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December 15, 2020

Six #UnexpectedSolutions for the Future of Our Cities

If there is anything that 2020 has reminded us of, it’s the fundamental truth that we are all profoundly interconnected. The silos we’ve built up between us need to be broken down, because we cannot effectively address and fix what we refuse to acknowledge. This moment we are living through right now is an urgent one, and many of us recognize we need to collectively decide a different course for the futures of our cities.   

It is with this in mind that we take a moment to reflect on #UnexpectedSolutions. With 75 sessions and 210 speakers, the six weeks covered an extraordinary amount of ground across a diversity of people, sectors and priorities with conversations both inspiring and generative. There is no shortage of pressing issues communities are facing, and it will take all of us with our unique skills, experiences and perspectives to advance innovative solutions, together.   

We are excited to let you know that this wealth of content lives on in our Community Solutions Portal. By registering for free, you will be granted unlimited access to these sessions and solutions, plus all of our other curated content, reports and podcasts for city builders.   

Here are six solutions (and six insightful sessions) to get you started:  

1. TD Future Cities Speaker Series: In Conversation with Edward Burtynsky and Kate Taylor, Visual Art Critic, The Globe and Mail 

The sheer magnitude of the climate crisis is sometimes hard for us to comprehend and visualize. One of the most powerful impacts of Edward Burtynsky’s work is showing, at scale, the devastation and degradation that global industrialization has wrought. It’s impossible to look at his work and not feel galvanized to create change.  

In this session, Burtynsky and Taylor covered many ideas around how technology can be harnessed to  be a positive force to address the climate crisis.  

Solution: build medium density, five-storey self-sustaining homes. Think: less urban sprawl by building homes that are carbon neutral; homes which themselves can be used as energy sources through being connected to the grid.  

Watch the session here.

2.  Learning from the Land: A Conversation on Protocols and Indigenous Public Art 

This timely conversation explored the question of: who does Indigenous art in non-Indigenous spaces serve? As David Garneau, Professor of Visual Arts at the University of Regina noted, “For more than a century, native art has been pressed to serve Canadian nationalism rather than Indigenous sovereignty.”  

If Canada is serious about reconciliation, there needs to be an acknowledgement that public spaces have changed, and so too, public art and its purpose must change with it. This session featured a number of Indigenous artists and teachers to share learnings around First Nations, Inuit and Métis public art, followed by a discussion to ideate protocols for how we may champion public art in good relations between Indigenous peoples and settlers in Canada.  

Panelist Catherine Tammaro, Artist and Wyandot Faithkeeper, urged that these protocols should not be empty rhetoric – they should be firmly grounded in more than what we say – it’s about what we do. Solution: Let’s shift the landscape of Indigenous Public Art is to change public calls from being focused on people and things and instead focus on relationships. How might this change public art? 

Watch the session here.

3. Dis[connect]: Connect People to Places 

Placemaking in third spaces has dramatically changed throughout the pandemic.  

Innovation and adaptation have been the mainstay of continuing this vital work that connects us, especially at a time when we must physically stay apart.  

In this session, we heard from placemaking experts from The Seattle Center, Navy Pier, and Stratford Theatre Festival, each of whom have pivoted their placemaking efforts to quickly respond to needs – bearing in mind that enhancing and communicating health and safety protocols will likely continue to be a major priority even after COVID-19 ends. Solution: Be multi-faceted in approach. The Seattle Center repurposed their event spaces as emergency shelters, created a hygiene trailer, hosted a free testing centre on-site and provided rent relief.  

Watch the session here. 

4. Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge: Catching Up with the Winners 

It’s been a whirlwind journey thus far for the four winning communities of Canada’s Smart Cities Challege since being announced winners in May 2019. In this session, the team leads for the winning projects came together to unpack and reflect on the insights and lessons learned as their journey continues. Speakers from Montreal (QC), Guelph and Wellington County (ON), Bridgewater (NS) and the Katinnganiq Makerspace Network (Nunavut) ground their discussion within these local contexts, and how they are being affected by the current pandemic. 

Collectively, the winners agreed the pandemic has made their challenge and solutions even more urgent. In some cases, they had to recalibrate their solutions to be responsive to shifting community needs. One challenge winner, Energize Bridgewater in Nova Scotia, had originally developed a coordinated energy management info system and access approach. Solution: When the pandemic arrived, they were able to pivot to rapidly assemble a food delivery service to meet urgent needs, even though that marked a radical departure from their initial focus. 

The lesson here is that we come together to do what needs to be done. Their thoughtful reflections highlighted how these kinds of local projects are the heart and souls of communities. 

Watch the session here.

5. The Right to Housing

In a candid conversation, Evan Siddall, President and CEO, CMHC and Leilani Farha, Global Director, The Shift looked at housing as a commodity, as a fundamental human right and as a heart of inclusive, connected communities. Though Siddall and Farha come to this conversation from remarkably different perspectives, this only adds to the depth of reflections they both share, as Siddall’s time as President and CEO of CMHC draws to a close. 

The former banker and the human rights activist agree on the solution: a national housing strategy in Canada, against the backdrop of a global pandemic, needs to take into account local contexts and ensure no one gets left behind. Let’s work together to see it done. 

Watch the session here.

6. Building Our Urban Futures: Inside Canada’s Infrastructure Strategy 

Canada’s historical underinvestment in infrastructure has reached a critical crossroads. Despite increased investment in infrastructure in recent years, we still have a significant gap between our collective needs and current projections. The scope of this challenge is enormous.   

That we face a profoundly different future, with more complex, fast-moving, and interdependent challenges is no longer in question. How we go about approaching it however, most certainly is. In this session, city builders Jennifer Keesmat and Chris Luebkeman join Andy Fillmore and explored whether Canadian cities are prepared for the entwined issues of climate change and inequality. And if they aren’t prepared, where do we go from here? Solution: Use a framework like the 15-minute city to retrofit existing spaces to adapt to climate change and prioritize affordable housing and transit. 

Watch the session here.  

You can access these sessions, and many more, through the Community Solutions Network Portal.