As a fast growing urbanized nation Canadian cities are uniquely positioned to show the world how to drive sustainable and livable urban growth beyond the pandemic. To make this a reality, cities need to harness digital transformation, at the same time as we build net zero urban economies. This means investing in smart mobility solutions, personalized government services, equitable workforce development smart financing tools and smart digital and physical infrastructure.
Last month CityAge Canada invited the Canadian creators, investors, builders and policy-shapers who are reimagining how we build, live and work within our cities to speak at their digital event. This panel of experts for ‘Transforming Our Cities For The Future’ including movmi’s very own, Venkatesh Gopal. Watch the highlights from the conference below. 👇
CityAge Canada Highlights: Transforming Our Cities For The Future
Opening the panel discussion, the city of Edmonton, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi spoke about the city of Edmonton’s recovery playbook, which was developed three years prior to the arrival of Covid 19. It was informed by the feedback of more than 10,000 Edmontonians and by significant research and technical studies. The city plan identifies the choices Edmontonians, must make to achieve their vision of a healthy and climate resilience city of 2 million people.
The plan changes, how Edmonton interacts with other urban spaces, integrates interdependent systems like land use, transportation, environmental, economic and social factors, reflecting the complex decisions and tradeoffs. Their commitment to the city plan has remained unchanged throughout the pandemic. What is different, is how they get there. The plan sets out many areas of transport transformation that are essential for achieving their long term goal.
Their energy transition climate resilience and mobility strategies are at different stages of implementation and are good examples of advantages commitment to making systemic change. The city plan innovates a vibrant and prosperous city with an integrated mobility system. This will provide residence with convenient accessible and affordable options to get around and their mobility network will be interconnected system of transportation modes.
Alia Dharssi of Asparagus Mag and Sustainability Solutions Group spoke about how we plan our cities for all people who live in our cities and the opportunity that offers ahead of us. Being able to look at economic recovery is crucial for cities and one thing that the city of Edmonton did during the pandemic was to look at the importance of their downtown.
In the economic development space, cities are going to be even more important post pandemic. One thing Edmonton did on the economic development side, was to bring in a grant program and for $22.9 million of the city’s investment, they were able to leverage 550 $1 million of private investment in they downtown, so 10 new residential towers are going in their downtown as a result of a grant program that came in and 4050 jobs were created.
Stephanie McCabe also with the City of Edmonton (Deputy City Manager, Urban Planning & Economy) spoke about how to make our cities more equitable, prosperous city and climate resilient. For all people who live in our cities, some of the things that are going to be important for cities as we move forward are 15 minute communities and how can people live more locally.
In terms of equity based planning that’s going to be absolutely important as we transform our cities, if we want to create cities for all people, we need to look at things that have structurally created barriers for all people in our cities, and one thing that I would highlight are zoning bylaws. How they are use is going to be absolutely key for cities as we go forward. We also need to think about the different voices we need to bring to the table to inform of our decisions on city planning.
The other thing is how to be more climate resilient. We know that people need more ways to be able to get around our city and something that the pandemic has taught us in Edmonton is that transit really is an essential service.
Eric Desroche, Sr. Manager Infrastructure Strategy, AEC Design, AutoDesk spoke about the need to strike the right balance between building new versus rehabilitating the existing assets we have and that’s not always an easy decision. We look at projects we are working on and we need to keep the people in mind, are we really doing the right thing for the citizens in inner city? We also need to ask ourselves if a project is being designed and built in harmony with the neighborhood and and the local environment?
Eric Wolfe, Partner, KPMG Canada, Global Cities Lead (Americas) shared his opinions on inclusive and diverse affordable housing and how it must be prioritized and continue to drive innovation within our cities. We need to find ways to integrate equity and diversity within developments, even though that may or may not be the traditional way we have built cities. However these things also come at a cost, and typically, if we’re talking about public lands, it’s in the form reduced land values when you’re trying to make these transactions work. But they ultimately will help local governments, in advancing several of these high party objectives. Finding the right balance between continuing to build but also addressing a lot of the systemic issue that we’re seeing is critical.
There is also a need to make sure that both local communities within the city and rural, remote regions within within provinces, have access to connectivity and the digitization of our systems.
Kristina Verner, Vice President Strategic Policy & Innovation, Waterfront Toronto, spoke about the Quayside Waterfront project in Toronto – the revitalization of 2000 acres adjacent to the lake Ontario shoreline, which was largely underutilized land that’s largely publicly held. The quayside is an interesting hinge point in terms of how the existing city is connected to the largest area of revitalization opportunity, which is the port land. It is currently being flood protected through a massive infrastructure project, the largest one in North America, where they are renationalizing the mouth of the dawn river and creating essentially a whole new outlet for that river and a whole new island, unlocking 800 acres of opportunity within a 15 minute bike ride to the downtown core.
Movmi’s Venkatesh Gopal discussed how in the wake of the pandemic, we saw multimodal become lifestyle choice and the need for more livable cities and green spaces. As we have started to see more sustainable mobility choices in cities, it’s great how we are also thinking about the need for mobility-as-a-service. A few years ago we were first introduced to Uber and Lyft, the exciting thing about it was that we were able to book and plan our trip via our smartphones. That is were mobility-as-a-service is picking up from. It’s giving people the opportunity and access to book and plan different vehicle modes, where they might not have been able to do so before.
For new mobility to work we need better governance, we need better policies, now that we have spent maybe more than a decade, working with these technologies, public agencies, cities and transit agencies can actually see and learn from what has happened. What’s good? What’s not working? What’s worked? Then put together something that should actually be working from day one.
When it comes to city infrastructure, it shouldn’t just end with public transit. We need to seriously think about electric land use, for example electric charging stations. Are they in the right areas? Are they connected? Are they equitable? If we are hoping to remove the need for private car ownership we also have to consider that public transit can’t always be brought to every nook and corner of our cities, so things like mobility hubs and apps can really help with this first and last mile problem.
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