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Video: Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff at CityLab Detroit

Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff at CityLab Detroit

Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff at CityLab Detroit

Sidewalk Labs is building a prototype for the urban future on Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront. This project asks us to re-think relationships between governments, the private sector, and residents. Dan Doctoroff, Founder and CEO, Sidewalk Labs joins Jennifer Bradley, The Aspen Institute at CityLab Detroit.

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Host:

Now let’s really get rolling our first  conversation of the morning is about the  ultimate start up a city for that it is  my pleasure to welcome Dan Doctoroff he  is the founder and CEO of Sidewalk Labs  and he’s here welcome Dan and he’s here  with the director of the Center for  urban innovation at the Aspen Institute  Jenifer Bradley take it away Jennifer…

Jenifer Bradley
So, in Toronto Sidewalk Labs is building  Quayside which they describe as a  neighborhood from the Internet up what  does that mean?

Dan Doctoroff
So let me let me step back a little bit so Sidewalk Labs for  those of who don’t know is a subsidiary  of alphabet which it makes us a sister  company of Google and it was formed  based on the belief that we’re at a  moment in time a unique moment in  history not unlike when the electric  grid was rolled out or automobiles  actually became common that has the  potential to fundamentally change the  dynamics of urban life in a really  meaningful way across virtually every  dimension of urban life. So mobility sustainability building  design the public realm social  infrastructure maybe even governance and  it’s really this combination of  technologies that are coalescing sort of  at this time that we think make that  possible. And so we’ve spent the last  several years trying to understand what  would actually it be if you rethought  the city almost from scratch at the  beginning of the 21st century across all  of these different dimensions and we’ve  concluded that we actually want to try  it and do it at enough scale. So here you  can see a site in Toronto it’s on the  waterfront it is very close to downtown  this is sort of a 12-acre piece of what  could expand to about 800 acres which  New Yorkers will know that’s about the  size of Central Park that would be a  laboratory for urban innovation across  all of these different dimensions. And so  we are now working with the governmental  authorities in Toronto and in Canada to  try and figure out what this actually  would be and our hope is to announce the  plan early next year and we believe that  at the end of the day. it’s not about the  technology it is all about people and  finding a way forward given all of the  issues cities face today to leverage  technology and innovation to  fundamentally improve quality of life  across every single dimension. And we  actually believe it’s possible, it is not  easy  but it is very possible.

Jenifer Bradley
So you talked  about you know every dimension of urban  life mobility social infrastructure  governance that’s not a modest ambition.  So how are you, how are you negotiating  this right? So Google has a you know your  sister company has you know a an  algorithm they have a particular way of  doing things  cities are a lot more permeable there  they’re a lot more co-created how are  you balancing that public-private  challenge in creating a new public realm?

Dan Doctoroff
Well the first thing you have to  understand is that we’re not a  technology company we don’t view  ourselves as a technology company we  view ourselves as a placemaking company.  When we went back and looked at the  hundred and fifty attempts to create  21st century cities or urban innovation  districts over the last 50 years, what we  discovered was everyone had fallen short  by a lot if they ever got off the ground  at all in part because what they failed  to do was bridge what we call the  urbanist technologists divide. You know  if you think about what’s necessary to  do what we’re trying to do it involves  people who truly understand cities  and understand that cities are about  people and that every time you improve  lives for people the city actually  improves. And so the Urbanists are the  people who plan cities who build cities  who run cities who think about cities. And I consider myself an urbanist having  spent six years as the deputy mayor of  New York under Mike Bloomberg. And then  the other group are the technologists  who actually will be responsible for in  many ways devising or implementing a lot  of the innovations in Urbanists and  technologists speak completely different  languages. They have different risk  profiles or expectations for when things  realistically can happen are completely different the sensitivity to what  happens in sort of the public is  completely different their views about  money are very different. And so we  started from the very beginning creating  a company that hopefully bridges that  divide. It hasn’t been easy I will tell  you at every step along the way but if  you don’t appreciate those two very  different approaches you are never going  to be successful. It’s why arguably the  whole smart city movement has been  underwhelming that’s far.

Jenifer Bradley
So one of the  areas where Urbanists and technologists  are increasingly clashing and this is  certainly been present at Quayside is  around privacy. And how do those does the  smart City the the sensor enabled city  the city where we kind of carry a data  profile with us and are like shedding  data everywhere how does that look  different from the private sector and  the public sector. How do you, how are you  navigating those different languages and  cultures and degrees of acceptance of  transparency, or not?

Dan Doctoroff
It has to be  completely different in the public  sector than in the in the private sector  and I should also point correct what I  think is kind of a misperception is that  at its core this is a data-driven thing  where we’re taking lots of information  individuals and that’s what’s going to  drive this place, The vast majority of  data that we will use to make this place  function and hopefully improve urban  life really has nothing to do with  personally identifiable information at  all. That said we realize that’s an issue, we realized that urban data or data that  is generated in public spaces which is  what people are most focused on, actually,  you can never give consent, individuals really can’t give  consent to that and therefore it needs  to be treated completely differently. In  fact we just announced a privacy and  data policy about two weeks ago after a  lot of analysis and outreach and looking  at best practices around the world  including by the way Estonia which is a  real leader in this is that that should  not be our decision. At the end of the  day it’s about governance of data and we  shouldn’t be the ones who should have  responsibility. So we announced a policy  that and its core is relatively simply  simple which is that urban data really  ought to be a public asset and at the  end of the day that asset ought to be  managed at least in terms of the  governance of it by what we described as  an independent civic data trust that we  as the sponsor of this place should not  be treated any differently than any  other person who applies to this trust  to use data in this place. And that to  the extent that we take responsibility  for developing data infrastructure that  that data infrastructure needs to be  completely open, and so it should be a  public body we think that is actually  making those decisions not us.

Jenifer Bradley
But isn’t  there something of a challenge in that  in this sort of Data Commons you’re not  like everybody else right. You are the  ones who are building the platform other  people can kind of tap  into the platform, you have a much  greater data science capability than any  US local government or probably national  government. So how do you, how do you  respond to that?

Dan Doctoroff
Because we do think we  should be treated like everybody else to  the extent that we actually want to use  data. We need to be very clear about what  that purpose should be, how it’ll work,  what the public benefit is actually  going to be, and the decision about  whether or not that application is  appropriate should be left to people  other than us. ow we’ve committed to a  set of principles that we believe ought  to guide sort of these decisions. A big  one of those is something called “privacy  by design” which is that privacy is  embedded into every product or service  that we would even propose actually  offering. But at the end of the day the  public or representatives of the public  have to be in a position to make that  and we’re prepared to live with that  because we think that is right. We think  that will be the approach that  ultimately balances the need for data to  enhance innovation with protection of  the public and we don’t think there’s  any other way. I mean look this question  of privacy and data is an urgent problem  that we are confronting everywhere in  our daily lives. You know devices that are tracking where  we are seeing what we’re doing are  rampant with literally no control  whatsoever. What we think we have  proposed and it’s just an initial  proposal is a dramatic leap almost  unprecedented that we hope can actually  set a global standard because we  recognize that if people don’t trust  that data about them or data about their  environment is being managed responsibly, we can never move forward.

Jenifer Bradley
So I think  this is just one facet of a larger  difficulty—  is that technology has unintended  consequences. How are you planning for  things that you can’t predict or  anticipate?

Dan Doctoroff
So by the way everything not  just technology has unintended  consequences. We are learning now about  some of the unintended consequences  excuse me of technology that we maybe  hadn’t anticipated before; but unintended  consequences are baked into human nature,  they’re baked into our environments.

Jenifer Bradley
And sometimes they’re great.

Dan Doctoroff
And sometimes  they’re great right.  So you know we talk about our goal at  Sidewalk Labs when we think about  creating a place or at least being a  catalyst and we should come back and  talk about what we see is our role in  this place, as being a in entity that seeks  to eliminate bad friction while  encouraging good friction. You know  cities are about friction, some of that  friction is unnecessary. A traffic jam is  never a good thing, okay pollution is never a good thing . What is great about cities of things you  never expect it’s opportunity it’s  serendipity it is and so how do you  create sort of at least encourage that.  So that’s sort of what we see in a way  as our role, but what we also understand  is we’re never smart enough to actually  plan a place. No one ever is. he best  places are made over time by people who  have their own ideas who offer them and  they work sort of in that marketplace of  ideas. So what we hope to set up is in  effect sort of a a platform that makes  it easier for people to innovate on  their own without us having to do it.

Jenifer Bradley
So what’s an example of that?  How can, how  can technology improve or support this  beneficial friction? Wouldn’t, wouldn’t it  create you know, we’ve all been in  situations where somebody’s trying a  little too hard to catalyze a  relationship, somebody’s trying a little  too hard to create spontaneity and it’s  terrible.

Dan Doctoroff
Exactly and I don’t think that’s what  it’s about it’s about creating the  infrastructure basically both physical  and data infrastructure that simply  reduces sort of the barriers to people  actually trying new things.

Jenifer Bradley
And so what’s  an example of that?

Dan Doctoroff
Yeah it’s all sorts  of things —so you know we expect in this  district that at the that it will only  be autonomous vehicles other than  actually vehicles passing through. And we  all know that autonomous vehicles I know  there was a discussion about this  yesterday, they won’t be ubiquitous you  know for a couple of decades probably.  But within an environment in which we  can actually place enough infrastructure  they can actually operate if not today  within the next couple of years. So we  will facilitate by virtue of the digital  infrastructure that gets put place in  here the capacity for self-driving  vehicles to be actually successful. Now  that produces all sorts of other  interesting ramifications. One thing we  are thinking about extensively is well, what then happens to the street grid in  an area in which there are only  autonomous vehicles, there is no model  for this…

Jenifer Bradley
And all the scooter companies  are saying, we know, we know.

Dan Doctoroff
It has a lot  of people, we don’t know the answer to  that but what we do know is we won’t  need the space for parking or all the  space for parking, the roadways can be  much narrower. We probably can double the  amount of public open space in this  place, part of our job is to think about  all right well what’s the infrastructure  including the street grid that actually  might be possible. What happens to those  public open spaces that we actually  create should be left to people to build  over time. So that’s a good example of  how you actually create sort of digital  infrastructure it translates into  fundamental infrastructure which is a  street grid.  Cities forever have been  creating street grids that in effect  give predictability to developers and  others in a place. But then what happens  beyond that …

Jenifer Bradley
So to your point about what happens  beyond that, how transferable is what  you’re learning in Quayside to a place  where you may not have that same blank  canvas that you’ve got it’s a waterfront?

Dan Doctoroff
It’s a great question, our view was, was  that what the world could use is a great  model. But it will not ever anywhere be  followed slavishly but there will be  dozens and dozens and hundreds of things  that get tried here that people will be  look looking to, since this will be  viewed as at least a model. You know one  of the things that I learned when I was  deputy mayor of New York is that cities, and that’s why you many people are here today, really copy each other but then  adapt to their own purposes. So one of  the great things that I was very proud  to to lead was the saving of the High  Line. So by 2008 when we opened the first  section of the High Line within a year,  there were 36 high lines under  development. And most of them initially  sort of followed the high book High Line  playbook they were on old abandoned rail  lines. But then what happened was in  subsequent generations, people took some  of the lessons from the High Line how it  was financed how its managed the nature  of the public-private partnership and  adapted them to their own unique  conditions. In fact in Toronto, just a few  months ago a new park opened up taking a  lot of the lessons from the High Line  underneath a highway. Okay now again it  was a grandchild if you will of the High  Line but what you learn is cities copy  from other cities, adapt from other  cities, in ways that are appropriate to  those other cities. And so what we hope  is is that if we do and our government  partners do a great job of actually  monitoring what we’re doing reporting on  it being totally transparent about  what’s happening people will learn  lessons and apply them for their own.

Jenifer Bradley
So one  of the things that cities are, have also  learned from the High Line  is the need to think ahead about  affordability and accessibility. So the  Atlanta BeltLine for example is…

Dan Doctoroff
Yep.

Jenifer Bradley
…is focused  on affordability, the 14th Street Bridge  project in Washington DC is doing has  done years of work before they’ve done  any construction on the bridge to make  sure that affordability is maintained.  How is Sidewalk Labs making key side a  neighborhood that is accessible and  available to everyone as opposed to a  wonderful, wonderfully accessible place  for the elite?

Dan Doctoroff
That’s a great question. I  said from the very first conversations  that actually had with Google, Larry Page, —we all agreed that this place had to be  a diverse place. That it was going to be  mixed income that it should the extent  possible reflect the diversity of the  surrounding metropolitan area wherever  we ended up doing it. And so we have  committed to a dramatically higher level  of housing affordability than exists in  the downtown area in Toronto today. It’ll  be multiples of what they actually do  and we will achieve that and we’ll be  very specific about how we do that. We  will achieve it through creative  financing approaches, the kinds that we  used in New York to produce in the  Bloomberg administration, one hundred and  sixty five thousand units of affordable  housing over a 10-year period of time. We  will do it through creative partnerships, but I think the thing that is possible  here that really hasn’t been done before  is what we’re calling affordability by  design.

Jenifer Bradley
Okay.

Dan Doctoroff
Okay and so the way in which  we actually think about housing and  building and building construction and  design, I think is going to be radically  different. One of the real pillars of  what we are talking about is using wood  as sort of the structural component for  most of the buildings in this place. With  a factory on or near the site  we believe overtime will give us the  ability to lower building cost by  fifteen to twenty percent. Fifteen to  twenty percent is a huge dent in the  subsidization necessary to actually  provide sort of the level of  affordability that we hope to actually  achieve. This will be a failure if this  is a haven for millennial tech workers  in our view, that’s in Google’s view. And  I think that is something that’s really  important to point out. Google’s interest, Alphabets interest in doing this is not  related to any existing business. It’s  because we actually believe we’re at a  moment in time where having a model of  what is possible across all these  different realms that can ultimately  meaningfully improve quality of life is  why we were actually doing this. And yes  we’re a company, yes we have to make  money—but at the end of the day,  the way in which we evaluate ourselves is whether  we can bend the curve on literally every  single quality of life metric. That is  what we are actually driving for, that’s  what we’re prepared to invest  aggressively to be the catalyst of this  place to be and that’s what we expect  will accomplish.

Jenifer Bradley
Great and I think  everybody in this room will be following  along and ready to hold you accountable and to learn from what works.

Audience
(Laughter)

 Dan Doctoroff
There’s no shortage of people trying to  hold us accountable all…

Jenifer Bradley
Alright, great.

Dan Doctoroff
This ant easy.

Jenifer Bradley
Well, thank you so much.

Dan Doctoroff
Thanks  Jennifer.

 


Nov 2, 2018

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