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How to build our future mid-sized cities? By putting people first

Evergreen’s Mid-Sized Cities Research Series highlights the opportunities for Canada’s mid-sized cities to become leaders of innovative city building across the country.

A person cycles through St. Catharines, Ontario. Image: Copyright Queen's Printer for Ontario, photo source: Ontario Growth Secretariat, Ministry of Municipal Affairs.
Image: Copyright Queen's Printer for Ontario, photo source: Ontario Growth Secretariat, Ministry of Municipal Affairs.

Published on May 03, 2018

By: Jo Flatt

You don’t have to look far to notice that rapid change is occurring in urban centres across the globe. Spurred by mass migration, advancements in technology, and an increasingly interconnected geography, cities are the site of humanity’s greatest extremes, where economic power meets abject poverty, and where architectural mastery meets contaminated wasteland.

Yet, as the hosts of our most complex systems, cities also have the greatest potential for transformation — and transforming they certainly are. These shifts can be seen in Canada’s changing demographics, housing and mobility needs, industry focus, employment futures and many other areas.  

This transformative moment presents an opportunity for Canadian cities—big, mid-sized, and small—to set an example for others around the world. 

And just how might we lead as Canadians? By putting people first.

While it might seem like the obvious approach, cities empowering their residents is not the norm. It takes ongoing commitment to test new ideas, challenge assumptions and make space for change.
Evergreen is supporting practitioners, researchers and residents in Canada’s mid-sized cities in a variety of ways.

People walk down a Toronto street.

Our newly released Mid-Sized Cities Research Series highlights the work of 10 leading Ontario academics on how technology, inclusion, growth and changing leadership affects Canadian mid-sized cities and their residents.

The needs of residents is the core focus of these research pieces, including:

Identifying Built Barriers: Where do our most vulnerable older adults live in Ontario’s Mid-Sized Cities?

Samantha Biglieri from University of Waterloo and Maxwell Hartt of Cardiff University look to understand where older adults in mid-sized cities with more vulnerability risk factors — such as those facing poverty, living alone or aged over 85 —  are living and if those neighbourhoods are supportive enough for their needs.

This paper discovered that a substantial portion of our potentially most vulnerable older adults are also being limited by, and facing significant barriers in, their physical surroundings

New Civic Leadership for Mid-Sized Cities: Pillar Nonprofit Network in London

This paper written by Pillar Nonprofit Network’s Michelle Baldwin and Western University’s Neil Bradford explores the theory and practice of “new civic leadership.”

Different from traditional municipal models, this leadership approach values holistic community visions, collaboration across sectors and broadbased public engagement in shaping the city’s future. While much of the research remains focused on large cities, this paper argue for closer attention to evolving patterns of civic leadership in mid-sized cities.

Indigenous—Municipal Relations: Beyond Consultation

More than half of Indigenous residents live in cities, yet the role and legislative duty of municipalities is unclear. In light of these realities, and in effort to promote the values of inclusion and historical injustice, what is the responsibility of municipalities to support our Indigenous communities?

Clara MacCallum Fraser addresses the question of how municipalities begin to build relationships with Indigenous communities within whose territory they reside, and begin to move beyond token gestures and acknowledgements, towards deeply meaningful engagement. 

You can read these great pieces, plus other research in the full report.


Evergreen CEO speaks to a crowd of people sitting at tables.

Interested in learning more about this research? We’re leading an event series in London May 15-16. This includes a day of public walking tours and a city building fair, followed by the Mid-Sized Cities Researcher + Practitioner Roundtable, where leaders from mid-sized cities across Canada will gather to discuss opportunities for innovative city building.

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Jo Flatt is a Senior Manager of Policy and Partnerships at Evergreen. Her portfolio includes the management of the Mid-Sized Cities Program.