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Convene This: We’re all in it, all hands on deck, and better together

people in a room talking
The reason you’re convening in the first place is that the status quo is not working
Mary Rowe

In two stories published in the September and October issues of Municipal World, Mary Rowe, a Future Cities Canada Fellow and President and CEO of Canadian Urban Institute, writes about the power of convening as a city-building tool and an important instrument for engagement. She reminds us that effective international convening efforts have not only resulted in crucial global agreements ranging from addressing climate change to preventing sex trafficking, but that they have also had a big role to play in addressing local issues that leverage collective wisdom to achieve widely accepted and inclusive solutions.

Strongly influenced by the tradition of the public square as a gathering place for shared economic and cultural pursuits, and where residents got together to exchange ideas about their collective lives, convening has evolved into the default process for building collective ownership of the most critical challenges facing communities and the world. Simply put, if you want to get things done, tap into the wisdom of those who know the issues and who are best equipped to get results.

We are featuring five organizations who are leading the way in convening, including Future Cities Canada, a national cross-sector initiative of which Evergreen is a Founding Partner. In many ways, these organizations were created with the principles of convening and collaboration at their core. The varied challenges they address, and the solutions they formulate, are all based on the idea that, as Rowe puts it, “we’re all in it, all hands on deck, and better together.”

8 80 Cities was created by internationally renowned activist Gil Penalosa, inspired by a simple but powerful philosophy: if you create a great city for an 8-year-old and an 80-year old, you will create a successful city for all people. 8 80 Cities creates unconventional engagement strategies that get people involved and excited about new initiatives in their cities. Convenors in the true sense, they leverage collective wisdom and involve as many perspectives as possible through playful, imaginative, and disarming engagement activities that empower citizens and get things done. 8 80 projects include efforts to reduce pedestrian fatalities and create safer streets, advancing outdoor free play and independent mobility for children, and a two-year program to combat social isolation and increase physical activity in winter for residents in cities that face harsh winters.


C40 Cities is a global convening behemoth, connecting 94 of the world’s biggest cities – from Paris and Santiago, to Johannesburg, Moscow and Jakarta – to drive urban action on climate change and deliver on the ambitions of 2016 Paris Agreement. Representing more than 650 million citizens and one quarter of the global economy, C40 encourages cities to collaborate, share knowledge and drive meaningful action on climate change at the local level. C40 helps cities replicate, improve, and accelerate climate action by convening networks of cities to provide technical assistance, peer-to-peer exchange, and research and information management. At the recent C40 World Mayors Summit in Copenhagen, C40 mayors announced their support for a Global Green New Deal, which recognizes a global climate emergency. The Global Green New Deal makes a commitment to keep global heating below the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement by curbing emissions in transportation, buildings, and waste; and puts inclusive climate action at the center of all urban decision-making. The Global Green New Deal has been endorsed by business leaders, investors, the labour movement, civil society, and indigenous groups around the world.

Future Cities Canada is a national cross-sector initiative founded on the premise that connections between city builders across disciplines, sectors, and regions are crucial to make cities resilient and inclusive. Drawing on the expertise of its founding organizations - The McConnell Foundation, TD Bank Group, Evergreen, Maison de l’innovation sociale and Community Foundations of Canada - and together with a diverse and growing network of partners, Future Cities Canada collectively strives to address the challenges facing cities and city-dwellers to reimagine cities that are equitable, regenerative and prosperous. On November 7 and 8, Future Cities Canada is hosting the second annual Future Cities Canada Summit, a gathering of international and national urban leaders and city builders from across a broad range of sectors. The event will feature keynote speakers Gabriella Gomez-Mont, Founder of Laboratorio para la Ciudad, an award-winning experimental arm of the Mexico City government, and Bruce Katz, Founding Director of Nowak Metro Finance Lab at Drexel University and co-author of The Metropolitan Revolution and The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism. The event will also feature interactive workshops and learning sessions providing a range of urban development solutions intended for participants to replicate in their own communities.

 

The Community Solutions Network is a new platform for communities to connect and build a national centre of excellence in open smart cities. A program of Future Cities Canada, the Network serves communities from big and mid-sized urban areas, to Indigenous, small and northern communities. Led by Evergreen in collaboration with OpenNorth and other partners, the Network provides information, learning opportunities and advisory services in key areas of data and technology for municipal and community leaders, all with the objective of improving the lives of residents.  Through its event-based programming and the Community Solutions Portal, the Network plays the role of convener for communities across Canada These events take shape as Collision Days, Idea Camps, and Community Roundtables, and they bring together leaders from all sectors to innovate, collaborate and find smart solutions for their communities. The Portal convenes communities across Canada on a digital scale as Canada’s space for collaboration and digital hub for smart cities.

 

The Simon Fraser Uinversity Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue is a hub for dialogue, engagement and conversations for “the pursuit of curiosity and collaborative inquiry” among diverse stakeholders. It creates real-world impact for society's most pressing challenges by using dialogue and engagement to co-create solutions, exchange knowledge, support community-engaged learning, and build the capacity of others in the knowledge and practice of dialogue. Services offered by the Centre include convening and facilitating conversations with targeted populations, supporting citizens and governments in shared decision-making, multi-stakeholder problem solving and strategy development, research and online engagement, and public and private sector training. In 2017, the Centre launched a pan-Canadian initiative called Strengthening Canadian Democracy to gauge Metro Vancouver perspectives on democracy and citizen’s participation in democratic activities. The Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue is led by Executive Director Shauna Sylvester, a Future Cities Canada Fellow who also served as the lead facilitator for the Mayor’s Task Force on Affordable Housing in Vancouver.