Change is hard. Even when we don’t like the way things are, we sometimes resist change. I recall a community meeting years ago, when as a consultant team we approached a community regarding a proposal to develop a site – a weedy, graffiti filled parking lot known for untoward behavior, that had been the source of community complaints for many years. One resident stood up and said to the crowd: “I like things just the way they are.” This wasn’t the dominant view in the room, but it was a view nonetheless. ‘Just keep things the same’ is sometimes a default position rooted in fear of change.
Density is often touted – by myself included – as key to unlocking a more sustainable, liveable, cost efficient future. Getting density right is central to creating communities where it is possible to do a variety of everyday activities within walking distance from home – like visiting a health clinic, buying groceries, or getting your haircut. Walking has implications for our health, our sense of place, our connectedness to our communities, and our need to reduce our environmental footprint.
So all density is good, right? Not so fast. continue reading
After a rich and robust dialogue at ULI’s Fireside Chat with Mayor Tory last week that focused primarily on planning issues such as midrise development and embracing innovation in our city building, the Mayor was asked for a closing comment. Mayor Tory chose to shift the conversation significantly, by commenting on the importance of fairness. Acknowledging recent data released by the United Way that exposes the widening gap between the rich and the poor in Toronto, Mayor Tory exhorted everyone in the room to recognize the significance of the challenge before us, and the need to prioritize ensuring all Torontonians have the opportunity to thrive.
Broadening participation in our city building processes underpins creating an equitable city, too. In a recent poll undertaken by Ipsos Reid, we learned that of the thousands upon thousands who have participated in our city planning processes over the years, participants have been primarily white, over 55 and home owners. Anyone who knows a thing or two about Toronto knows that our city is mostly foreign born and non-white, and the fastest growing demographic in some parts of the city – like our downtown core, which is driving our condo boom – is under 35. In addition, nearly 40% of Torontonians are renters. continue reading
The Regional Planning Commissioners of Ontario (RPCO), a group of senior officials from municipal governments, recently released the following letter on potential school closures and the Province’s current funding formula. As a co-signer of this letter, I stand behind its statement that closing schools may do “irreparable harm to neighbourhoods, undermining their long-term viability as strong and healthy communities”. It is time to rethink our approach to education delivery and recognize the vital, multi-faceted, role that schools play as anchors in our communities.
This week I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion with Brad Ross from the TTC, Pamela Robinson from Ryerson University and Rob Miekle from the City of Toronto as part of a collaboration between Western University and the City on the topic of Open Government.
Open Government is based on this key idea: that good government is rooted in access, transparency and participation. Ultimately, public trust in government will increase (a worthy objective itself) when there is better – and broad – understanding of the functions and roles of government, and as accountability to the public increases. In its corporate Strategic Plan, as adopted by City Council, the City of Toronto bureaucracy has committed to this goal, and the session this week was a critical step towards building internal capacity for delivering on it.
Earlier this year, I joined Benjamin Gianni, Professor and former Director of Carleton’s Azrieli School of Architecture & Urbanism, in a panel discussion organized by Carleton University in Ottawa on the role of the Federal Government in securing affordable housing for Canadians. For more details on this event, click here. The following text is adapted from the presentation I gave at that event. The recommendations were pulled together with input from the City of Toronto Affordable Housing Office.
I recently wrote the article below for the Canadian Scholarship Trust Plan’s Inspired Minds Careers 2030 site, which is designed to help guide Canada’s education and professional pathways into the future. The site features a series of articles by leaders in their respective fields describing the state of their industries, how they might change and what students can do to prepare for those changes. The goal is to provide a vision of a “Canada of the Future”, while inspiring enthusiasm and preparation in Canada’s future leaders.
I was asked to write about the biggest challenges facing the planning profession today, and to point out some of the skills that will be required by urban planners in the future:
You might be familiar with the NXT City Prize, a project that is the brainchild of a very talented group of young people who run a consultancy firm called Distl. The NXT City Prize is aimed at youth under the age of 30 and asked them to re-imagine public space (any public space) in the City of Toronto for the chance to win up to $5,000 in prize money and $10,000 in seed money to implement their idea. The City of Toronto supported this project by providing the seed money as well as in-kind support, and I offered my guidance and led the adjudication team. continue reading
This blog post was originally published under the same name in the Toronto Star on Saturday August 16th, 2014. Click here to go to the original article.
As one columnist recently put it, the suburbs can be a “snooze fest” for the younger generation. Echo boomers, loosely defined as those between the ages of 16 and 34 and the fastest-growing demographic in Toronto, are choosing urban over suburban and are forgoing a driver’s licence in favour of walking, cycling and transit. Our data confirms this trend in Toronto.
There are many differing reasons why, including the high cost of driving, greater awareness of environmental impacts, a rejection of the quality of life, costs and sacrifices that accompany a long commute, and importantly, it is increasingly possible to live without a car.
This article appeared as an OpEd in the Ottawa Citizen entitled City-building as a Canadian export on May 25, 2014.
More than half the global population lives in cities and this number climbs by 60 million people a year. It may seem that as we become an urban world, the places we live, work and play will inevitably become beacons of innovation, prosperity, sustainability, and civility. Cities, after all, represent progress. The urbanization of our world is a sign of our evolution as a species.