Bold, decisive action needed to ensure cities succeed, says CUI in new report

Canadian Urban Institute recently released its first State of Canada’s Cities Report, which provides a roadmap for changes to ensure cities across the country meet the increasing needs of a diverse, growing population.

Canadian Urban Institute recently released its first State of Canada’s Cities Report, which provides a roadmap for clear and practical changes in 60 steps that include decision-making, policymaking, investment choices, business practices and community norms.

With more than 80 per cent of the population residing and working in urban areas, cities hold a crucial position in the social and economic development of Canada. However, outdated fiscal and governance arrangements, further complicated by a three-year-long pandemic, present substantial hurdles for making informed policy and investment decisions. At this pivotal moment, the Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) invited 40 policymakers, researchers, practitioners, and civic activists to evaluate the condition of Canadian cities. The outcomes of their three years of effort have been unveiled in the first annual State of Canada’s Cities Report.

“Since the arrival of COVID-19 to Canada, our cities have been besieged by challenges,” said Mary W. Rowe, CUI CEO and president. “Cities are places where people congregate, to earn, learn, contribute, exchange, and expand their lives and livelihoods. However, the pandemic and our collective response to it has shifted the evolving future of our cities. As we consider this uncertain future, we must embrace what we have learned if we want stronger Canadian cities in the future.”

Rowe explained that the pandemic, along with technological advancements, climate change, equity, and reconciliation efforts, is demanding coordinated leadership across sectors to ensure cities across Canada meet the increasing needs of a diverse, growing population.

“We need a much higher tolerance for trying new and perhaps risky approaches. We need alternate and flexible land building uses, tech-enabled mobility and climate strategies that harness the tacit knowledge of a well-established resource processing and manufacturing workforce,” said Rowe. “We need to embrace new approaches to regional governance and the root causes of homelessness, addiction, and mental health. We need to find solutions that finally build financial sustainability for cities.”

CUI worked closely with University of Toronto’s School of Cities, the main supporter and partner on the report.

“Through its university partnerships, CUI ensures that researchers are tackling the questions that matter most to communities on the ground, while encouraging cities to experiment boldly with our innovations,” said Karen Chapple, director, School of Cities. “Together, through rigorous research and open dialogue, we are launching an era of city and community rebuilding that transforms our great cities.”

“Our cities power Canada’s competitiveness and the well-being of its people. At a time of global crisis, our cities are our greatest strength—and Canadian cities are ranked among the best in the world. Thus, together we must address the multiple threats to their affordability, civic infrastructure, and quality of life,” added Chapple. “We must build a national—and then global—network of urban research and civil society institutions that identifies and implements the creative approaches that empower cities to lead the way. The stakes could not be higher.”

Over the course of the last four years, CUI heard a “resounding rejection of the status quo and a hopeful call for creative ideas that support on-the-ground action.”

“It is critical we create more housing especially more affordable housing, welcome and support new Canadians, make places for recreation and cultural expression, stimulate and support local economies, renew downtowns as places for people and commerce, and support hyper-local approaches to building community resilience and inclusion,” said Rowe.

The report was released at the State of Canada’s Cities Summit at the Shaw Centre that brings together hundreds of influential Canadians to help address key urban challenges. The Summit will identify priorities and explore solutions for growth that supports local communities coming out of a global pandemic.

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