Are we talking about a revolution? A case for the core

In this CityTalk, we explored why downtowns matter, and what their possible futures are in light of recent trends and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

5 Key

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

1. We have an opportunity to rethink our downtowns

Jennifer Barrett is CUI’s Senior Planner and author of The Case for the Core report. Downtowns are iconic symbols of urban life and belonging, core to the identities and economies of cities. In the wake of COVID-19, downtowns have become places of great contrast, high anxiety, and uncertain futures. According to Jennifer, urban Canada needs bold action. By making the right choices today, downtowns of the future can be more equitable, vibrant, flexible, livable, and resilient.

2. Downtowns as spaces of contention

Vulnerable populations will continue to be drawn to downtowns to receive supports unavailable elsewhere. The multifaceted opioid, homelessness, and pandemic crises have made street-involved people highly visible. Two panelists acknowledged that while their cities have been successful in harm reduction for injection drug users, they have lacked in areas of public education, treatment, and meaningful enforcement. Canada’s downtowns are facing similar problems as evidenced by forceful, high-profile encampment evictions across the country. There is a need for downtowns to learn from each other to avoid making the same mistakes and to properly manage conflicting uses of space.

3. The federal government has the cash, the provinces have the jurisdiction, the cities face the problem

Municipal governments and business organizations must face the brunt of urban issues. But due to jurisdictional constraints, cities are ill-equipped to tackle these social problems. Paul MacKinnon, CEO of Downtown Halifax Business Commission, calls for the need to break down jurisdictional silos and boldly calls for the creation of a national downtown summit. The funding models municipalities rely upon are lacking and must be reconsidered to better provide services and improve the vitality of downtown cores.

4. BIA 2.0

Business improvement districts and downtown development organizations have existed in North America for 80 years and they need to evolve. Innovative BIA practices go beyond the needs of businesses by considering the health of the wider community. In downtown Halifax, the business community funds a social worker, as part of its navigator program, whose main role is to engage with street-involved individuals directing them into services and checking up on them daily. According to Mark Garner, Executive Director of Downtown Yonge BIA, “If you’re not waking up every morning and doing good work to change the neighbourhood that you live in, then you need to start doing it.”

5. Urbanites must recommit themselves to living in a diverse environment

The role of downtown as a gathering place for diverse peoples can serve as a means for cross-cultural and cross-socioeconomic connections. The vitality of Canada’s downtown cores hinges upon inclusivity. Nolan Marshall, CEO of the Downtown Vancouver BIA, calls for better communication strategies that promote diversity and equity. “It’s not just about gathering people from different backgrounds, race, culture, and a place. It’s about giving them a real equity ownership stake in that. And I think that’s going to be transformative to our downtowns going forward.”



Full Panel

Note to readers: This video session was transcribed using auto-transcribing software. Manual editing was undertaken in an effort to improve readability and clarity. Questions or concerns with the transcription can be directed to with “transcription” in the subject line.

Mary Rowe [00:01:02] Hi, everybody, it’s Mary Rowe from the Canadian Urban Institute, welcoming you to yet another jam packed session of CityTalk, this time about the future of downtowns and how can we go about restoring the core. We host these things in various parts of the country. Last week we were in Halifax for the week doing a CUI local, and Puneeta will remember we – That’s right, Paul. We saw you a few times. Puneeta will remember we were in Edmonton doing the same kind of a process a number of months ago. We’re coming west, your neighborhood, Nolan. In a couple of weeks we’re going to be in Vancouver and Victoria in October. And I just always reinforce that we’re in the connective tissue business, folks. We’re trying to make the case for what urban environments in Canada, where 80 percent of the population, 80 plus percent of the population live and where the economy and social innovation and all things are driven from in this country. And so what does that mean for us? What does that mean for policymakers? What does it mean for investors? What does it mean for people living in their communities and how we design them, manage them and and hopefully thrive in them? And the pandemic has been an extraordinary moment for us to rethink urban environments and figure out how do we do it better, how do we do it differently. And this Restore the Core work is all about focusing, training our attention to a very specific, unique component of urban Canada, which is the downtowns, the central business districts, and it stems from a lot of our work looking at main streets. So a lot of these folks that are here joining us have been in the trenches doing this and watching it and working it in their local communities and we’re just delighted to have them. Mark Garner was involved at the ground, the very beginning of this initiative. And so we’re delighted to have all of you and Paul, who also, as you all were, and they’ve been very patient as we’ve been trying to push, push, push to figure out what needs to change.


Mary Rowe [00:02:50] And I’m just going to encourage people to plug into the chat where you’re coming from. As you know, we broadcast these live and then we repurpose them and send them out and send them out and send them out and they get – they do get watched. There are lots of Canadians and Americans who lie in bed at night and watch a CityTalk like go figure, or they show to their class or they show it to colleagues. And so I’m encouraging people to do that, to always go in. We have 100 of these darn things and there are so many people on them that have been so smart, said such smart things and they have a lot of lasting time. You know, you continue to learn as you watch again and you think again and that none of these, as we always say, the conversation doesn’t end here. It just begins. And so we encourage you to do that. And similarly, when you identify yourself in the chat, tell us where you’re coming from and also just know that everything you put in the chat stays in the chat. And we publish that, too, because lots of people put great ideas and solutions. And before, you know, there’s a parallel universe over there coming up with all sorts of important things. So remember on Zoom that we you can hear us, but we can’t hear you. We do have closed captioning. If it’s driving you nuts and you don’t want to see that little ticker tape thing, go to the bottom of your screen, you can disable it. And we just encourage people to put, as I suggested, questions in the chat and we’ll try to get to them on the program.


Mary Rowe [00:04:07] As I said, Toronto, a national entity, work at Toronto – CUI is a national entity. Every Canadian just shuddered when I said that misstep that the Toronto was a national entity. We happen to be headquartered in Toronto historically, but we have colleagues, including my beloved colleague in the planning department, Jen Barrett, who’s in Ottawa having moved from Regina. And so we continue to foster and build connections across the country. But here I am located today in Toronto, which is the traditional territory of many nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Annishnabec, the Chippewa, the Haudenasaunee and the Wendat peoples, and now home to many, many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Metis people. Tomorrow will be our first National Day of Reconciliation and recognizing the impact of residential schools across this country and other forms of abuse and discrimination that continue to affect the legacy of how we’ve built our communities in Canada and how we’ve built our society in Canada. So tomorrow CUI will close. We are dedicating ourselves to some kind of active observance in the communities in which we work and live to acknowledge this, to continue the journey of understanding what reconciliation really involves and what truth really involves. And I’m delighted to have Nolan on this call because Nolan has come from New Orleans, where he and I actually crossed paths post-Katrina, and he has some experience of other kinds of approaches to reconciliation across race and culture. And so I’m very appreciative that today is that is the beginning of that process, not the end. And tomorrow we will acknowledge that. And so, as I was suggesting, Toronto, also home to Mississaugas of the Credit and Treaty 13 and the Williams Treaties. And the what was interesting being in the east with you, Paul, and hearing how in Halifax the Indigenous connections are acknowledged and in terms of unceded territories. And what the legacy of that is and how you’re, in fact, in that community with the Mi’kmaw, trying to figure out how do you embrace that and how do you actually, how do we move forward together in ways that are just and and reflective of the commitment this country has made to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.


Mary Rowe [00:06:20] So we provocatively called this session, “Are we talking about a revolution?” I talked to the Globe and Mail this week. He was with Alex with the Globe and Mail. He’s a person not as old as me, but of a certain generation who got a kick out of that name. But we know that anybody under 50 maybe doesn’t really get ‘talking about a revolution’, but those of us of a certain age appreciate. Is this our sixties moment for really, re-identifying, reimagining what our urban environments and particularly our downtowns need to look like? And so this report that Jen anchored with many, many, many contributors, including all the folks on this call and underwriters and inputters, and she’s going to take you through it and just give you kind of highlights about what we’re saying when we say, how do we make the case for the core, remembering that a lot – I mean, I’m sure you guys will corroborate this with me. There are a lot of people across the country that sort of think, oh, really, really? I have an anecdote about this, which is when I was in Halifax last week, I invited an old old friend of mine who lives in Dartmouth, which is across the river part of the Regional Municipality of Halifax. And now she’s of advanced years and she’s lived there all her life. And I said, would you like to have lunch on Saturday? And I said, I’m going to be over here in Halifax. This neighbor, she said, oh, she said, I haven’t come to Halifax during COVID. People that know HRM know that we’re talking about driving across a bridge, so downtown is not necessary – and Dartmouth has its own downtown which complicates things. So I guess that’s part of the question. Back to you, Jen, is how are we going to define downtowns and what what are they going to evolve and look like? So I’m looking forward to hearing what Mark and Puneeta and Paul and Nolan will say after you just get us started in terms of what you learned and why you think we need to be provoked to think about making the case for the core. So over to you. Welcome to Jen, who is an Ottawa at this very moment, fresh back from Halifax.


Jennifer Barrett [00:08:32]  Good afternoon and good morning, everyone, it’s a pleasure to be here today to give you a short overview of the Case for the Core report, which will provide the background and the substance for our conversation today. So, as Mary mentioned the Case for the Core report comes out of two initiatives of CUI: Bring Back Main Street and Restore the Core, both initiatives which are aiming to create a healthy, vibrant, inclusive, main streets and downtown. And these initiatives bring together stakeholders and decision makers, are part of a national campaign and a national narrative and are really aiming to evaluate possible impacts and inform outcomes. So the work for the Case for the Core report was started earlier this year to evaluate the specific challenges and needs of downtowns and central business districts in Canada’s eight largest cities, which will act as kind of perspectives, which can be, of course, expanded across Canada’s other main streets and downtown. So at this point in the pandemic, it’s obvious that main streets and downtown, of course, have been hit hard by COVID and that bold action is needed. And that’s really the basis for the case, for the core report. We know our main streets to be symbols of urban life, providing essential and non-essential services to individuals, residents and the home to many local businesses. And Canada’s downtowns are providing a core identity to our cities. They are the economic engine, the places that attract workers, residents and visitors, and also home to our educational and other institutions. To give you a sense of the importance of downtown, as noted in the report, average on average downtowns make up just two tenths of a percent of the land area of the metro area. But they provide a home to approximately four percent of the residential population, their home of 70 percent of jobs and 15 percent of the local GDP. Perhaps even more significant is that when we look at the combined outcome of the eight cities that are profiled in the report, they provide fifty five percent of Canada’s overall GDP. And the impacts of COVID to downtown on Main Street supports are prevalent if you spend time in these areas. So we see a decrease in office workers, a decrease in public transit use and footfall, resulting in fewer customers and inactive streets and streetscapes. Downtowns that have empty during the day and night are also getting the hospitality industry. And this decline in industry, of course, is in contrast to the challenges of providing and continuing to provide safe services to our vulnerable populations throughout the pandemic. So with these combined factors, Canada’s downtowns in many ways have become these places of great contrasts in areas of high anxiety or uncertain futures. So the report aims to answer several questions. What are the core functions of our downtown? And the report outlines nine functions of the downtown. What trends have impacted the downtown during COVID? What are the possible scenarios or implications from our down for for our downtowns based on COVID and future recovery? And what bold ideas can we take away from our current learning and experiences to transform our downtowns? And throughout this work, several issues became apparent, so downtowns throughout Canada and internationally are on different trajectories. That is some towards decreasing affordability and diversity, but others towards abandonment or neglect. We realized through this work that restoring the core as it is or as it was isn’t the best or only option. This is really an opportunity to rethink our downtowns. And the Case for the Core report really aims to provoke new questions and to rethink our downtowns for a different outcome for recovery.


Jennifer Barrett [00:12:20] Using the methodology of strategic foresight, the Case for the Core report evaluates and imagines some possible outcomes for our downtowns. And I’ll take you through the three scenarios that are envisioned in the report. Scenario one titled “When the Lights Go Out” imagines a downtown which includes continuous exodus, so businesses and residents, continue to leave the core of the city. And this results in disinvestment from the public and private sectors. We see an increase in commercial vacancies resulting in both living wage and low wage jobs, leaving the core retail and service industries, of course, struggles to survive and either close or moved to other parts of the city. Vehicles dominate in terms of mobility. Social service demand continues to increase, but organizations struggle to provide the services needed. And there is a perception of downtown as being unsafe. Scenario two is a continuation of where many cities were on, the direction of many cities were going prior to COVID. So this we’ve titled, “Nothing’s Going to Change Our World”, really a continuation of the status quo and this resulting in greater inequalities, unaffordability, affordability or lack of flexibility or innovation. So increasing housing prices, causing displacement or homelessness. A flexible work model that is now embraced but creates inconsistent activity downtown, which makes it difficult for businesses to stay. Precarious situations for many resulting such as essential workers or creatives who now need to be further from the core and perhaps are either struggling with longer commute times or inconsistent work and employment and a greater unrest and a lack of flexible and policy solutions, resulting in a lack of change and innovative solutions at a time when it’s needed most.


Jennifer Barrett [00:14:08] Scenario three is the desirable scenario, and this is where we come to talking about a revolution, so this is a scenario in which we envision or reimagine our downtowns as diverse, inclusive and vibrant. This might include the adaptive reuse of commercial buildings to create more affordable housing or more diversity of housing types. Underutilized ground floor spaces could be transformed into active uses that animate our streetscapes, active transportation and public realm investments increase creating more movement and mobility on the street. Infrastructure is enhanced, including serving those who need it most. New models of community policing are established creating a greater social support system, and social cohesion is restored. So this, including social justice, reconciliation and restorative justice, which is not only present in the activities in our downtown, but also in the way that we name and use our public spaces in our streets. So the goal of the next round of work coming out of the Restore the Core report is to really focus on the choices we make today in order to enhance and change our futures for downtowns and main streets. So this means evaluating the decisions we make to create equitable, vibrant, flexible, livable and resilient communities. And using the Case for the Core report, CUI will work next to workshops scenarios in the report in cities throughout Canada. So we spent some time in Halifax this week workshopping the ideas in the report to create context sensitive responses that could help to shape this recovery. We hope to share ideas and lessons nationally beyond using the platforms we have, including CityTalk, our Bring Back Main Street initiative or Restore the Core initiative and other collaborative and partnership projects, and to really be able to test different solutions on the ground. So not only talking about the recovery and the ideas behind the report, but really helping to enact them on the ground and finally to engage governments to be a part of the solution. On that, turn it over to Mary and the panelists to lead discussion on possible outcomes for recoveries of our downtowns and main streets. Thank you, everyone.


Mary Rowe [00:16:25] Thanks, Jen. Again, I think this is in March of this year, we had a big thing with people. We had a number of people from around in Europe and in the US talking about what was happening in downtowns. It was a kind of Mel Gibson like dystopia happening in a lot of places. And some of those people continue to advise us. And we heard both from Richard Florida and Bruce Katz earlier in the week when we sent them advanced drafts. They are continuing to reinforce that this is a discussion that needs to happen. I have my own little anxiety here, which is that people are so fed up with the level of inconvenience and stress and uncertainty that they’ve had to live with, that they just want it all to go away and they think it’s all going to be fine and we’re going to go. They just want things back to normal. And there are, I think, even people who will walk along a street, for instance a main street, see that there are a lot of people and think, oh, yeah, well, we’re good. You know, I’m interested to hear from you folks whether you think we’re good. And Puneeta, I’m going to go to you first, because Alberta is in the throes of a very intense experience of COVID in a way that is, I’m sure, just unbelievably stressful and disheartening for all of you. And so you’re not anywhere near post-COVID. And and I want to get a sense from you, but you’re also in jurisdictions where you’re downtowns in Alberta have been struggling for a bit longer because the economy started to transition a number of years ago. So you’ve been in this kind of shock, reimagining mode, perhaps longer than some of our colleagues have. And so you’ve got the jump on us. So can you just talk to us a little bit about what your perspective is about this focus and what you’re seeing and what you think needs to be the way in which we’re going to get people’s attention about why we need to make a case for the core. So I’m going to go to you first, Puneeta in Edmonton.


Puneeta McBryan [00:18:22] And thank you so much, Mary, and thanks for that summary, Jennifer. This is such a such an important report. You know, Calgary in Alberta in particular, has really sort of been this this case study, this cautionary tale about a downtown that is super reliant on on one particular industry in their case, that is hyper reliant on a on a very sort of corporate office, traditional central business district. But yeah, you’re right. Like Edmonton hasn’t been that far behind in our office. Vacancy rate is now creeping somewhere around 20 percent, which is a pretty key indicator for us because our residential base is not huge. And that is one thing that also sets us apart from some of our peers. So it’s we’re very fortunate that we’re actually in the middle of a municipal election right now in Edmonton. It’s October 18th, and we’ve been able to have our downtown truly be at the forefront and the center of the conversation about this election, which has been really helpful because it helps us cement this as a priority for the entire city. Everyone is talking about what happens when a downtown ceases to be vibrant, ceases to be attractive, ceases to encourage businesses to locate here and to want to live here. Some of that is helpful. Again, pointing to Calgary and looking at their tax shift, really having their tax base, two hundred fifty million dollars and three years get shifted to certain neighborhoods outside of the downtown. So we’re doing everything we can to prioritize this conversation with all of our candidates for mayor and and for council. And and this COVID situation that Alberta is in is devastating because we were just creeping back to some form of normal. Things were feeling OK and now we’re under another mandatory work from home order. And just the uncertainty at this point is is absolutely devastating. So I think it’s safe to say that. But we’re all holding our breath a little bit.


Mary Rowe [00:20:47] Yeah, you must feel like you’re in this stop start.


Puneeta McBryan [00:20:52] Yeah, it’s I can’t even a number of conversations I’ve had with businesses who rely on office worker traffic, on residents who felt like, oh, people are back, I feel safe again, and then we’re right back to where we were just yeah, it’s it’s the whiplash. It’s the like the constant low grade stresser that’s just there that is grating on everyone’s state of mind and mental health. And you can’t plan, you can’t plan for your business. You can’t plan for your life. You can’t say definitively as a downtown resident, I’m going to stay downtown because it feels like everything is stacked up against you.


Mary Rowe [00:21:35] Yeah, I mean, it is as you say, it’s a it just sort of makes any kind of remediation almost impossible for you at the moment. You’ve got to still get them into coach mode right now. I know that Ottawa, the City of Ottawa has a similar experience because the Government of Canada is not coming back. So they haven’t had this. They have not had the experience of the fourth way quite acutely, acutely as you’re having it. But they have two major employers, the office worker sector that’s employed by the Government of Canada and the tech sector, none of which is coming back into their offices and so what you know and what’s going to happen to their central business district? OK, let’s go to Noland if we can and hear from your perspective, you’re a newcomer to Vancouver. You have a history there of downtown having, I would say, a kind of visceral experience of the conflicting uses of downtowns, because the Downtown Eastside is right in downtown and you have a large population of vulnerable population that exists and it could coexist. And now we have a contaminated drug supply. We have opioid deaths outnumbering COVID deaths along the West Coast. And so I’m assuming that that is going to inform your recovery strategies for your downtown or downtowns. So welcome to Canada, Nolan, and welcome to your gig in Vancouver. And we’re keen, keen, keen to hear from you, what you’re seeing and what you why you think restoring the core is an important conversation that we need to have.


Nolan Marshall [00:23:06] And thank you for having me. It’s it’s quite interesting, the similarities that you wouldn’t imagine between a place like New Orleans and a place like Vancouver, they’re both surrounded by water. But after that, you would think that’s where the similarities would end. In New Orleans, Mary, you’ll recall Charity Hospital closed after Hurricane Katrina and Charity Hospital was the public hospital where everyone who needed mental health services was treated. And because that hospital closed, we saw an uptick in homelessness, an uptick in distressed people in the community. And because of the climate of New Orleans, we also saw an increase of people, even after Hurricane Katrina, gravitating towards a city where they could exist, year-round and in relative comfort. And so in Vancouver, we were seeing something similar. They the Riverview Hospital, which closed a number of years ago, has contributed to the increase in distress that we see on the streets. The temperate climate, and the same desirability that the tech industry and other industries have for Vancouver that I and my family have for Vancouver as the same reason anyone would want to be here. People on the streets who are very mobile population want to be here. And so the strategy, as I understood it, was a four pillar strategy here in Vancouver. It was treatment, enforcement, education and harm reduction. And we’ve done a really good job of harm reduction, but haven’t done a really good job of treatment, of enforcement and of education. And when I think about what the recovery will look like for downtown Vancouver, I think about getting back to sort of the traditional things that we would do at downtown management: activations, making sure the place is clean, economic development, making sure we have a vibrant retail corridor. But often, first and foremost, it’s public safety. And I know coming from a place like New Orleans and it doesn’t help to repeat this over and over again, that downtown Vancouver is probably one of the safest places in North America. It’s one of the safest downtowns you could find. It certainly doesn’t have the issues that I had when I worked for the downtown development district in New Orleans, where we had during my time there to my four years there, we had six people shot at the same bus stop. So it certainly doesn’t have those issues. But when you walk down Granville Street and it’s not as populated by office workers as it once was, but you see people who are harming themselves that makes you feel unsafe. And so I understand the liberalization policies and the reason why we would have that approach to drug use. But if you’re not leaning into treatment, if you’re not providing true supportive housing to people when you house them and instead you’re just buying old hotels and converting them into SROs, you’re creating an environment where people feel unsafe because you feel unsafe when you walk past people who are actively harming themselves on the street. And so that is that is issue number one. How do we provide the other three forms of the harm reduction strategy? Seems to be an appropriate one, but how do we figure out how to do meaningful enforcement that puts people on the path to transition? And how do we give people the right treatment and how do we do education that that social part of of downtown management, that social service part is going to be critical as we think about what it looks like in the future.


Mary Rowe [00:26:54] Thanks, Nolan. It’s interesting, you know, I yesterday had a good conversation with Tim Tompkins, who many of you know and I know he was talking to Mark today, former director of the Times Square Alliance in New York City. And we were talking about and Paul, this will be something that’ll be ties right in with what we were doing with you last week, that the role of the business improvement district or the downtown development organizations that exist, the kinds of infrastructure that we created for 50, 60, 80 years in North American cities, in fact has to morph now. It has to become something quite different than it maybe once was. And when we were in Halifax with Paul and we saw his organization employs navigators, which are people that are actually working with populations that have mental health challenges, are not securely housed or for whatever set of interesting, whatever set of complicated reasons are not being provided the support they need in the system and they end up in downtown environments. And so I might actually go to you next, Paul, about that, about the kinds of interventions that we need to be thinking about and the kinds of supports and who should be providing them to really make these downtowns continue to be vibrant and then, Mark, after you finish swigging your water, I want to I want to follow up with something Nolan just said about hospitals, because I know that Yonge Street has become, the spine of Toronto, has become a kind of lightning rod for health, the breakdown of health care supports in the downtown. And what does that look like? And what do you, because we know that downtowns are going to continue. I hope they will continue to have hospitals located in downtowns. I think it’s a problem if they don’t. But at the same time, it it creates these kinds of conflicts around users and support some of what Nolan just got at. So first to you, Paul, to talk a little bit about how do we equip ourselves? What are the what are the kinds of ways we need to organize to provide this kind of nurturing of a downtown? And then to you, Mark, to talk a little bit about what you’re seeing on Yonge Street. Go ahead, Paul.


Paul MacKinnon [00:29:01] Thanks, Mary. And hello, everyone. Welcome from Halifax or Kjipuktuk as the Mi’kmaw people called it, and that means Big Harbor. And I just got a text from someone, a Haligonian, which is what we call ourselves for whatever reason, texted me to say, “did Mary say that you crossed the river to come from Dartmouth to Halifax?” and I’d be remiss if I didn’t say, “No, you cross the harbor.” Second largest icebreaker.


Mary Rowe [00:29:21] Thank you. So thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And I appreciate that I make these mistakes. I referred to the bird inlet last night when I was talking to New Orleans City Council. I completely buggered up that one, too. So thank you for the correction. I always appreciate being corrected. Not the river, a big body of water, a.k.a. the harbor between Halifax and Dartmouth, all part of HRM.


Paul MacKinnon [00:29:43] That’s right. All part of the I think it’s the second largest city in Canada anyway. Yeah, these these are great questions. And we were we’ve been we’ve been going through this this process. We had the you know, the folks from from CUI had this whole CUI x Local we hosted the Art of City Building Conference. Amazing conversations we had last week. And really we’re trying to get beyond some of the sound bites. So we’re in the midst of of doing this new economic strategy. And so we’re all talking about inclusive economic growth, which is kind of a new buzzword, an important one. And making inclusive places is something that downtown organizations like ourselves have always been about. We always say we like to have places that are welcoming for everyone. They’re barrier free and everyone can go there and find a place. But then when you look at it from the actual, you know, an actual example, I’ll use one that some people may know. So we have a park that’s in our in our downtown, kind of in the southern part of our downtown. It used to be called Cornwallis Park. It was named for the founder of Halifax, a British governor who who was really kind of a horrible person. And so we decided through a great process, actually, I thought a really good process to remove the statue, rename the park. It’s now called Peace and Friendship Park to honor the peace and friendship treaties. And so that park really became a bit of a hotbed very recently because it’s had some investment, there’s a brand new playground there, which brings families down. There’s high end shopping. Adjacent to the park is a beautiful, historic hotel. It’s right there. And as we’re seeing these homeless encampments crop up across across all of our downtowns, there was one that cropped up in that area. So it had an interesting situation where you kind of had an inclusive place. You had everyone in that park, you had families with kids, you had homeless people. You had high end retail shoppers. You had tourists that were starting to come back in anyway. And as some of you may have seen from national headlines and pictures, that didn’t work at all to the point where actually the police went in forcibly remove people from the park. This went south very quickly. Protesters showed up, pepper spray was employed, basically kind of a version of what happened in Toronto. So this is a black mark for Halifax. And it really was an example of, you know, it’s these are difficult and challenging issues. That’s an example of where all the challenges of downtown are kind of manifest in one particular area. And and we had this goal of creating an inclusive park. We kind of did it, but then we kind of really blew it. And so we can’t just say, hey, let’s have an inclusive park. You know, we’ve really got to dove deep into these issues. And the example where all these issues, including the ones in the recent federal election and our own recent provincial election, all the key issues are downtown issues. You know, whether it’s housing or whether it’s reconciliation, whether it’s handguns, whatever it is, even though we haven’t been talking much about downtowns, I don’t think we at the federal election, we didn’t much at the provincial and our recent provincial election, you know, but these are all downtown issues. So we’ve got to insert ourselves into the process. That’s all a long way to say this is all very complicated. As Mary said, we do have a navigator program that’s essentially an individual. He’s a social worker. He’s funded by the business community. He works for the business community. But his main role is to engage with the street involved individuals to try to direct them into it, services or housing or employment or or even just to check on them to make sure they’re doing OK on a daily basis. The other thing I forgot to mention was lack of coordination. The direction of the encampments happened while our navigator was away for two weeks because he was getting married. And so there was just a complete breakdown of communication. That was it’ll be a good test case of. You know of how not to deal with homeless encampments, I would say, but that’s not to say that our city doesn’t have great intentions and our city is struggling with how to deal with things like housing, because in Nova Scotia, housing is not a municipal responsibility. Social services are not a municipal responsibility. They’re provincial one. And so I think it’s a great example of how we need to kind of break down some of these barriers. We need some some big top down approaches. We need a national downtown summit. We’ll talk more about that, I’m sure, later today. But we need to kind of break down some of these silos and have government talking with business commissions and other community groups to figure out how do we how do we kind of share the responsibility and work together on some of these issues? Because they’re they’re not easy. There’s no easy solutions for most of these things.


Mary Rowe [00:33:47] I like the idea of a national downtown summit. I think just trying to focus – it’s so hard in Canada. I don’t want to people to feel sorry for us. But and Nolan, I just want to say that nobody is going to – you’re not going to befriend anybody in Canada if you talk about how Canadian cities are not as bad as American cities, honestly, this will not this will not endear you to your Canadian to your new Canadian neighbors to be compared to the U.S.. You may have picked that up, that vibe. But the the thing is, we’re a vast geography with a fairly small population and we don’t actually have a network as of as many large cities as probably our economy would benefit from having the way the US does, the way Europe does it, the way Asia does. So it does make it difficult, I think, to. Does anybody else noticing that? We we’re not as quick at learning as I think we’d like to. So we we can see in several cities, not just on this call, but in our CUI constituency, several cities that have not handled encampments well. We have not been learning from each other about this approach doesn’t work. That approach, it would be better. And so I’m I keep hoping that through this pandemic and through the different channels and networks that we’ve been establishing together through CityTalk and CityShare and CityWatch and all the different platforms that we’re all creating and the Bring Back Main Street stuff and the International Downtown Association, that we’re trying to elevate our learnings so that we if one city screws that up, another city can say, well, we’re not going to do it that way. You know what I mean? Like, it’s so. And even for people to realize that, I don’t think most people realize that business improvement areas and districts have social workers on their on their staff. I do not think people get this. And I’m wondering if this is part of the awareness that COVID is going to have brought to regular folk, that these kinds of, we need holistic supportive services, that if we want to have a city that includes everyone, if we don’t if we want to have a place where we don’t have places where everyone can feel it’s part of their home. So Mark I’m going to go to you next and just talk, if you can, about the particular experience of Yonge Street and being the head of a BIA of a really of the the commercial and financial center of the country in many ways. So give us your perspective and why you think we need to care about restoring the core.


Mark Garner [00:36:04] Well, again, thanks for CUI putting this discussion on and thanks for all the additional panelists. Mary, I would say the point you just talked about specifically around education is key. Sometimes a lot of these discussions that we have are all the people that are in this game doing this gig every day. So you’re preaching to the converted. I looked at the panelists and their expertise, but I also look at the attendance that are here today. And I want to give a shout out because there’s other core BIAs that are here today and there’s members from BIAs here. There’s other municipalities. And I want to do a quick shout out to Deb Chapman, who’s a councilor from Kitchener. We’ve got to also look at the, you know, the tiered cities, right? Not just the big economic drivers, but the smaller second tier and third tier. But also present today is some of the consulates that are directly engaged because they’ve got problems that they’re having in Europe and best practices that are going on there. I think everything I’m going to echo all the statements that everybody has set today in regards to the issues. You know, as Nolan had mentioned, the four pillar model, you know, on downtown Yonge. Let me tell you, we have checked the harm reduction box 17 times, but we haven’t talked to any of the other boxes around treatment, education and enforcement. I think there’s a bigger role for CUI. And all the work that we do is to educate the community on the reality of the situations of our downtowns. We, again, have been very good during this pandemic on dealing with the harm reduction and making sure that people that are the most vulnerable in our communities have housing. But I would question as part of this report, and if you haven’t read the, everybody that’s on the call today, the nine functions of downtowns and obviously health and safety is a component. It’s more than just the hospital. It’s more than just public health issues. You need supportive housing. You need detox. You need supervised consumption sites. It needs to take a more holistic approach. And Yonge Street has been during this pandemic, and it was started before the pandemic when we opened our first injection site, we started to see a transition of the neighborhood and those services have mushroomed into something bigger for us. And I would encourage that during this pandemic, a lot of the the individuals that we’re dealing with and the most vulnerable are not from our city. So we need the supports to be in North Bay because same conversation that you had Mary, you know, between Dartmouth and Halifax, people that live in rural communities and in North Bay won’t even drive downtown because they don’t feel safe anymore because of the concentration of services. So we really you know, what we’ve experienced and what we need to be advocating for is obviously a decentralized strategy that when we look at these new neighborhoods that we’re going to live in, that it’s inclusive of everybody. Right now, there’s an overburden. So we need to decentralize because we’ve created these social inequities that need to be addressed. It’s very complicated. And our BIA is doing extensive work, as you know, in regards to developing programs. We’re now helping with educational and training of other BIAs, other member businesses. And we’re continuing now just based on how we’re addressing de-escalation strategies within the public realm. We’re now consulting in New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Francisco, Indianapolis, all looking for solutions that we can all share together. And that’s the power of this network. But if you’re not waking up every morning and doing good work to change the neighborhood that you live in, then you need to start doing it, because all those other people that just want to come back and work and go back to the way it was, it’s not going to happen any time soon.


Mary Rowe [00:39:51] You heard it here first. Well, you know, I live in a neighborhood that has a safe injection site and not down, not downtown, right downtown. And I’m interested in how we’re going to, as a society, recommit ourselves to living in diverse in a diverse environment where there’s room for all sorts of folks and that the services are there. And so I worry a little bit, Mark, when we say decentralized, that that to me is not facing a reality, that you’re always going to have a concentration of certain kinds of services in downtown areas. And and I’d like to I think of Charity Hospital, Nolan, which was one of the more poignant, tragic stories about New Orleans, that it treated the vulnerable population. It was smack downtown, also happened to be a magnificent heritage building, and it became a specialist in lamentably in gunshot wounds, as you just identified. But it was for the low income community and it through and it was downtown. And then one of the decisions that was made was to shutter it and then build a hospital, regional hospital, further away with a suburban floor plate that that left the downtown community feeling abandoned and the heritage community feeling unhappy. And I think that, so I guess it’s a, it has to be a balance. Right. And and so part of it for me would be how do we reintroduce more of a mix of population into the downtowns, into our cores, so that they so that generally people understand what the downtown is for. And Jen, I want to come to you because we are embarking on some some interesting follow up work about how could you have more diverse populations actually living downtown. So do you want to talk a little bit about what that might look like in terms of repurposing commercial space?


Jennifer Barrett [00:41:41] Sure, yeah. So CUI is doing some work to really start to understand the opportunities for repurposing commercial space, understanding that office vacancies may continue and that the occupancies we’ve seen prior to COVID may not ever return. And really seeing this as an opportunity to retrofit these buildings, to not only create more housing opportunities, but maybe some of those other social support networks and wraparound services that are needed. But also to create housing diversity so that we’re not talking about a monoculture of offices and one and two bedroom condos so that we’re getting a diversity of housing to serve a diversity of of users and really looking at how in the long term we can start to build buildings that are flexible, that allow for the kinds of ventilation and egress and all the things you need to be able to serve multiple purposes, not just a nine to five office culture.


Mary Rowe [00:42:33] I mean, you guys know the anecdote, I’ve shared it before that after after 9/11 in New York City, a decision was made by the City, by the borough planning department, Manhattan Borough Planning Department, that they would change the zoning and encourage 9/11 at the Lower Manhattan to develop into a much more mixed use. And so they introduced residential. Tons of creatives went in there, different kinds of not for profits. And now it’s a really vibrant, mixed neighborhood. And it’s the poster child I always use when people predict that that won’t work. And then it did. So what do you think the resistance is, guys, too, and gals, to investing differently? So there’s a question in the chat from Frank. Hi, Frank. About do we have the right financial incentives in place? Do we need, does the federal government, for instance, need to free up some cash? They’ve provided a small amount of money to encourage what Jen just described, office conversions and so have some in the municipal government of Calgary, for instance, has committed to some money to do that as part of its downtown strategy. Do you think it’s about money and could we create some different kinds of financial tools that could be made available that would allow downtowns to morph into something else? Anybody got some suggestions or reactions to that? Yeah, go ahead, Mark. You first.


Mark Garner [00:43:42] Yeah, I think it’s it’s a great point, and when I talk about to your point around, it’s about density of services. What we’ve seen on Yonge Street is an example. Not only are we dealing with Torontonians that live here, but also people that have come from rural communities because this is where the services are.


Mary Rowe [00:43:59] But let me just stop you, because that’s true for everyone, that Paul has that, all of Nova Scotia. Nolan has that, he gets the whole West Coast, Puneeta has that, all of northern, not just northern Edmonton, not northern Alberta, but she gets northern Manitoba, northern Saskatchewan. They all migrate. So do we need – I don’t think we’ll ever stop that. Right. So and so are you. OK, so you want to be funded differently?


Mark Garner [00:44:21] OK, that’s where it gets into the funding model. We have to open up the funding. Right. Obviously, the federal government’s got the cash, the provinces have the issues, and the urban environments or the cities have the problem. So we’ve got to open the financial plumbing in a better way. And so obviously clients are coming into our community because they can’t get services in North Bay, they can’t get services in Sudbury. And that’s when I talk about a distributed model that has to be inclusive within community. So funding is a part of it. But I also think the way we’ve deployed service in the complications around services and the way we get to those at risk communities is not working. And we have to stop. We have to build it the way it’s going to be effective in the new urban environment versus, OK, this is the way we’ve always done it. Let’s get the round peg and put it in the square. Oh, no, let’s build it the way the community needs it. Because as we know, with density of, you know, if I’ve got a shelter of two hundred and eighty people within a building, are you telling me all two hundred and eighty people in that building have the same requirement for service? The answer is no. So it needs to be smaller, it needs to be down to fifteen units with direct support of housing, with the mental health supports, the addiction supports, the education and all the things that they need with smaller. You can’t do it in this large model. It’s not working because the growth is happening faster than we can get on top of it.


Mary Rowe [00:45:42] So I think we need to extract a couple of things. First of all, can you and I’m going to come to you next. Puneeta, what’s the triad? The federal government has the cash. Provincial government has the what?


Mark Garner [00:45:52] Jurisdiction, and the city has the problem, and this is one of the conversations that we always had with Tim Tompkins, because I am meeting him today as well, is that there’s another layer of all this governance and bureaucracy. We have the problem, the on street, the business community and the community itself has the second or the fourth layer.


Mary Rowe [00:46:15] We’re at the bottom of the thing. You know, we do we do summaries after this and takeaways and I just want to make sure that the folks that are working on them and heard your pithy little statements there and also this idea that we need to pull it into smaller pieces, can we get it into smaller pieces? A couple of weeks ago, we had Rosanne Haggerty with us to give this the leadership lecture, and she talked about named lists for housing, which is a common practice now. But we took us a long time to understand that we have to get it to a level to a ground level so we can actually see who we’re dealing with and get into bite sized pieces. OK, Puneeta, what were you going to throw in? I started with are there financial incentives or different kinds of financial arrangements? If you guys want to swing back to that, if possible, go ahead.


Puneeta McBryan [00:46:55] Yeah, I’ll swing back to that. But just to pick up what Mark was just saying, one of the most fundamental challenges we’ve had here is this complete breakdown in that triad. So from the federal government to the provincial government to the municipality and then us as a downtown. And so we have to have in order for us our puzzle to be complete, every order of government has to agree on our priorities and our needs, and that money has to get into our hands. And right now we have a complete breakdown between our municipal government and our provincial government and a complete breakdown between our provincial government and the federal government. So for us, it’s another reason it feels like a losing battle every day feels like we have a provincial government who has prioritized the needs of rural Albertans, which is fine because there are significant needs there, too. But again, we hold 80 percent of the population here between Edmonton, Calgary, and it really feels like our needs are being fundamentally ignored or misunderstood or the ideal ideologized. Whatever the right word is.


Mary Rowe [00:48:00] I get it. It’s certainly it’s been polarized, hasn’t it? And and, you know, the dilemma that we know, which CUI hears all the time is that the way that political representation is organized, there are many, many more seats in provincial and federal, in the provincial legislature, in the federal House of Commons that come from rural environments. That’s one piece of it. But the other thing, as you suggest, is there’s a narrative in Canada that we need to restitch, that we actually are completely we’re completely interlinked and it can’t be either or it’s got to be both and, and how do we make that case to rural to rural constituencies that they need healthy urban, the same way cities need healthy rural. Right. But I hear you about the cascading effect. Feds to province, to municipal and then to you guys on the ground.


Puneeta McBryan [00:48:45] Well, sorry. On the on the incentives thing.


Mary Rowe [00:48:48] On the money side. Yeah.


Puneeta McBryan [00:48:49] Yeah, on the money side. So we also are our municipalities did a residential construction grant strictly for the downtown to incentivize residential projects to break ground and office conversions were part of that. I think some took it up. But at the end of the day, it is always about the money. And so as long as housing is a private sector game, the incentives that need to be in place have to be way, way stronger. If we’re going to say it has to make financial sense for the private sector and where we’re at right now, that that incentive wasn’t enough.


Mary Rowe [00:49:24] Yeah, either Nolan or Paul. Do you want to throw in on money and what we need to see?


Paul MacKinnon [00:49:30] Money in terms of housing or money, just generally?


Mary Rowe [00:49:32] No, just generally. Do we need other kinds of financial incentives to to I mean, we know in the culture sector, for instance, they’re saying we do. They’re saying we need different kinds of interventions and supports for the cultural sector, which has historically drawn a lot of people downtown.


Paul MacKinnon [00:49:47] Two things I’ll say quickly, I think one is I agree with Puneeta in terms of that, that structural piece. So during the pandemic, again, governments had to work differently. And for years we’ve tried to work with our local regional development authority, trying to get them interested in programs downtown. And I mean, for years, they just they had no interest in really even talking to us. Suddenly during the pandemic, they called us and said, hey, we’ve got all this money, we’ve got to spend it. We’ve got to get it into the hands of businesses, you know, within the next three months. Can you help us out? And we said, well, sure, and we did. And it was a lot of work and we hadn’t really done that. We hadn’t done a whole lot in terms of direct grants to businesses, but suddenly we were in the grant giving game, you know what? And we spent all the money that they gave us. And so we’re hoping that structurally we’ve demonstrated, you know what? We’re close to the ground level. We know all the players. We’re you know, we’re trusted ally. And one of the themes that Art of City Building was progress moves at the speed of trust. Right. BIDs have been around for over 50 years. They’re a Canadian invention. Yet most people when I, most people, general public, but even governments and people that should know who we are and what we do don’t. That’s partly our fault. I guess maybe the way we brand ourselves. But by this point, we should be trusted partners. We should be a trusted fourth level of governance. And even if the feds don’t trust the province, the provinces don’t trust the municipalities, they all should trust us just based on the track record that we have. So I’m not sure how we get to that, but I think we’ve opened up some of those doors during the pandemic. We’ve got to make sure that we don’t lose those connections. The other thing I’ll say on a quick note on housing is and we’ve only got a housing crisis in Halifax, Nova Scotia, really for the past six months. It’s kind of brand new for us. Suddenly we’ve got this huge this huge problem. And now we’re looking at what’s Vancouver done, what’s Toronto done. One of our colleagues used to run downtown Seattle. And lo and behold, she went from that gig to be in the Seattle city manager, which is kind of what we all dream of and think that we should be doing. And she dealt with housing there and then she left and then is now in the private sector. And she’s doing all sorts of interesting housing work in Seattle. And her comment was, you know, this is something that governments have to work on, but government’s not going to solve this problem. You know, we need to have the private sector, need to have all sorts of different developers. And what she’s focusing on is not for profit developers that are actually attracting private investment because you can make money, you know, on nonmarket housing, it may be a lower rate of return than you’re going to get somewhere else, but it’s not like it’s a loser’s game. So we’ve got to figure out how do we unlock all those savings of private equity that that’s built up over the pandemic and get people investing in housing.


Mary Rowe [00:51:59] Just remember, two hundred and twelve billion dollars sitting in Canadian bank accounts apparently,. It’s a staggering amount. We’ve got a couple of questions in the chat. So Nolan, instead of going to you on finances, I’m going to let you know what else is on people’s minds and you can choose what you want to respond to. One is let’s let’s be like Sweden. Thanks, Lars. And let’s see if we can get them in a municipal income tax. Can we find ways for municipal governments to collect more resources themselves, be held accountable for how they spend them, and maybe disrupt the cascading hierarchy that that Mark summarized? The other thing is that a former mayor of Toronto and a former retired senator is a who’s in the chat, Art Eggleton is asking a question about transit. You know that we see fewer and fewer people on transit and they are using their cars because they feel safer in their car. And so what is it? What’s the potential impact of that in terms of how we restore the core? So over to you, Nolan, first.


Nolan Marshall [00:52:53] So I’m not in a position in B.C. to advocate for greater taxation, that would not be the position that I would take. I would say that we do need better service. And one of the challenges that I have found, we just did an activation on Granville Street of pedestrianization and trying to make the case to the City that city resources would be beneficial and that this would be a good use of city resources was challenging because the municipal government doesn’t collect any sales tax. We’ve we’ve had the same challenge when trying to argue that we should bring in in 2026 or any other number of large events or small activations. The city doesn’t see the direct return on any of that. And many other major cities, when we’re talking about doing festivals, events, activations, the city knows that it’ll recoup their value, their investment because they’re going to collect an increase and that sales tax. If all you’re collecting is property tax, you don’t it doesn’t matter whether the stores are busy or they’re empty at some level.


Mary Rowe [00:54:01] Nolan would you make would would you I mean, I know you’re new to the jurisdiction and I appreciate your you’re learning. So you’re not going to come out too boldly in any of the stuff yet. But, you know, at your council last night, it was talked about whether we should look at new value capture. Should we be looking at new mechanisms for people whose equity, personal equity is increased because of a public investment? Is there some way to harness that capital to be invested in community funds, for instance, that could then improve and be invested in land trusts or different kinds of housing structures in downtowns? Is that something you might put on your radar now when you get your once you get your feet under you there in Vancouver?


Nolan Marshall [00:54:38] Sure, I think so, but I’m reflective of the work that we did in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, a common good and New Orleans, Mary, what we probably first crossed cross path and we realized that we had to bring all these diverse people together in New Orleans post disaster. And we were all going to be coming through here, a post disaster period of recovery to figure out what we could all agree on. And public safety was one of those things that we had to all collectively address. The other thing was government accountability and transparency. And so I would I would say that that is probably first and foremost before you start talking about additional revenue for government, public trust has to be rebuilt. It was it was the most important rebuilding project in the city of New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina. It was restoring public. I remember restoring social capital. It was rebuilding networks. And we have a municipal election coming up. I would think that is going to be a big part of the sentiment leading into the municipal election next year. Once you restore that public trust, you can have any conversation you want about many different mechanisms for increasing revenue from municipal government, but you’re not going to get anywhere in the current environment where the public doesn’t have a lot of trust.


Mary Rowe [00:56:02] Why don’t why don’t we finish this by just having a word from each of you about trust? You know, what do you think the opposition, I mean I think that Nolan is correct, that people’s level of fed up-edness is extraordinary now. People are throwing gravel at politicians. They are, you know, protesting all sorts of things that polite Canadians wouldn’t have anticipated would be protested. I think there’s a need for us to reestablish trust. And I’m wondering, what do you think the role of downtown could be? Some of the great experiences that any of us have had have been in some kind of, it’s some kind of collective experience that was probably took place and we harnessed ourselves downtown. So trust, Mark, thought on how we can restore trust.


Mark Garner [00:56:48] Oh, that’s a big one, Mary. You know, I think it came out clear in the report about we were at a phase of massive rethink of the way we do things. And we have to really look at an opportunity we’ve got in front of us to transform. So there is municipal reform. There’s community reform. There is the way we provide service is is a big challenge. So I think, you know, it really is people are, again, want to get back to the way things were. And it’s going to be a very complicated situation come our municipal election next year on on this subject. But it’s being able to come into a public realm or a space within the downtown and not have the issues or cover the issues that we’re experiencing, in the experiential. It’s those things, just the fundamentals. If there’s one thing I’ve been saying to our team and our board is you got to get back to what’s in your control and manage your own stuff before you start doing the bigger things. We’re back at a refocus.


Mary Rowe [00:57:46] Work at the hyper local. Remind ourselves why cities matter. Puneeta, what do you think? Something to build trust.


Puneeta McBryan [00:57:52] Yeah, I come from the world of advertising and branding, so I’m going to put that hat on. I think a big part of this exercise that we’re all going through right now is a bit of a branding and storytelling exercise for what a downtown is and who it’s for and what it means. And so that’s what we’re doing here. And part of that is all the positive activations that we’ve all talked about doing like inclusive public spaces and and prioritizing pedestrians and some of those things. But it’s also really thinking about who values the urban experience. What is it that brings all of us together? And it’s usually that we are people who appreciate our differences. We appreciate diversity. We want to see an equitable and inclusive community. And so that means working with law enforcement at all levels of government and our business community and our social agencies, everyone at the table with a shared vision for what a downtown is a means and how we can all work together to achieve that.


Mary Rowe [00:58:49] Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Paul.


Paul MacKinnon [00:58:52] We talked a little bit about this at the Art of City Building is becoming more isolated. Right. Social media isolates us with people that we agree with. Our neighbourhoods, we tend to live with people that are the same socioeconomic class. Right. We’re losing kind of attendance in faith communities. We talk about that. So what replaces all that? And really, that’s that is a role of the downtown, right. Whether it’s the farmers’ market or the city square or downtowns where people gather to protest, it’s where they gather to celebrate. And so maybe we just need to be a bit more intentional in how we do that now. It’s tough to do, of course, during COVID, because you can’t bring large groups together. But I just think back to conversations we’ve had. You know, what we’re doing in new downtown plan. We have to have heritage advocates sitting beside developers and say we need to figure out a way to work together. And in those days, it wasn’t about just making snide comments on Twitter, which I occasionally enjoy doing myself, but really trying to weed myself off of. We have got to rebuild that trust face to face, and I think downtown is the best place to do it. So maybe we just need to be more intentional. But how do we, at least at the very least, create those spaces that do bring those different perspectives together?


Mary Rowe [00:59:51] Quick words of clothing from both Nolan and Jen. Go ahead, Nolan.


Nolan Marshall [00:59:55] Yeah, I agree. I agree with Paul. And I think we’ve got to do a really great job of communicating in this environment, especially that the diversity of downtown, the inclusiveness of downtown is also about the equity of downtown. It’s not just about gathering people from different backgrounds, race, culture and a place. It’s about giving them a real equity ownership stake in that. And I think that’s going to be transformative to our downtowns going forward. This will accelerate. Social isolation is just an acceleration. And so this is this has been a long time coming, this feeling of social isolation. But downtowns are the place that can really reverse that.


Mary Rowe [01:00:42] But you and I remember when New Orleans won the Super Bowl the year after Katrina and everybody was on the street and everybody was downtown, every kind of person. And it was for a moment a sense of extraordinary collectivity. Jen, last word from you in terms of what why how does how can restoring the core bring back trust? What do you think?


Jennifer Barrett [01:01:02] Yeah, I mean, I would say, as many of the panelists have hinted at it, some, you know, that downtown is often where it sort of exacerbates the best in the worst of who we are. And I think, you know, so coming from having lived in New York City is that, you know, people called the public transit system the great mixer. It was a place where we all came together. And so I think a lot of the comments in the chat about how do we restore trust, how do we get people back on transit, it’s really about finding those places in which we, they are convenient for us. But they also help build trust because we’re all part of the solution and we’re all interacting in a space and realizing that we rely on many of the same systems despite our social or economic backgrounds.


Mary Rowe [01:01:43] Well, hats off to all of you who are continuing to work every day. As Mark suggested, you wake up every morning and you say, how do I make my neighborhood a better place? It’s important that we have this conversation together. We had a great group on the chat, former senator, former councilor, former mayor, a current sitting members in the federal legislature in the House of Commons. Always good to see all of you and lots of folks working in business improvement and business development and economic development. So we are a mighty constituency gang and we need to bring a lot more people under our tent with us. At the end of this broadcast, you’re going to see a questionnaire go up a little quick survey telling us what worked and what didn’t. Tomorrow, as I said, Orange Shirt Day, National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. I hope you can take some time to be reflective and think about what the implications of that is for you and your work and in the way you live your life and the way you interact with your place. Next week, we’re going to continue to promote main streets and how main streets need to recover. We’ll be talking about creating main streets, and I hope you’ll register. You’ll see the link in your in the chat. Thanks, everybody. Have a great, great rest of the week. Lovely to see you from coast to coast. Puneeta, hang in there. This too will end. You’ll get through it. And we all will continue to our dialog about how do we restore the core. Thanks, everybody.


Full Audience
Chatroom Transcript

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From Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our webinars at

12:01:53 From Canadian Urban Institute : Welcome! Folks, please change your chat settings to “everyone” so everyone can see your comments. Attendees: where are you tuning in from today?
12:02:28 From Laurel Davies Snyder : Hello! tuning in from Stratford, Ontario.
12:03:10 From Debbie Chapman : Here from Kitchener, Ontario.
12:03:16 From Andy Fillmore : Hello from Halifax. Nice to back with you!
12:03:20 From Ian O’Donnell to Hosts and panelists : Good morning from Canmore, Alberta
12:03:48 From Joni Carroll : Calgary Arts Development
12:04:32 From Scott Cluney : Greetings from Downtown St. John
12:05:51 From Scott Cluney : Downtown St. John’s. Greetings all.
12:08:31 From Canadian Urban Institute : This week CUI released the Case for the Core report, which will be referenced in today’s conversation. You can read it here:
12:10:16 From Mary W Rowe to Andy Fillmore and all panelists : can we do a call this week some time?
12:11:20 From Cole Judge : Greetings, Canada, from Downtown Los Angeles!
12:11:22 From Canadian Urban Institute : Jennifer Barrett Jennifer Barrett is a Senior Planner with the Canadian Urban Institute. Jennifer’s diverse experience in the U.S. and Canada has focused on improving social, environmental and economic sustainability. Jennifer has worked in the public, private and non-profit sectors including affordable housing, land use planning and social development policy creation; land development analysis; community consultation; green industry and economic development initiatives. She strives to improve community engagement to ensure that planning decisions represent the diversity of each community. She has received two awards for her planning work as the co-creator of the winning entry for the Morph My City Competition for neighbourhood design at the 2012 National Infrastructure Summit in Regina, SK and as a member of a design team whose work was published for the Edge as Center urban revitalization competition in Boston, MA.
12:18:25 From Canadian Urban Institute : Puneeta McBryan @puneeta00 Puneeta McBryan is the Executive Director at the Edmonton Downtown Business Association, where she is working towards Edmonton’s economic recovery by building creative partnerships and aligning stakeholders around a resilient and future-focused core. Prior to joining the EDBA, she served a diverse mix of private and public sector clients across Alberta as a consultant in marketing & communications and business strategy. Puneeta also led communications teams for political campaigns at the municipal and federal levels and served as Board President of the Advertising Club of Edmonton, before a tiny new human started consuming all her spare time.
12:22:25 From Canadian Urban Institute to Jennifer Barrett(Direct Message) : Hey! Any chance you can keep video on? We’d like you to be a part of the convo. Thanks!
12:23:31 From Jennifer Barrett to Canadian Urban Institute(Direct Message) : Yup. I didn’t want to distract from the panelists.
12:23:55 From Canadian Urban Institute : Nolan Marshall @NolanMarshall Nolan Marshall is the President and CEO of the Downtown Vancouver BIA. Prior to joining the DVBIA he served as the Chief Engagement and Solutions Officer at the New Orleans Business Alliance. He lead cross collaboration between Small Business Growth, Strategic Neighborhood Development, and Industry Attraction and Retention teams, and engagement with public sector partners around the economic opportunities and challenges facing New Orleans. His prior work has included grassroots and grasstops community organizing in public safety and public education policy, place based economic development strategies, and creation and implementation of both macro and micro economic development policies and programs.
12:29:34 From Canadian Urban Institute : Paul MacKinnon @downtownpaul Paul MacKinnon has been the CEO of Downtown Halifax Business Commission (DHBC) since 2002. DHBC focuses on advocacy, beautification, marketing and communication, and membership engagement for 1600 member businesses in Eastern Canada’s largest city. He sits on the International Downtown Association (IDA) board as Canada’s ex-officio representative. He is also currently serving as the President of Downtowns Atlantic Canada, and is a member of the IDA Canada leadership network.
12:34:20 From Laurel Davies Snyder : National Downtown Summit – yes 🙂
12:35:52 From Frank Miele : Mary, most downtowns have financial incentives, can your speakers speak to some of the most well used by the investors?
12:37:30 From Canadian Urban Institute : Mark Garner @Mark_Downtown Mark Garner has been a successful business and community leader for more than 30 years and is now focusing his expertise and vision on the transformation of one of Toronto’s most vital tourism and business hubs. As Chief Operating Officer and Executive Director for the Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Area, Mark is an active champion for building a thriving, vibrant city centre. His business acumen and social conscience were forged during his years as a senior executive at major Canadian companies, including Bank of Montreal, AT&T and NCR Canada. Prior to joining Downtown Yonge in early 2013, Mark spearheaded economic development in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, including five years as Executive Director of the Downtown Kitchener BIA – a period of tremendous growth and revitalization for Kitchener.
12:37:42 From Canadian Urban Institute : Over the past decade he has increasingly concentrated on the revitalization and development of urban downtowns, playing an integral role as a catalyst for targeted economic growth, vibrant neighbourhoods, social innovation and start-up incubators. An action-oriented advocate for change, Mark has spearheaded numerous campaigns and projects to bring about improvements – including executing programs to clean up laneways, developing and implementing a comprehensive Music Strategy, and working directly with municipal leaders on urban planning and revitalization.
12:48:40 From Art Eggleton : The pandemic has resulted in a substantial reduction in public transit usage. Even though many are still working from home, the streets of Toronto’s core and surrounding areas are frequently clogged with automobile traffic because many are concerned about safety in using public transit. How and when can we restore confidence for a return to more public transit usage which is vital to the vibrancy of downtown? Art Eggleton
12:51:56 From Lars Henriksson : Give the municipalities the right to income tax. In Sweden, municipalities receive the majority of the income tax
12:53:02 From Mark Garner : Art.. this is one of the big issues to resolve. More investment in heavy rail is needed.. more trains, less overcrowding and increased frequency of cleaning are good things to start with. Part of the work that SRRA has done for the CORE BIAs has indicated based on the lack of use of transit when we get back to 30% occupancy in the employment cluster our parking lots will be full
12:53:52 From Paul MacKinnon : Uytae Lee (Vancouver) created a wonderful transit YouTube video on transit. I’ll see if I can post the link.
12:54:34 From Michael Roschlau : @Art – good points. Transit systems are rolling out various initiatives, including continued mask use, deep cleaning and installation of copper coatings to eliminate germs and virus spread. Check out the latest TTC video but it is a BIG challenge.
12:54:41 From Paul MacKinnon :
12:58:00 From Paul MacKinnon : Action item for all: share the report (especially pg.51) with your mayor, MLA/MPP, MP.
12:58:26 From Art Eggleton : Good that there are videos attempting to get people back to public transit but much more promotion is needed because it isn’t registering with enough people. Art Eggleton
12:59:44 From Mark Garner : all 3 levels of government need to work together in ways they have never worked before
13:01:10 From Canadian Urban Institute : Keep the conversation going #citytalk @canurb You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our sessions at Read the Case for the Core report here: CUI extends a big thank you to TD for their support on CityTalk. COMING UP: Join us on Thursday October 7 for our next session “Creating vibrant main streets: What will it take?”. You can register here:
13:01:44 From Debbie Chapman : Thank you for the interesting discussion. Good to see you Mark.
13:02:41 From Ralph Cipolla to Hosts and panelists : Thank you from Orillia ontario
13:02:43 From Loredana Wainwright to Hosts and panelists : Great discussion!! Thank you!
13:03:00 From Mark Garner : Thank you CUI for the work you do
13:03:20 From Ian O’Donnell : Thank you
13:03:48 From Frank Miele : thank you Mary