The fu­ture — of cities — is bright

Fu­ture Cities Canada is at the fore­front of na­tional ur­ban in­no­va­tion

The Walrus - - MEDIA -

CITIES

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.

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