Andrea Barrack
Global Head, Sustainability and Corporate Citizenship - TD Bank
Part of the Spotlight on Future Cities

Creating the Future “Liveable” Cities of Canada

Takeaways

  1. How we create our cities will determine Canada’s economic vitality and equity. It’s critical that all sectors—not solely government—take part in finding innovative and bold solutions to shape the cities we want to live in.
  2. As we think of the future of cities, it is critically important to remember that the impacts of social isolation are significant on health and wellbeing, safety, the economy, and people’s ability to be financially secure.
  3. Planning future urban infrastructure is about building concepts right the first time around, but it must also include finding better use for the infrastructure and spaces already in place.

Action

If we continue to see the future of cities as solely a government responsibility, we will limit our potential to thrive. Shaping liveable cities means creating shared prosperity; opportunity and benefits of economic growth that are widely shared by all segments of society.


TD focuses on “Liveable Cities”. How would you define this concept? From your global perspective, how do Canadian cities compare to this ideal?

Shaping liveable cities means creating shared prosperity; opportunity and benefits of economic growth that are widely shared by all segments of society. This involves things like investing in the public transit system, affordable housing, green public spaces, smart urban planning and engagement of residents and communities.

Today, North America is one of the most urbanized regions in the world, with 82% of its population living in urban environments, according to the United Nations. In Canada, our citiescontinue to afford new opportunities for talent and migration from all walks of life. While this creates many benefits for our economy, cities are also tackling challenges of affordability, climate change, and shifts in the economy due to their rapid growth. These issues are global, but they may be exhibited and resolved differently from one region to another.In each city, partnerships between the public and private sectors are key to understanding both the challenges and the opportunities in future cities.

“Cities are also tackling challenges of affordability, climate change, and shifts in the economy due to their rapid growth. These issues are global, but they may be exhibited and resolved differently from one region to another.”

According to the OECD, Canada’s house price to income ratio is the highest in the world. This reality is material to us, our employees and our customers. If appropriate and affordable accommodation becomes out of reach for our staff, and our customers, this could create deep-sided divides that are not conducive to productivity and sustainability both for TD and the communities we serve.


Through TD’s work on this subject, what have you identified as the top issues facing Canadian urban centres today? What are potential solutions to them?

Earlier this year, we worked with GlobeScan to hold a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Leadership Forum for Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. The SDG Leadership Series is a set of 17 online discussions that bring together the world’s leading thinkers to share and develop strategies for making progress on the Global Goals.

“The Forum highlighted three issues for cities: limited public engagement; an overdependence on the public sector; and applying short-term versus long-term solutions.”

As part of this effort, we brought together a diverse range of stakeholders and experts—from civil society, to government and the private sector—to explore the challenges faced by North American urban centres and the critical role that green infrastructure and urban spaces bring to building future cities.

The Forum highlighted three issues for cities: limited public engagement; an overdependence on the public sector; and applying short-term versus long-term solutions.The first barrier, limited public engagement, is particularly concerning, considering that liveable cities affect so many people. For instance, the Forum showed that a lack of citizen involvement in policy development and decision-making significantly hinders the potential of climate-resilient infrastructure and green spaces in our cities.

“To build sustainable and resilient communities, Canadians, civil society, labour and politicians need to find actors beyond government to take part in a sector that affects us all—there is a real power in that.”

The Forum also concluded that concerted efforts, multi-stakeholder dialogues, and collective action are necessary to transform our cities into the cities we want to live in and to drive progress. To build sustainable and resilient communities, Canadians, civil society, labour and politicians need to find actors beyond government to take part in a sector that affects us all—there is a real power in that.An example of such partnership is our collaboration with Park People, which specializes in civic engagement in which citizens work together to revitalize sections of their neighbourhoods with green spaces. This represents a larger movement toward new private-public relationships, which is an important component toward helping to shape liveable cities.


What can governments, industry leaders, academic leaders and individual citizens do to ensure that all voices and perspectives are heard as we build towards the future?

Liveable cities challenge all sectors to assume leading roles and so, it’s one of the greatest opportunities to champion collaboration between the public, not-for-profit and private sectors. If we continue to see the future of cities as solely a government responsibility, we will limit our potential to thrive.

“Liveable cities challenge all sectors to assume leading roles and so, it’s one of the greatest opportunities to champion collaboration between the public, not-for-profit and private sectors.”

Given the legal framework of municipalities in Canada, cities can’t do this alone. For example, the Impact and Innovation Unit (IIU) launched the Smart Cities Challenge; a pan-Canadian competition open to all municipalities, local or regional governments, and Indigenous communities. This year alone, over 200 communities from a range of backgrounds and skills hammered out ideas and strived to find the most effective route to a shared goal. Regardless of the winner, the challenge is an effective starting point to gather innovative and bold ideas, and to help municipalities execute winning solutions.


Canada’s national and provincial governments have made investment commitments towards sustainable infrastructure. What must be top of mind when planning future urban infrastructure?

Some cities have built liveable concepts right the first time around, notably regarding green spaces, public transit and housing that augment the quality of life. But often, planning future urban infrastructure is about improving the efficiency and livability of what already exists.

For example, green spaces and trees can absorb and mitigate storm water runoff.  Regions like Eastern Canada that are prone to a lot of rainfall, which can cause serious flooding issues, could mitigate these flooding risks with the planting of additional trees. It might sound obvious, but it’s so important, and one of our priorities through our global corporate citizenship platform, The Ready Commitment. Research shows that not only does tree planting improve the soil’s ability for water absorption, it also helps reduce carbon in the atmosphere and is a great activity for community engagement. Also, in some urban environments, it can be too hot for children to play outside because so much space is covered in concrete. So, we worked with the Arbor Day Foundation to help amplify the Foundation’s efforts to enhance park-based green infrastructure. Part of that includes de-paving, tree planting, setting up gardens and creating new parks.

“Often, planning future urban infrastructure is about improving the efficiency and livability of what already exists.”

The other side of the equation is the effective use of public space for community engagement.  In 2018, a TD survey showed that 1 in 3 people in North America don’t feel connected to their communities.We think that is somewhat surprising and we were concerned to learn that, compared to the United States, a greater portion of Canadians feel like they are not included in their community.

This is critically important because the impacts of social isolation are significant on health and wellbeing, safety, the economy, and people’s ability to be financially secure. As we think of the future of cities, we could imagine that cities will move away from a model centered around individual cars and single-family homes to a denser urbanization as more people move into the core. Urban planners will factor in how we design shared spaces to make sure citizens can get to know one another and connect with their neighbours.

“The impacts of social isolation are significant on health and wellbeing, safety, the economy, and people’s ability to be financially secure.”

Housing is another area where innovation could drive interesting solutions. There are some neat, innovative pilots around co-housing concepts, where residents of different backgrounds and generations have access to common spaces. In the U.S., TD has for the past 13 years supported local non-profits providing affordable housing to the most vulnerable. In 2018, a total of US$3.13 million was granted to 25 organizations from Maine to Florida through the Housing for Everyone program, and we are working on bringing the experience and expertise we have gained there to Canada.


The TD Future Cities Centre is an innovation and training centre where urban thought leaders and citizen city builders from across sectors can gather to co-create, test and prototype solutions for building inclusive low carbon cities. What is the importance of cross-sector, multi-stakeholder collaboration in creating the cities of the future, and how can we increase this in Canada?

The TD Future Cities Centre, located at Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto, provides a physical laboratory for showcasing, celebrating and testing solutions that can help promote thriving and sustainable cities across Canada and the world.  It’s an initiative that brings together people, platforms and innovations from across multiple sectors to find new ways to discuss the challenges facing cities.

For example, this centre holds the Future Cities Speaker Series. Recently, Anthony Townsend, a sought-after mobility specialist came to speak about the future of mobility and how it impacts cities and urban life. At another recent Speaker Series event, award-winning architect Douglas Cardinal talked about how cities need to play a leading role in ensuring that Indigenous residents are part of the visioning process for the future of our cities. Over four hundred people attended each time, proof that citizens are interested in the future of their cities. I look forward to the next event, on September 11, with American sociologist, Eric Klinenberg, to learn more about social infrastructure and how to make the most of it.

The centre demonstrates a key collaboration of government, not-for-profit and private organizations looking at catalyzing solutions and convening to create a vision for the cities we want to live in. It’s a place that helps bring people together to figure out how to get the execution right; what are the policies to consider; next action steps; private sector input and contribution necessities. We hope that this becomes a hive of activity that combines the virtual and physical space to help move us towards liveable cities.