Canada's mid-sized cities are at a turning point, shown by reinvigorated political leadership, as well as passionate, engaged and informed residents. Changes in the economic structures point to an opportunity for new futures and opportunities. And yet, these cities have traditionally been overlooked in urban research and policy discourses.
Here at Evergreen, we see the opportunity for mid-sized cities to become leaders of sustainable and inclusive city-building initiatives across the country!
We are leading a multiyear, interdisciplinary program that aims to help Ontario’s mid-sized cities (MSCs) thrive. Alongside senior stakeholders and community residents across Ontario, we are building new knowledge and developing innovative initiatives that will support MSCs in addressing their unique needs, challenges and opportunities.
Why mid-sized cities?
In the Canadian context, mid-sized cities have populations ranging from 50,000 to 500,000 residents. In Ontario, mid-sized cities outside of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GHTA) represent more than 25 per cent of Ontario’s urban population. Including the GTHA, they represent more than 44 per cent.
Mid-sized cities provide significant benefits for their residents and the entire province. Some of these include:
- Amenities of a big city with a small town feel
- More affordable housing
- Greater access to green spaces
- Unique urban-rural connection
Ontario’s MSC also face many challenges. They have been hit particularly hard by the effects of globalization and deindustrialization. Now in 2017, MSCs are forced to contend with:
- Aging and/or declining populations
- Slow economic growth
- Rising social inequality
- Shrinking revenue (tax) base
- Sprawl and car-oriented development
Making Mid-Sized the Right Size
In 2015, Evergreen prepared a discussion paper centre around mid-sized cities, which has been used to guide the development of the MSC Program and our work across the province. Building on conversations with local leaders in several Ontario MSCs, the report identifies 12 actions for MSCs to unlock their unique potential. Some of the recommendations include:
- Develop policy frameworks to build and preserve local assets
- Reduce governance fragmentation and improve planning coordination
- Continue to emphasize balanced economies to increase economic resilience
- Invest in strategies to support regional economies
- Leverage the role and influence of anchor institutions
MSC Program Initiatives
Mid-Sized Cities Research Collaborative
Comprised of more than 20 academics from 14 colleges and universities from across Ontario, the research collaborative is contributing thought leadership on key mid-sized city issues. Capturing the knowledge of leading researchers in the field of mid-sized cities, the research collaborative advances important areas of policy and programmatic solutions for MSC leaders and provincial stakeholders.
Leveraging Ontario's Urban Potential: Mid-Sized Cities Research Series
The discussion pieces released as part of Leveraging Ontario’s Urban Potential: Mid-Sized Cities Research Series provide a look at some of the key issues in mid-sized cities by offering a snapshot of academic research underway across the province. We shape a research agenda that builds on existing research work and reflects the needs, interests and gaps of MSC practitioners.
We began working in Hamilton in 2014 with the goal to influence sustainable change at a crucial tipping point in the city’s development. Evergreen works with key influencers and decision makers as well as grassroots community groups and residents to shape the city’s future and catalyze community-driven, on-the-ground results.
Our work is centred on a physical hub of collaboration, engagement and action at 294 James Street North, where more than 20,000 visitors have been engaged on challenges and opportunities facing the city. Another key initiative, 100in1Day Hamilton continues to evolve into an ongoing annual program with a focus on building the capacity and coordinated networks for greater participation in facilitating positive change.
Other pilot project cities
In addition to our work in Hamilton, we are collaborating with city leaders in Peterborough, London and Greater Sudbury to create new models of city-building for mid-sized cities. For each of our partner MSCs we have developed pilot projects that address the specific goals, needs and aspirations of local communities.
In partnership with the City of Peterborough, Sustainable Peterborough, Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce, Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough and Peterborough Economic Development, we held a series of consultations with senior leaders across public, private and civic sectors. At these consultations we learned that there is a particular opportunity to strategically position and grow Peterborough as a hub of green economy and sustainable community initiatives that serve the Greater Peterborough area.
We have since launched the Peterborough Green Economy Action Lab, which will support mid-sized cities in advancing their ability to grow areas of regional focus, using Peterborough’s green economy and sustainable community as a case study to develop a set of recommendations for action and implement the identified opportunities.
For more information on the Peterborough Green Economy Action Lab, read the report (PDF, 1.1MB).
One of Greater Sudbury’s greatest assets is its anchor institutions, including hospitals, universities, colleges and research centres. They are often some of the biggest real estate owners, and are at the centre of new and existing economic clusters. In such positions of power, there is an opportunity for anchors to combine their strategic place-based economic strengths with their human and intellectual resources to better the wellbeing of their communities. With over 25 of Greater Sudbury’s anchor institutions, we are developing a strategy for collaboration that will bring social and economic benefit to the community.
The City of London has developed an Official Plan, which will inform city-building initiatives over the next twenty years. Thousands of Londoners participated in the conversation and the resulting London Plan represents their hopes and aspirations for the future of their city. Londoners want to grow inward and upward, build one of the greenest cities in the country, and have rapid transit and multiple mobility options, among others. We are supporting community-led implementation of the Official Plan through the 100in1Day platform, and other public engagement practices.