New toolkit for reviving Canada’s Main Streets calls for inclusion

A new toolkit from the Canadian Urban Institute and Happy City is offering advice and evidence to revive Main Streets, core spaces in big cities, suburbs and small towns that have been impacted by COVID-19.

“The health of our main streets is linked to the health of our cities and our sense of community and well-being”, said Mary W. Rowe, president and CEO of the Canadian Urban Institute. “Our colleagues at Happy City have created this toolkit for communities to bring people back to main street in safe, healthy, and equitable ways to promote connection and boost local economies.”

The pandemic hit local businesses hard, but it also deepened inequalities in our communities. Cities across the country are taking action through temporary changes to streets and sidewalks.

However, the Canadian Urban Institute states that if we want to make local commercial areas safer, stronger and more inclusive over the long run, we need to include everyone in the process.

According to the Institute, cities that rush to transform their Main Streets without meaningfully involving all stakeholders risk deepening those inequities: “Neighbourhoods with affluent (often mostly-white) residents end up receiving more benefits, while marginalized neighbourhoods, with a higher share of residents who are Black, Indigenous or people of colour, are ignored,” said report co-author Mitchell Reardon.

“This toolkit was created to go beyond eye-catching design, to help establish rapid placemaking processes that support engagement, inclusion and co-creation among the many people you’ll find on Main Streets across Canada,” said Reardon, Urban Planning and Design Lead at Happy City. “Getting this right is critical to a just pandemic recovery.”

By providing examples of programming and interventions, as well an inclusive process for rapid placemaking, the toolkit can be used by residents, community groups, BIAs/BIDs, and city staff to support local businesses and community.

The toolkit is part of the Bring Back Main Street project, a nationally– coordinated research and advocacy campaign committed to finding the best solutions to ensure our Main Streets recover from COVID–19 and emerge from the crisis more resilient than ever.

It was developed in the public interest by the Canadian Urban Institute, with the support of BIAs/ BIDs, city–makers and researchers from across the country.

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