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Our City Building Wishlist for the After

Here are 5 big, bold ideas for recovery in the post-pandemic era. 

two people sitting on a park bench under the trees with family playing in the distance

Published on August 12, 2020

These first months of COVID-19 held up a mirror to ourselves and our cities. Reflected back to us, it’s clear now just how inequitable and precarious our cities can be. As we collectively pause and orient ourselves towards recovery, we must take realistic stock of how things stand. This disruption begets opportunity, one in which we cannot allow ourselves to revert back to the status quo. The status quo was not working. The status quo was not fully realizing our bold visions of prosperous and inclusive cities.

So, what do we want? Where do we go from here? What’s our city-building ‘wishlist’ for after?

After months of unprecedented social, environmental and economic change, Evergreen identified five ideas to get us started:

Invest in the inner suburbs and the ‘forgotten densities’ to champion housing affordability

Placemaker and city builder, Jay Pitter, makes an urgent call to action to remember the inner suburbs of cities as we plan for recovery. Many of these neighbourhoods were hit hardest by COVID-19, and that is not a coincidence. Systemic racism is woven into the fabric of our cities. Crowded, ageing buildings made it nearly impossible for many residents to safely distance, and many of them were essential workers who still had to take transit to work throughout lockdowns. Many more lost their employment and faced evictions and homelessness. We have a collective responsibility to massively invest in these communities. One place to start is through Tower Renewal projects. Tower buildings are an important part of our affordable housing ecosystem. Retrofitting these apartment towers -- with minimal disruption to existing tenants -- must become an urgent priority. It’s not simply an issue of public health. It is also fundamentally about justice and the right we all have to a safe, affordable and comfortable home.

Prioritize community well-being and social inclusion through participatory budgeting

This much is clear: we have to tackle inequity in all its forms. One of the strongest ways to move forward will be on emphasizing community responses to the wrenching disparities that inform our lives. It’s an all-hands-on-deck moment to de-emphasize punitive responses and over-policing of certain (often racialized) communities. What’s one way to achieve this? Stronger participatory budgeting in municipal budgets. There has been an increased interest on the part of residents to be more involved with local budgets, where there’s a greater chance of having direct impacts and say over how funds get allocated. We can champion social inclusion by re-allocating funds towards improved transit, affordable housing, climate change readiness and a stronger social safety net. By encouraging participatory budgeting and more robust involvement in municipal decision making, we can work together to catalyze substantive change that centers the needs of communities.

Transform our streets 

We've glimpsed the possibilities of safer, wider and accessible streets to accomplish the dual goal of how to enable safe distancing and the need for more outdoor spaces for exercise. Coast to coast, municipalities sprang into action to make space for different modes of transportation. Some cities closed roads to cars, and others have installed new bike lines. Some did both. Whatever one’s needs are for transportation – cars, bikes, walking or transit – we must find a way to accommodate all of them. We've seen that we can transform streets so they're safer, and work for more people, and provide more modes of transportation. Moving forward, let's make sure the benefits of these street improvements are distributed equally across all types of neighbourhoods, and truly work for specific needs of those communities. For more insights, check out the first episode of season two of The Future Fix podcast on safe streets.

Create contingency plans with scenario planning 

We require stronger systems to prevent crisis. COVID-19 was not the first, nor will it be the last, urgent crisis to shock our cities. We had warning on the need for provisions to handle an outbreak of COVID-19 in our cities, and we did not act quickly enough. Whether or not the next crisis is a pandemic, we need to be ready. We must work together across sectors to instate coordinated, robust public responses to any wildcards that might be thrown our way on local, regional and national levelsThe practice of strategic foresight, and more specifically, scenario development, is one tool that can inform the plans we make and allow us to unite around desirable outcomesCheck out our guide to using scenario development to create resilient cities here.

Become climate-ready 

There won’t be a ‘new normal.’ Our cities as we know it have a brief window of time to drastically reshape to get ready for the effects of climate change. We have time to act, but we must be urgent. All of these existing vulnerabilities facing cities will be dramatically worsened by climate change. When we think about how we must re-imagine our cities in this era, it is imperative to consider perspectives which have often been sidelinedIndigenous placekeeping empowers diverse Indigenous principles and processes to transform landscapes and public spaces in urban centres to create resiliency. Connected with these principles is taking action to pivot our plans to invest in blue-green infrastructure. This will look different depending on each city – but there are endless opportunities, from timber high rises to permeable rain gardens to help with floodingTaken together, an Indigenous re-imagining of cities and blue-green infrastructure holds great potential to help our cities become climate-ready and prepare for the coming changes.  

We know that these ideas are just the beginning of the post-pandemic era for our cities. Do you have more to share? Join us this fall as we launch a season of solutions, a free six week virtual program where we are convening city builders across sectors to break down silos and divdeep into the bold, innovative city-building work happening across the country. 

Learn more about Future Cities Canada: #UnexpectedSolutions here.