The future — of cities — is bright
Future Cities Canada is at the forefront of national urban innovation
are central to our future as a country. With more than eighty percent of Canadians living in urban centres, the need to unite nationwide for urban innovation is greater than ever before, especially as cities grapple with issues like global warming, housing, transportation, governance, and employment. Evergreen, an organization that has been at the forefront of creating sustainable, flourishing, low-carbon communities since 1991, is now at the nexus of a national city-building movement called Future Cities Canada, an initiative that brings together city builders across the country to accelerate innovation to address challenges that cities face — including two of the most pressing issues of our time: inequality and climate change. “Future Cities Canada is a collaborative effort,” says Evergreen ceo Geoff Cape. “Drawing on the support and expertise of our nationwide founding partners, we will be bringing together people, ideas, platforms, and innovations from multiple sectors to collectively imagine our future to realize the potential of cities.” The new initiative will launch in May 2018. The idea was sparked three years ago, when Evergreen and Cities for People, at the Montreal-based philanthropic Mcconnell Foundation, asked thousands of citizens to imagine an agenda for the future of our cities. The results revealed a need for a collaborative infrastructure across sectors to catalyze inclusive innovation across Canada. The response united four partner organizations — Evergreen, the Ottawa-based Community Foundations of Canada (cfc), the Mcconnell Foundation, and the Maison de l’innovation sociale in Quebec — in a common initiative to work toward equitable, regenerative, and prosperous cities. One of the strategies to foster concrete solutions is to bring innovators together in brick-and-mortar hubs where people can turn ideas into action. Later this year, a hub will open in the redeveloped historic Kiln Building at Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto. “Too often the businesses, organizations, and people fueling the ideas and solutions for cities find themselves fragmented, or the resources are simply too difficult to find,” says Patrick Dubé, director of Maison de l’innovation sociale. “Hubs play an important role in making urban innovation accessible at a local level.” Connecting visionaries across sectors is key to creating change, and Future Cities Canada aims to be a model for advancing innovative city building. “Over the next ten years, three levels of government will invest $750 billion in cities across Canada,” says Evergreen’s Cape. “The private sector will invest seven times that. It’s vital that we have the appropriate infrastructure to plan, innovate, and develop our cities.” Evergreen is ideally suited to lead the charge. “It comes down to trust,” says Cape. “Our organization has a twentyseven-year track record of moving bold ideas to action in communities across the country. Our unique approach of connecting people, natural and built worlds has accelerated change in areas from housing and transportation to
climate resiliency and outdoor learning and play.” That trust is essential as Future Cities Canada partners commit to a collaborative deep-dive into policymaking and guiding data-driven, carbonneutral solutions on issues including governance, urban design, climate change, social isolation, and extreme weather resilience. Cape’s hope is that the city-building narrative gives voice to the next generation of social innovators. “Through Future Cities Canada we have the opportunity to rethink cities with an emphasis on strategic civic assets and ways that we can increase equality through shared ownership and governance models,” he says. Canadians from all walks of life are pivotal to this nationwide discussion. “What we really want at this juncture is to come back to a cultural reality where people are real participants in city building.” Dr. Jayne Engle, who leads Cities for People, an initiative of the Mcconnell Foundation, echoes that emphasis on citizenship participation. A longtime advocate of hands-on city building, Engle believes in “creating cities that are ‘people-centered’” by treating cities as “commons,” where citizens work together to effect change. Engle appreciates the value of Future Cities Canada projects like 100In1day Canada, a movement that inspires people to activate hundreds of innovative, thought-provoking ideas into interventions that transform their city — all on one day. “I think it’s an excellent way to experiment and test projects in public spaces to see what works, to see what has traction and to see the possibilities,” she says. Envisioning the possibilities is an idea that resonates with Ian Bird, president of cfc, whose partnership with Future Cities Canada brings a network of more than 190 community foundations across the country (and combined assets of $5.2 billion) to the table. The cfc, which has been lauded for its landmark Smart & Caring Communities initiative, is understandably concerned about the future of Canadian urban centres. “At cfc, we want to see the kind of cities that distribute the benefits of robust economies, that include Indigenous peoples, that give opportunities to disabled people in the labour market — these are the cities that are going to flourish,” Bird says. “Aligning ourselves with this movement provides us with an avenue to get a sense of what cities, and organizations like ours, will look like in the future. We need to be ready for what’s coming.” But preparing for the future requires change. Connecting innovators to reimagine what urban life can be is a big step toward transforming cities for the benefit of all.
Now is the time to realize the potential of cities.
Co-creating innovations will drive system changes for the benefit of all.