Sidewalk Labs faces criticism over Indigenous consultations for Toronto’s Quayside

Sidewalk Labs has come under criticism for not doing enough to include Indigenous recommendations in its proposal for the Quayside development on Toronto's waterfront. Views of the Port Lands area from Don Roadway, the future home of Sidewalk Labs in Toronto on Tuesday, June 25, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Lahodynskyj

TORONTO – Sidewalk Labs has come under criticism for not doing enough to include recommendations by members of the Indigenous community in its proposal for the Quayside development on Toronto’s waterfront.

In an Oct. 25 letter to Waterfront Toronto, Indigenous artist and elder Duke Redbird and architect Calvin Brook say that the Google Inc. sister company talks about Indigenous consultations in its master plan but has not done enough on recommendations made by a focus group of Indigenous people in architecture, urban design and other creative sectors.

“None of the recommendations that resulted from this Indigenous consultation process have been acknowledged or carried forward in any substantial manner in the Sidewalk Labs’ proposals,” they said.

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The 14 core recommendations that came from a one-day consultation hosted by Sidewalk Labs, and organized by the Indigenous Design Studio at the Brook McIlory architecture firm, looked to address some of the needs of the Indigenous community including adding Indigenous art, housing, and job components.

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The letter writers say the recommendations have apparently been dismissed even as Sidewalk Labs talks of inclusion in its official draft plan and working together.

“This resulted in a grossly misleading implication of endorsement by the Indigenous community of Toronto.”

The writers acknowledge that the plan includes temporary winter art installations that could be designed by Indigenous artists, and that some housing and jobs have been set aside for Indigenous people within a longer list of disadvantaged groups, but say the commitments are “tokenistic” and “meaningless.”

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Sidewalk Labs spokeswoman Keerthana Rang says Quayside plans are still at the early stage, but Sidewalk is committed to continued conversations and collaboration with Indigenous stakeholders, in particular with the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, the treaty holders for the area.

“We are in the very early stage of the process in this project and there is a lot more work to do to solidify plans based on the engagements we have had and will continue to have.”

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She said that the consultation with Indigenous architects and others has factored into their plan, including affordable housing, design competitions for Indigenous artists on future projects, and a zone for Indigenous placemaking. She said Sidewalk also plans to make commitments on Indigenous skills training and jobs and include Indigenous suppliers.

The letter comes less than a week ahead of an Oct. 31 deadline Waterfront Toronto has set to resolve a number of key issues with Sidewalk including the project’s scale, public transit commitments, developer selection, and privacy and data issues.

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