Dan Doctoroff, the CEO of Sidewalk Labs, was the keynote luncheon speaker for the second day of the Canadian Council of Public Private Partnerships P3 conference held recently in Toronto.
Doctoroff worked with Mayor Mike Bloomberg to assist with the financial recovery of New York City after 9/11, and then went on to act as CEO of Bloomberg LLP before joining Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Google.
"our work over the next two years tell us it is possible to accelerate innovation in urban systems," Doctoroff said, and made a point of telling Toronto that it is the ideal laboratory for testing out the ideas Sidewalk Labs hopes to implement.
Sidewalk Toronto will bridge the divide between urbanists and technology, Doctoroff said, and by capturing the energy of the community and government "you have a chance to do something that's never been done before."
Toronto, Doctoroff said, faces problems from traffic to housing opportunity, to finding opportunity for all residents, and the municipal government has limited resources with which to deal with these problems.
"But these are challenges to every world-class city," Doctoroff said.
Public administration can fall short, and privatization isn't always the answer, but there is a third way through partnerships between government and the private sector.
In New York, Doctoroff said, they "unlocked value in the air," citing the High Line walking park, which converted an abandoned freight line that was "one court decision from being torn down."
Instead, the High Line became an elevated park and walkway, even though at the time the city was in financial freefall. The city simply didn't have the money to create the park, but but by rezoning and creating "air rights" so that if one wanted to build higher, they had to buy rights from whomever held the rights on that part of the line.
Today the High Line serves as a spine of social interaction and draws 8 million visitors a year.
"We also created value from the future," Doctoroff said by building on the Hudson Yards, Manhattan's last underdeveloped train yard.
They believed a new subway station in the area would generate new interest and revenue in the area, and now the #7 train station will pay itself off int he next 20 to 30 years. Hudson Yards is also set to become the largest private real estate development in North American history.
Value in land was another approach they took, Doctoroff said. The city recognized it was too dependent on the financial industry, and made it easier for higher education institutions to build on Roosevelt Island . Cornell Tech, currently underway, will be an environmentally sustainable campus that will house 2,000 students and new industry.
"We'd like to do something similar involving urban innovation in Toronto," he said.
Value on sidewalks, Doctoroff said, was done by adapting 7,500 public pay phones across the city into free wifi kiosks called LinkNYC, which provide high speed broadband wifi as well as free local calling. Advertising and additional revenue has made the venture profitable.
New York tried, but did not succeed to unlock value from the streets, Doctoroff said. Congestion pricing would have discouraged people from driving and reduced traffic, as well as become a source of revenue. But the state legislature ultimately killed the proposal, Doctoroff said.
However, they were successful in unlocking the value of government agencies, he said. After 9/11, officials were concerned not that people would have problems finding a place to live but if they would flee.
But by using the Housing Development Agency, a housing bank, New York was able to leverage and contribute its annual contribution to the annual housing plan, and the city was able to preserve 185,000 units of affordable housing.
Bloomberg and Doctoroff realized no private company could build the High Line or extend the No. 7 train, but government couldn't do it alone and needed able partners in the private sector while protecting the common good.
Canada is fortunate to have a similar approach to the public and private sectors, and this was a big reason Sidewalk Labs went to Waterfront Toronto to implement their ideas.
Sidewalk Labs wants to provide transport options and innovation regarding energy and waste, as well as adaptable housing. Public parks should be usable day and night and during all seasons, and digital technology should be helpful and also secure, Doctoroff said.