiums right up to the water, and the Quayside preliminary design suggests more of the same, but digitized and possibly more compact. An added challenge for Sidewalk Toronto is that historically, partnerships in Toronto have been used for single projects such as for a building or part of a transportation route, not the construction of an entire community, a significant difference that could become an obstacle for Sidewalk Toronto (Van den hurk and Siemiatycki 2018).
Because of a new priority on “smart” technology, the deep integration of it into real estate development means the technology firm leads the PPP. The consequences, as expected, can be anticipated. Data security and privacy are new key concerns associated with smart cities, especially for residents, and this issue has been raised in the case of Quayside (Braga 2018; Zhang et al. 2017). Physical connectedness with the existing city and congestion within new development zones spilling over into surrounding areas are not new issues given a profit motivation (together with matching city budget concerns) that seeks increased intensive utilization and, as a consequence, reduced public space (Bunce 2004; Kourtit and Nijkamp 2018; Lloyd and Auld 2003; Waterfront BIA 2017). Density has been justified from multiple perspectives in previous literature (Bunce 2004). According to Bozikovik’s (2017) article, the business model for Quayside has not been established, but Sidewalk Labs sees it as a “real estate play,” as would typical real estate developers. As explained earlier, a municipal lead together with its master architect would likely see an opportunity to produce an outstanding waterfront experience coupled with long-term community building instead. For the City of Toronto, these are vastly different types of visions having different long-term consequences.
However, other improvements may make such a tech-focused PPP attractive, over the typical PPP with a developer, to both the city and a workforce already accepting of uninspired glass and steel from a previous generation of development (Rosen and Walks 2013). For example, new renewable energy systems could reduce GHG emissions, avoid additional load to existing energy systems, and increase energy reliability for residents (Mathiesen et al. 2015). Improved waste management systems could recycle automatically while dealing with garbage for cleaner areas and cost savings and avoiding the export of garbage to distant landfills that may in the future reject it (Bozikovic 2017; Kennedy et al. 2007). China is rejecting foreign waste including that from Canada (Hounsell 2018). Water might be conserved and safely recycled onsite rather than adding to the city’s existing water filtration load. Innovative local transportation planning could reduce the use of cars and parking areas (Firnkorn and Müller 2015; Kenworthy 2006). Various overall adaptations for climate change might increase safety, health, and comfort while helping to meet some of Toronto’s aforementioned C40 Cities goals (Younger et al. 2008). Although these new technologies could be heavy investments, they might also increase property values (Wolch et al. 2014).
A remaining problem is the trade-off between functionality and a narrow view of economic utility against a lack of inspiration, decreased public space, and ailing social capital that has arrived with PPPs (De Souza Briggs 1997; Van den hurk and Siemiatycki 2018). This trade-off may remain as technology simply increases efficiencies in high-tech ways that traditional developers are not yet capable of delivering. A positive consequence of this is that developers may have to upgrade their knowledge and skills as the technology firms potentially usurp both developers and architects to become the masters over new developments. Going forward, looking to European models of development that incorporate citizen happiness considerations such as in Copenhagen, these aforementioned development shortcomings might be resolved, but perhaps not before Toronto’s Harbourfront is already built up beyond repair (Boseley 2018).
Classic Principles of Change Management Facilitated by Technology
No matter these battles among types of firms and their priorities, a classic rule remains. Change management and technology change literature suggest that employees, or “users” as they are often called, should be involved in design and development for acceptance and adoption of any change (Joshi 1991; Morgan and Zeffane 2003). In the case of a community, the analogue to users would be citizens including those who actually live in the new neighborhood. This suggests that the public should be at the forefront of the design of their own changing communities, not only to increase the likelihood of their acceptance of the changes but also to ensure that the changes meet citizens’ lifestyle preferences and requirements (Larsen and Gunnarsson-Östling 2009). Perhaps if citizens were at the helm of PPPs, rather than a PPP firm, competing interests of design versus economics versus technology would be balanced off so as to reach better outcomes. Previous literature incorporates some of these considerations and has explicated on definitions such as citizen or civic engagement which are terms used to describe how citizens participate in a community, such as volunteering or participating in public debates, so as to improve the public’s living conditions or to help plan a community’s future (Adler and Goggin 2005). Citizen participation has been defined by Heller et al. (1984) to be “a process in which individuals take part in decision making in the institutions, programs, and environments that affect them” (p. 339). Citizen participation suggests more activity and greater control over decisions.
Furthermore, some literature refers to “open data,” “open governance,” and “e-governance” to describe efforts at transparency in urban planning and governance such that citizens may even engage in direct dialogue with elite decision-makers (Mueller et al. 2018). A city in Portugal has planned to use an electronic service to encourage public discussions on the Internet on current city projects (Oliveira et al. 2004; Mueller et al. 2018). In contrast, Toronto business elites on the board of Waterfront Toronto have essentially farmed out design to a foreign company that admits to not knowing Toronto and seems to be struggling with more than just its communications strategy (Bozikovic and Gray 2017; McLeod 2018; Valverde 2018; Wylie 2018). Several citizen participation schemes have been discussed and critiqued in the literature with some of the abovementioned concerns in mind viewed from differing perspectives. In fact, the board of Waterfront Toronto has had many previous examples to draw upon for models of citizen participation in design, some of which will be described. Previous literature explains that local governments have already experienced issues with technology solutions driven from the top and measured by traditional economic and operational indicators so they are turning to more democratic approaches (Fredericks et al. 2018).
Previous literature has discussed “living labs” as bottom-up citizen-centered context-based decision-making spaces (Clark and Shelton 2016; Voytenko et al. 2016). In theory, “Living Labs are defined as user-centred, open innovation ecosystems based on a systematic user co-creation approach integrating research and innovation processes in real life communities and settings” (Cardullo et al. 2017, p. 44). An expectation is that these labs are better for applying technologies, such as for smart cities, so as to meet local stakeholder interests and preferences (Cardullo et al. 2017). Living labs have been pronounced as public, private, and people partnerships (PPPP) for delivering user-driven technology applications as in smart cities (Gascó 2017; Nesti 2015). However, some literature is skeptical and questions whether living labs are truly egalitarian or, instead, more paternalistic approaches to develop for the future high-tech-oriented gentry of our cities (see Castelnovo et al. 2015; Clark and Shelton 2016; Florida 2003).
“Pop-up urbanism” is another stakeholder-oriented city building approach that captures ideas from a broader cross section of society (Fredericks et al. 2018). A pop-up in this sense arises as a transitory feedback mechanism that can be virtual or physically situated in a public location (Fredericks et al. 2018). Pop-ups capturing ideas from anyone passing by are more egalitarian and helpful for considering lower cost but still acceptable policies for urban renewal (Cardullo et al. 2017). As an illustration of a pop-up, a tent could be set up with digital tablets having software surveys on them that capture passersby’s feedback on issues, perhaps about the very spot where the tent is set up. More examples can be read about in research by Fredericks et al. (2018). One can imagine fun ways to solicit feedback, such as the “selfies” mentioned in Fredericks et al. (2018), that could even raise enthusiasm and mitigate apprehension about an impending change, depending on the circumstances. Thus, even in the process of design, technologies can be creatively applied to increase citizens’ acceptance of change, rather than only incorporating technologies in final solutions.
Another democratic approach to city building is the “crowdsourced city” using a collective participation approach that takes different forms depending on the urban governance structures (Cardullo et al. 2017). For example, “Citizen Design Science” is a strategy used by cities to integrate citizens’ ideas and preferences in the urban planning process. Citizens’ ideas are crowdsourced using modern information and communication technology (ICT) combined with the use of active design tools (Mueller et al. 2018). According to Mueller et al. (2018), a liveable sustainable city for citizens is developed by including their input and feedback, and thus the authors propose merging “citizen science” with “citizen design,” which results in the integration of Design Science into urban design. Moreover, “distributed participatory design” (or mass-participatory design) occurs when combining crowdsourcing with co-design approaches (Lorimer 2016; Mueller et al. 2018). Various tools aid in design including visualization systems that help to engage citizens who may identify landmarks and reflect a citizen’s view of their city environment.
According to some literature, centralized planning where power is held by elite planners has had its day, partly due to the requirements associated with integrated technologies (Offenhuber and Schechtner 2018). Instead, the newer more complex multi-stakeholder networked model of planning means that there is greater confusion over decision-making and accountability, as Sidewalk Toronto is likely experiencing (Offenhuber and Schechtner). This multi-stakeholder approach to design and governance over infrastructure enables ongoing modernization using the latest technologies such as drone mapping, sensor networks, and data analytics, assuming that the public can accept the terms of data collection and usage (Offenhuber and Schechtner 2018). Sidewalk Toronto is hearing about these issues of data governance and privacy, possibly to a heightened level of concern, because the organization appears more top-down than democratic. Other recent work has discussed a trend away from technology-centered smart city planning to a more citizen-centered approach, as suggested earlier (Joss et al. 2017).
A Vision for a Sustainable Smart City Developed with Democratic Principles
The UNEP (2013) states that innovations, such as those for smart cities, should be part of a larger strategic vision for a sustainable city, yet it is also admitted that there is not yet a common vision of what it means to be a sustainable city. Building this vision is perhaps the helpful role that international organizations such as C40 Cities play as cities attempting to become more sustainable share ideas and evolve over time (Lee and Van de Meene 2012). The UK has been motivated to develop standards for its own smart cities and future work abroad through their British Standards Institution, given an estimate for a smart city market of $408 billion by 2020 (BIS 2013, p. 1; Joss et al. 2017). By developing their own expertise on projects at home, also using a democratic or people-centered development approach that helps to legitimize new technologies, they become more internationally competitive so as to capture smart city business opportunities elsewhere. Literature has considered this changing distribution of power and responsibility across individuals, market actors, communities, and governments and called it the “responsibility mix” (Jenson 2009; Joss et al. 2017). In contrast, the Sidewalk Toronto approach for Quayside has struggled to create a vision and build citizen buy-in. Moreover, in comparison to the British and their choice to build local expertise, Waterfront Toronto has chosen a foreign company to lead that has the power to choose its partners/subcontractors.
Overall, this chapter has described the evolution of city building partnerships, first, where architects led the design with municipalities in charge; then, where municipalities outsourced to private developers in PPPs; and, today, where the partnership could be evolving to PPPs with technology leads. More recently, some “smart” holistic communities are being planned with integrated technologies rather than only single buildings, as would usually be the case with a traditional developer in a PPP. Implications for each type of partnership have been discussed. Toronto’s Quayside has been an illustration of where, perhaps through partnership choices, the city seems to have forgotten ambitions for world-class prominence through monumental designs and great public experiences. This could be changing as the LPAT takes over from a developer-driven OMB which may have influenced the tendency for developer-led PPPs. However, with Quayside and the Port Lands potentially in the hands of a foreign technology company, old habits may die hard. Literature has outlined how the public can be an engaged driving force in a PPPP. Methods were discussed for actively involving the public by taking advantage of wide-reaching technologies, such as for pop-ups and crowdsourcing. Technology can engage in more egalitarian ways and, thereby, widely legitimize new technological systems in accordance with change management principles. Furthermore, the UN SDGs can only be realized when smart city changes are integrated for en masse social capital building rather than for elites’ profit making. Toronto still has a chance, as Chicago did, to find its Aaron Montgomery Ward, the retail entrepreneur who fought to save Grant Park in the public interest, and, in the end, to establish the greatness of Chicago as a city (Krohe 1991). Toronto could still take back control of at least part of its rare and precious lakefront. The city could create an extraordinary public experience, possibly with astonishing world-class monumental architecture placed within a larger green space, set apart from its existing sea of glass, steel, and concrete that will hold ever-growing populations yearning for much needed public space, beauty, and inspiration (Venance 2017).
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