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Canada and the Seven Cs

Posted by Daniel Hoornweg on October 23, 2015

Canada’s incoming Liberal government campaigned on a program of support to cities and new infrastructure spending. There are several ways to maximize the return on these investments. These efforts may be the best way to enhance Canadian innovation and productivity, as well as provide truly meaningful global assistance.

Calgary, Edmonton, Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, and Winnipeg – Canada’s seven largest cities (urban regions) – are among the best managed in the world. The cities rate high on global rankings for livability, resilience and professionalism; and collectively their universities are second-to-none.

Students graduating today will see populations of the world’s cities double in their careers, but these new cities are not in Canada. Canadian urban-workers need to look to Asia, Africa and Latin America. Most of the new wealth this century will not be created in Canada or our traditional trading partners like the United States and Europe. The burgeoning cities of Asia, Africa and Latin America will determine much of our future. Canada’s cities, utilities and universities can both influence and benefit from this new urban growth.

The most important task at hand this century is the development and management of sustainable cities. The challenge of climate change, for example, will be won or lost in cities. Canada’s economy is most closely linked to the vigour of our cities. The better angels of our nature, found in our institutions and schools, businesses and homes, are best nurtured and shared through our cities.

True, the world needs more Canada, but more specifically the world needs more access to Canadian cities. And Canadian cities desperately need the world – global sustainability will only grow through cities working together. Of course we need to focus first on cities at home, but our larger cities can walk and chew gum at the same time.

We need to get more out of planned investments in these cities. Curling rinks and solar roofs are not needed at this time. Rather, ideas like home health care; self-driving vehicles and comprehensive ride-sharing; waste minimization (e.g. significantly reducing food waste); new economy employment; energy systems and supply; information management; better inclusion of First Nations, youth, and recent immigrants; respectful and effective public-private partnerships; and urban resilience; all need to be developed in an integrated manner. These seven cities especially should be the best at home, as well as fully woven into the fabric of the world’s global cities. 

Cities like Edmonton with their international waste management efforts, and Manitoba Hydro’s efforts to be the largest electrical utility in Lagos, Nigeria, already exhibit Canada’s capacities. But much more can be done.

A few relatively simple steps should be taken as part of the proposed new infrastructure spending in Canada’s ‘Seven Cs’. These include:

  • In the (regional) economic development office of each city, a full-time position should be established to promote the city globally within a concerted national urban effort.
  • The local governments that make up Canada’s larger cities, e.g. those in the 416, 647, 905 and 519 area-codes that are Greater Toronto, need to work together to develop regional approaches (key ingredients of urban sustainability).
  • Similarly universities and colleges in the Seven Cs need to provide co-ordinated access to programs for local and international students. Harmonized efforts in civil engineering, urban planning, data and information management, and community health are especially needed. The regions could emerge as global learning cities, similar to teaching hospitals.
  • Organizations like the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Canadian Urban Institute, International Institute for Sustainable Development, and Engineers Without Borders should be brought in as long-term partners.
  • The Seven Cs should quickly collect and publish their urban sustainability indicators through International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Certification 37120. They should encourage other cities to do the same – cities now have a common language (ISO 37120 was developed through the University of Toronto, now overseen by the not-for-profit World Council on City Data).
  • When the federal government and provincial agencies support infrastructure projects in the Seven Cs they should require, to the extent possible, common (and open) procurement methods, use of sustainability indicators for large-scale infrastructure, and inclusion of local and international student internships within the projects.
  • Enhanced efforts are needed with the citizens of the Seven Cs to discuss in an ongoing manner the technical and financial underpinnings of proposed projects, e.g. how can time-of-use pricing help, what are the costs of delays, who benefits most (and should pay the most).
  • In providing additional infrastructure funds to the seven cities, the cities should publish globally available ‘discussion documents’ (updated every five years) with specific targets for activities like greenhouse gas emission reductions, housing, poverty reduction, international partnerships, and regional transportation initiatives (most of this already exists, but regular, costed, measured and monitored progress toward specific local and broader national and global goals will serve as a catalyst for more local action and partnership development).
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it (Goethe) and there is power in optimism and action. Our cities are our most powerful tool, at home and abroad. Canada has the ability to be bolder and export much more than optimism and good intentions. By working together to make our cities more accessible to the world and helping our cities to quickly learn from others, we can lead in the building of sustainable communities.

Filed under: Sustainability 101