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Remembering a City Worker Who Made a Difference

Posted by Daniel Hoornweg on September 09, 2015

People wandering through the labyrinth of booths of yet another UN urban conference in Nanjing (2008) or Rio de Janeiro (2010) may have stumbled across a friendly, unassuming man looking somewhat out of place at the Global Cities Institute – Cities Alliance stand. These types of conferences were not the typical work venue for Lorne Turner, Toronto’s manager of city performance.

Lorne was a city practitioner tasked with the professional, meaningful and honest monitoring not only of the progress of Toronto, but all cities. He firmly believed that cities – in Ontario, Canada and around the world - succeed when working together, and that measuring this progress is absolutely critical. Lorne was a ‘details-guy’ who knew small brushstrokes blended together paint a community, a country and, later in his life, how they could define urban life across the planet.

Lorne passed away last week after a long battle with cancer. He was in his role for almost 30 years (including Budget Director, North York from 1988 to 1997) and his passing is particularly poignant for city workers.

Lorne was quiet and modest; he fit his professional accountant stereotype well. He was also highly effective. Last year, the global city indicator standard was published (ISO 37120). This standard is important for all cities and is anchored to Lorne’s perseverance, commitment and his ability to keep the City of Toronto actively engaged for the more than ten years it took to develop the idea. The idea and the standard owes much of its existence to Lorne.

Lorne was one of the proudest supporters along with his boss, City Manager Joe Pennachetti, when on November 18th last year at London City Hall, UK, the Foundation Cities launched ISO 37120 with publication of their city data. Toronto was platinum rated, reporting 90 out of a 100 possible indicators. The WCCD Foundation Cities included: Amsterdam, Amman, Barcelona, Bogota, Boston, Buenos Aires, Dubai, Guadalajara, Haiphong, Helsinki, Johannesburg, London, Makati, Makkah, Minna, Melbourne, Rotterdam, Shanghai, Sao Paolo, and Toronto.

City workers like Lorne in Toronto, Eduarda La Rocque in Rio, Pak Sugiono and Liliansari Loedin in Jakarta, Edith Hsu-Chen in New York City, Jascha Franklin-Hodge in Boston, Jose Luis Paredes in La Paz, and Sarah Ward in Cape Town, are on the frontlines of city building, but they’re often overlooked. We tend to focus on the Mayor, the media-savvy city planner or star-architect, maybe even the urban academic, but it is also the millions of city workers like Lorne that make our cities work.

Lorne worked with the World Bank, Patricia McCarney, Director of the Global City Indicators Facility (and World Council on City Data), and fellow pilot cities, to develop a set of globally relevant and accepted city indicators and launch ISO 37120. Lorne is a wonderful example of how fighting city hall is never as effective as working with a good city-worker.

Many people argue that innovation, dynamism and drive are not traits typically associated with City Hall staff. Uber and Airbnb, for example, came from the ‘whiz kids’ of Silicon Valley, not from where they should have - a more knowledgeable and connected employee at some city hall. In the race to build better cities, rabbits like Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp (Uber), and Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia (Airbnb), of course have their place. But in the long run, the truly lasting legacies are built with the more tortoise-like contributions from city workers like Lorne Turner.

Thank you Lorne. Rest in peace.

Filed under: Sustainability 101