Resilient Cities, Post COVID Strengthening Communities

Across all the responses we showcased, we are struck by the importance placed on principles of equity, access and people-first communities. There is consensus that we cannot build strong and resilient communities if many of the people in them face barriers to satisfying basic needs.

This piece originally appeared as a Future Cities Canada story on April 30, 2020. It can be found here.

COVID-19 is already creating irrevocable change in our communities. Threats we’ve detected and discounted due to skepticism are now changing how we relate, connect, and interact with one another and our environments. Initiatives we’ve championed for ages with little traction are now quickly taking shape around us as required innovations in our new context.

We’re seeing makeshift bike lanes on routes typically dominated by carsgovernment funds helping to house homeless populations across the country, and accelerated rollout of internet in rural areas.

Evergreen, Future Cities Canada and many others are beginning to explore what COVID-19 could mean for the future of Canadian cities.

As a first step towards this, we reached out to city-builders and community leaders from across the country for their perspectives on this question: How will COVID-19 change the future of cities?

A people-first approach

Across all the responses we showcased, we are struck by the importance placed on principles of equity, access and people-first communities. There is consensus that we cannot build strong and resilient communities if many of the people in them face barriers to satisfying basic needs.

The chronic stresses that communities face – like homelessness and housing unaffordability, underfunded or inefficient public transit systems, food insecurity and clean water shortages, social isolation, lack of internet access, and unemployment — are all amplified during times of crisis.

Equity cuts across the different themes these city builders explored, and as people continue to think about the future of cities – whether it be a conversation about public space, transit, housing, public health, education, municipal budgets, governance, or technology – they should continue to centre equity and social inclusion.

In the first of this series, we’re focusing on strengthening communities.

Toward a Deeply Embedded Sense of Community

Nadine Sookermany is the Executive Director of Women’s Health Clinic in Winnipeg. Nadine has spent over a decade in the non-profit sector working to end gender-based violence. Winnipeg, Manitoba

When I consider how this moment will change the future of cities, I remind myself that this question isn’t really about cities – the focus must be on communities and the ways this ‘pandemic’ has excluded and disconnected so many from their own communities – whether it be local, cultural, geographic, demographic and so much more. This moment has illustrated the myriad of ways we treat and most often exclude the most ‘vulnerable’ in our cities and speaks volumes about what we need to pay most attention to beyond COVID.

We must collectively ensure this crisis does not leave long-standing impacts on our communities – that we don’t continue to ‘socially’ or physically distance ourselves from those who are different from us – exacerbating class, race and other differences that create distance – but rather should truly bring us together. My hope is for true compassion and a more deeply embedded sense of community and social responsibility towards one another – as we were ‘all in this together’ – truly consider who we mean by ALL – during COVID and beyond.

We Are Only as Safe as…

Erika Shea is the Vice President of Development at New Dawn Enterprises, where she works to engage community to create a culture of self-reliance. Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

Cities in Canada have very different resources/capacities with which to respond to the challenges and opportunities revealed by COVID-19, and so will change differentially. While no city has unlimited resources, some will be able to respond much more proactively. Others will struggle, more than ever in the wake of COVID-19, to provide basic services and infrastructure to their residents.

We hope that this pandemic sparks a multi-level re-evaluation of the social contract in Canada and that the three levels of government ask themselves the question: what is it that all human beings need to be well?

We hope that in planning for future crises, cities will understand that (1) these kinds of events highlight, impact according to, and make worse existing inequalities and (2) we are all only as safe as the least protected among us.

The lessons we have begun to learn over the last few weeks are complex and their solutions call for coordination between levels of government. Among these lessons are the importance of access to: a guaranteed basic income, good housing, a home free of violence, clean water, healthcare, public health, mental health services, well-regulated seniors care, good affordable food, the arts, high speed Internet, and green space/nature. These are areas that, if targeted in post-recovery public spending, can help to bring about more just, equitable, and resilient cities and communities.

Cities have been intimate witnesses to both the devastation and the human goodness brought about by COVID-19 and now have a moment in which to reconstruct themselves in a way that lessens the former and nurtures the latter.

Who Gets to Thrive?

Samantha Matters is the Director of Ancestral Services at Future Ancestors Services. Samantha is an academic, published Indigenous researcher, and foresight strategist of Métis ancestry. Edmonton, Alberta

The coronavirus pandemic we are currently witnessing is highlighting the many inequities and unjust systems that exist within our cities during times of normalcy; this pandemic positions them directly in our field of view. Housing security, access to financial support, and the ability to adapt to advised working conditions are not experienced equally.

While it is impossible to predict how COVID-19 will change the future of cities, it is highly likely that as cities recover, a new normal will emerge. COVID-19 presents the opportunity to critically evaluate the root causes of systemic inequity and reimagine a better future. In doing so, we must all ask ourselves: who gets to thrive in this city, and who might be left behind?