As part of the Art of City Building 2020 conference, we invited Mayor Lisa Helps from Victoria, BC, and Mayor Mike Savage from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to discuss coastal cities.
Art of City Building 2020 – Session 2: Coastal Mayors CityTalk
A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation
1. Addressing multiple crises during the state of emergency
Coastal city mayors Mike Savage and Lisa Helps agree that COVID-19 requires city leaders to face the multiple crises in front of us together: the climate emergency is happening at the same time as crises in the economy, inequality and social justice and of hope and optimism. It will take a herculean effort to make the changes that are needed—we can’t stack up the crises one by one, we have to deal with all of them, and their interdependencies, all at once.
2. Tackling urban and rural priorities together
Mayor Savage points out that Halifax is both the largest urban municipality on the east coast, and the largest rural one as well. He argues that city-building is not just about buildings, but also about conserving our natural and cultural assets for current and future generations.
3. Vulnerable communities have been made more vulnerable
According to Mayor Helps, the homelessness and mental health crises are more visceral than ever, with more encampments across downtown Victoria than ever before. Said Mayor Helps, “unsheltered populations, untreated mental health and addictions issues have negative impacts on everybody—those who are impacted, businesses, and community members [alike].” Agreed Mayor Savage, “we spend a lot of time maintaining poverty, not eliminating it.”
4. Social media is no replacement for the public square
Mayor Helps argues that open-minded and open-hearted community conversations about vulnerability and homelessness are critical during this difficult time. Social media can be a divisive force that amplifies a certain level of discourse, which suggests Mayor Helps, is no replacement for other forms of thoughtful dialogue that have been made more difficult during the pandemic. “If we can’t talk about homelessness, the opioid crisis, and climate change in thoughtful and open-hearted ways, especially when we disagree, we are not going to solve the problems facing our cities.”
5. Transparency and engagement are critical
According to Mayor Savage, “When you keep telling people things are good when things are worse, there is no hope.” He says a key ingredient of municipal leadership is transparency. Mayor Helps agrees that it is pivotal to engage residents to help develop solutions.