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Canadians Owed Billions For Good Ideas

By: Tristan Cleveland, Our HRM Alliance Coordinator and Halifax Convenor for We Are Cities 

Maybe you could help me calculate something. If Canadians were paid consultant rates for their ideas for cities, how much would they be owed daily?


How many people are chatting right now in barber shops and at bus-stops? How many conversations about transit? About a street? About parks and business? There must be billions of dollars in value being produced daily. How much of that value is getting used?


We Are Cities is a platform to capture some of that value, to turn good ideas into reality.  


In Halifax, it was natural for our organization, Our HRM Alliance, to get onboard with the initiative. The Alliance is a coalition of groups that advocates for sustainable development, and many of the changes we believe in require action at the provincial and national level. 


So here’s how you turn those local conversations into national action. Roundtables are being held in cities across the country to bring people together who are burning to get their thoughts out there. The ideas generated get posted to a website where anyone can vote for the best ones. Later this year, all that input will be turned into a Canadian Cities Action Plan. At that point, everyone who participated will be allies in getting these ideas implemented. 


The Halifax roundtable produced impressive proposals. A representative from the United Way, Paul Shakotko, suggests that cities need to set a goal that 80% of everyone's daily needs be within walking distance of their home. As someone who works directly with marginalized communities, he sees how they are disproportionately affected when food, transit, employment, healthcare, and everything else can’t be accessed by foot. Achieving such a goal will require a fundamental change in the kinds of new communities we allow to be built. 


Another participant, from a local architecture firm, proposes that new Councillors be given a mandatory crash-course in planning best-practice. He finds it frustrating that decisions are being made without basic understanding of what has already worked in other cities.


But one of the most valuable outcomes of the roundtable was simply to have some of these people in the same room. Cycling, transit, and walkability advocates, business owners and representatives, architects, planners, municipal staff, and the Deputy Chief of Police, all got to sit at the same table and have an open conversation about their perspectives, and they often aligned. The greatest challenge is that there simply wasn’t time to allow those conversations to sprout plans for what they could do together. We’re therefore planning on bringing these participants back together this summer to keep the conversation going. 


We will also be hosting a roundtable in Sackville, a suburb of Halifax, to ensure that the needs and goals of suburban residents are a part of this conversation. 


The health and success of Canadian cities depends on our ability to collect and implement the best ideas. We Are Cities is demonstrating one way to make this happen. Its impact, however, depends on how many people get involved. We’re excited to be part of it, and we hope you will be too.