How Can Cities Advance Climate Change Priorities in the COVID Recovery?

In partnership with WSP Canada. Featuring Deborah Harford, Executive Director, Adaption to Climate Change Team at Simon Fraser University; Mel de Jager, Senior Advisor, Climate Change and Resilience, WSP Canada; Shoshanna Saxe, Assistant Professor, Department of Civil and Mineral Engineering, University of Toronto; and Chandra Sharma, CAO, Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority

5 Key

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

1. No more ‘regressing to the mean’

We cannot go back to the way that we used to operate. Resilience shouldn’t mean to “bounce-back” but to “bounce-forward.” We need to utilize the policy window that COVID has created and implement plans that are just and sustainable. We need to invest in projects that have multiple co-benefits. This is no time to regress to business as usual.

2. Simple > Sexy

As we begin to see cities transition to a new phase of recovery, there is a cloud of speculation over how stimulus investments will be spent. Our panel discussed the benefits of smaller and faster local infrastructure projects.

3. Gendered impacts of stimulus investment

Infrastructure is a male dominated industry. Investing in big infrastructure projects will put people back to work, but the jobs that are created will not benefit everyone equally. We need recovery investments that benefit everyone.

4. Pilot Season has come to Canada

Municipal governments need to show their leadership by embracing innovative and daring ideas. Canadian cities are experimenting with non-permanent pilot solutions. But cities should avoid “knee-jerk” reactions, such as building out to the suburbs to avoid population density, and should instead test, assess, and adapt as necessary as we move through and out of the crisis.

5. How do we pay for the change?

The panel discussed how governments can raise the capital necessary to implement shovel-worthy green projects. We need to find new ways to pay not only for green infrastructure and more green spaces, but also for affordable housing and social programs for vulnerable populations.

Additional Reading
& Resources
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 [00:06:58] So we’ve got four fabulous women coast-to-coast to talk to us about what they think the opportunities are and what the priorities should be as we emerge into the new normal. We had a session a couple of weeks ago on the two emergencies, the climate emergency and the COVID emergency and how they were fuzing. And now I’m hoping what we’re going to hear a little bit about is what do you think the implications should be, can be, for making climate the priority as we emerge. And we have four folks who bring different perspectives, different expertise to this, and as we often do, we’re going to start with the furthest to the West because we want to reward those people that had to get up and start with their morning coffee with us as opposed to lunch, which is what it is here in central Canada. And then we’ll go to the east, where I suspect you’re almost on your second cup of tea in the afternoon. But let’s first go to Deborah Harford, who is speaking to us from I’m assuming you’re in Vancouver, Deborah. Are you today? Tell us what you’re seeing and what you think. What do you what’s your observation is the practitioner that you are from that vantage point?

Deb Harford [00:08:02] Well, I think that COVID has highlighted vulnerabilities that had already been highlighted in climate change adaptation activities like a hazard risk and vulnerability assessments. It’s just really starkly brought those fault lines in our communities to the fore. And it’s also highlighted how cities are the backbone of society and business in Canada. And keeping those critical systems and services running has meant that we’ve all been able to survive through this just as leadership that’s respecting science and, you know, has actually affected how many people are surviving. But we face a huge challenge now for municipal finance, which was again, something I’ve been identified and the burden of adaptation as a disproportionate burden on cities. We can’t just build back from this. We’ve got to build back better. And we need to find options that provide a win win win. So we’ve got to look at not knee-jerk spending, but co-beneficial spending that helps us build our resilience to future climate impacts, reduce emissions and benefit social equity, ecosystem health, etc. because right now all local economies that are being affected are now going to be facing cascading risks as we face wildfire, flood, et cetera. Coming into the summer and that’s already happening in Canada. People are already having to evacuate people because of extreme weather in a lockdown. That’s very, very difficult. So the connections are very, very clear. And, you know, urban planning and this kind of thinking really holds the possibility for transformative benefits if we are careful and strategic about how we go forward from here.

Mary Rowe [00:09:40] Thank you. My sister works for the American Air Force, and she was telling us last night that now they’ve been doing relief services into New York City. She’s in upstate New York, into New York City with health care challenges. But now they’re having to redeploy in terms of sea level rise in the Great Lakes. And what the implications are. So as you say, there are these cascading, cascading challenges that are now going to compound where we’re going. OK, well, let’s let’s go to Ontario. Shoshanna, let’s hear from you in Toronto, Shoshanna Saxe.

Shoshanna Saxe [00:10:10] Thank you, it’s been interesting to watch the discussion about climate change and cities evolve over the, I guess, seven, eight weeks that we’ve been in the Canadian COVID shutdown. And one of the first conversations that people were having was, wow, this is so unprecedented. Everything changes. We don’t know where we’re sitting. We don’t know where we’re going. And that gives us an opportunity to rethink everything and start again. And on one hand, that’s really optimistic and ways for climate change, because it could shake us out of our sort of stale, preconceived ways of doing things. But as the time has gone on, I’ve seen that cities are increasingly defaulting to their past assumptions that we’re increasingly seeing that the things we prioritize before, the things we were prior to prioritizing again, and that already it’s getting harder to move the needle on change. So some examples meant there was a massive drop off in traffic, which within the urbanist writing both academic and non. Lots of people were saying this gives us an opportunity to see a new way forward to do things differently from the way we’ve done them before. But we’ve already seen a rebound on traffic. And so the window is already closing, which is surprising because for something that’s felt earth shattering, as COVID did in March, it’s surprising to see how quickly we’re we’re defaulting to our standard parties. That said, there is a lot of really hopeful leadership. Again, often from all the usual places, there’s European cities saying we’re not going back to the way we were before. We’re going to make bike lanes permanent. And we’ve seen that started in Vancouver and moved across Canada. We’re starting to see action on that in Toronto. But similarly, a lot of the reticence we had before. So what I’m seeing is that from an urbanist perspective, we’re not getting as much change shaking out naturally from COVID as we might have thought in March. But there is a window, I think a more narrow one that we might have hoped for, but definitely a real window to get in there and do really specific things. But the things that will be most effective are things that can be fast and cheap, because I think we need the things that are on the ground showing results quickly are the things that are that are starting to endure. So in the cities that are making bike lanes permanent, they started by having trialed bike lanes. And as the window closes, some things that were on the table in March are no longer on the table.

Mary Rowe [00:12:48] Well, I want to come back to that and talk about this know this notion that academics use it more professionally than I would this notion that we regress to the mean. Right. The thing about that you fought back, that was that instinct and in resilience talk. There used to be criticism of it because the suggestion was you want to go back better when in fact, a lot of the support programs, certainly when I was leaving the U.S. would only allow you to build back to what was. So let’s we’ll come back to that. But let’s talk about how do we actually emerge from this better. Chandra, let’s go to you. I know. I’m not sure we’re actually physically where you are, but I know that your association is a Niagara one. So you’re in Ontario somewhere?

Chandra Sharma [00:13:26] Yes. Hi. Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone. I represent the conservation authorities. And the one I represent is the Niagara Peninsula in the Niagara region. And as you know, the corporate crisis has been kind of contained and managed really well on the ground in Niagara Region, I would say small communities. And the reason I see that happening is facts and science and how it’s been communicated to people. And people are listening. They’re taking action and they’re seeing the facts and the science. And the other thing I’m noticing is amazing collaboration at all levels of governments. So I think those are the kind of learnings that we can take forward. And it’s working really well. What I’ve personally observed from my business perspective is the need for green infrastructure in our communities. We manage 41 parks in Niagara and we own all this green space. It was so difficult for me personally in Niagara and all the other conservation authorities in Ontario to keep people away from these green spaces, to keep them inside their homes. And that kind of brought home a very important question of how we can keep people locally by evenly distributing green infrastructure and green space in our communities. So that was an important fact for me. The other thing we’ve seen in my region is the impacts to local economy and local tourism and loss of green jobs, because my region significantly, you know, advanced in agriculture and the economy is thriving based on regional tourism and actually national international tourism. And you’re seeing some impacts on that. And so whatever is done, I think it’s all have to be integrated and kept in mind going forward as part of the recovery process. One interesting thing I will say I’ve noticed is that working from home has really worked and for all of us and it does work if people don’t believe in it, it does work. It helps with our transportation issue and it has brought the greenhouse gas emissions significantly down. So what we can learn from that going forward, I think there has to be something small communities like Niagara, I think a lot of growth this coming in our region. So I can say that any recovery effort, like Deb said, has to have co-benefits and it has to be integrated. We need to look at water, green space and public health outcomes. They all need to be integrated. And that’s what we need to see going forward. As we go in small communities in our cities, I think we need to provide cities, lungs to breathe and sponges to absorb water if we are going to develop resiliency and capacity to cope going forward. Thank you.

Mary Rowe [00:16:38] Thanks Chandra, you’ve raised a whole bunch of things that I think are going to be somewhat controversial, I’m not sure, but he’s going agree with you that working from home is working. You may be working. And also this notion of when you suggest that there’s this challenge about keeping people away from shared space. And what is that? What are those implications? So I want to come back to those of you in the Chat, I see Andrew Thompson’s aren’t responding to the notion of working from home. Let’s come back to that. I want to now get Mel to talk just a little bit about what she’s seeing on the East Coast in Halifax. And so now tell us a little bit of what you’re doing and then we’ll pick up a bunch of threads and have a go.

Mel de Jager [00:17:14] Yeah. Thank you, Mary. I think cities across Canada are clearly being constrained. Budgets are being cut. Capital expenditures are either being pushed on the road or being used for operational expenditures. And it’s it’s really tough. You know, cities are quite at the frontlines of the climate crisis and of course, this COVID crisis. You know, citizens rely heavily upon cities to provide services to them. And those services are really, really being stretched right now. And it’s it’s very difficult. You know, a lot of their resources are being taken away, and that’s very tough. And it potentially has some long term impact for how we come out of this. I you know, I’ve been having some conversations with a few people, too. And I think one of the difficult things that they’re facing as well is essentially getting ready for any stimulus that is going to come. You know, this seems to be pretty decent messaging at this point that we’re looking for shovel ready infrastructure and projects. On the climate side, we’re not quite there yet. I think certain cities are further ahead than others. Those who’ve had the benefit of having kind of plans and strategies in place for a number of years or months. And if they do have shovel ready, I think they will benefit extremely from from this. My concern is that we might plan for the exacerbating this infrastructure deficit for those who are not yet ready with it with a climate project. So I think it is particularly during this time, I would it would be great to be able to see some of that stimulus spent on the strategy and the planning and figuring it out. I think there are a lot of infrastructure projects that are going to come that are traditional. I would say that we can put our climate lenses on top of. But certainly bigger climate types of projects that have significant co- benefits, for example, the retrofitting of of of residential homes across this country. They are complicated. They’re not easy. If they we would be doing them and we’re not I don’t know of any city in Canada succeeding in that. So spending some time now before we get to the recovery, while we’re still in the stabilization period of trying to think about how we can put those pieces together. The second thing I would say, you know, building on what Deb had said to COVID is really essentially provided a magnifying glass for us to see the cracks that already existed in our urban systems and certainly vulnerable populations being one of them, particularly here in Nova Scotia. You know, out of all the COVID deaths that we have experienced, a significant majority, almost 90 percent of them have been in Long-Term Care Facilities. And so, you know, as we come out of that, the elderly also a group that are going to be very exposed and vulnerable to climate change as are the young who are experiencing COVID also in a very different way. And so I’m thinking about as we move forward, how do we better use any recovery money and time to focus on those populations and achieve common objectives at the same time?

Mary Rowe [00:20:12] And it was interesting how the federal government this time it’s been so interesting to see the response to the fiscal the financial response. Federal government identifies a bunch of challenges. It’s being petitioned by a _____ stakeholders. It says there’s a group we have to try to support. They provide support and then a couple weeks go by and then they realize, oh, they’ve got to deliver that support a little differently than the way they originally planned it. And I was interested earlier this week when they came through with their loans for funding for big business, that they were actually doing some minimum stance, some certain principles that those companies had to abide by. And one of them, as I recall, was consistent with the carbon tax and and that they were actually tying the money. So I think this is a question about what are the levers that are open to us actually as a society to compel the redevelopment to go in a certain kind of way. Shoshanna, you’re the one that started this notion that we’re defaulting to what we did before. And the shovel ready concept is the same thing, in essence. It’s basically saying if you’ve got things ready to go, then we can support them. The question is those things that were ready to go. Are they the right things?

Shoshanna Saxe [00:21:22] Yeah. So this something I’m thinking about a lot. I mean, I saw shovel worthy flash up in the chat and it’s it’s a conversation that’s being had. There are environmental leaders from across the country writing letters. The C40 has started, stood up and said we need the right kind of investment. And I think that conversation is really important. We have to hold two ideas in our mind at the same time when we’re talking about stimulus. One is speed – shovel ready is traditionally been defined as things that can get going within two years. But often the government wants to get the money out fast. Big new ideas can’t get up to scale in two years. Infrastructure timelines are slow for big projects because they’re complicated to plan them. We need to do consultation. But there are a lot of things we can do. And I think that to have things that are both shovel ready, shovel worthy in line with our climate goals point us to a better, more resilient future instead of conceptualizing of New Deal big projects. What we need is a lot of smaller projects. So in cities that can be bike infrastructure, it can be bus infrastructure. It can be helping refurbish the bridge that was downloaded onto the city 40 years ago. They’ve never been able to afford but really need. It can be things like helping the construction industry of homes. The way we do stimulus to residential construction and the way we do stimulus to infrastructure construction are usually two separate types of money. One in one usually gets funded to municipalities and the other tends to be through tax incentives for individuals to take it up. What I think that this ties to something that Chandra is saying about the idea of, you know, we need more green space. We need more space. Maybe we can work from home. That could be really positive. But there’s also a dangerous undertone there of we all need to be farther apart from each other. We all have to have bigger homes, which is a reversion to the mean. That is coming up a lot in the urban discussion. As which is really, really dangerous for climate change in Ontario, at least. Our two biggest problems for climate change are home energy, heating and transportation, which are both related to house far apart. We are and are our land use habits. And so while we consider the stimulus and what we consider what to build next, we have to take very seriously that our instinct to spread out, to move apart from each other, that now fuels in some way COVID-incentivize. Because if you have a yard and you have more green space and you’re there’s less people together, it feels like we’d be better off. Then we have to be very careful to think, yes, people need green space. Yes, people need air if they’re going to isolate at home. How do we do that at the same time as not incentivizing the dominant land use patterns that have existed in our country and have failed us for 70 years?

Mary Rowe [00:24:22] Some of that. And do you think some of it’s anxiety, too? It’s the perception that’s now getting an embedded in us and at a very individual unit level that I don’t want to be too close to anybody. So we’ve had lots of critiques on this platform about that. There’s there’s really crummy density out there. Yet people are not safe. People are not able to and there’s they weren’t safe before COVID. When you saw the pieces in the paper about this spike in domestic violence. So I think we have to. I hear you, Shoshanna, that we want to be in a situation where we’re trying to advocate for the most environmentally responsible way of development. But how do we encourage safety and equity into that discourse? I want to just say that I’m not sure that the climate community’s been that great at addressing this in the past.

Shoshanna Saxe [00:25:09] I would agree that there’s just one thing I want to say on density. I think we should be careful how we use that word. Density here is not the problem, it’s crowding. And those are two different things. And the idea that density has been dangerous for COVID is both false based on the data and though pervasive. But it’s also morally dangerous because the impact of us believing that density that people living together will hurt us, which is something that has existed in times of plague for a really long time. The British that’s would run to their country seats is not true. It has not been the densest neighborhoods that have been the sickest. And even in Ontario. You know, Pickering is doing a lot worse than than Toronto. So there’s a lot of things going on here. But we just have to be capable of holding them in our mind at the same time. And not just because something feels true. That being in a city must be dangerous doesn’t mean it is true.

Mary Rowe [00:26:13] Correct. But I guess part of what I think it’s incumbent on us, all of us as urbanist to do is to demonstrate how are we going to restore the public confidence that we can live in close proximity in a safe way and in an equitable way. I want to follow up with the question of big versus small. And again, I wanted to just take a poke at those of you that have been involved in this for so long. Not the old, but that this is a discourse. This is a discourse that’s been going for a couple of decades. Right. And here we are in a crisis and we’re once again saying we’ve got to emerge and invest in climate policies. What about this? I do think there’s been a preoccupation that it has to be a big plan with big investments. Is there a way to actually do what Shoshanna was asking and break this apart to a more granular, smaller investment? I’m wondering if Deb could give or Mel could actually comment on that. Then I’ll go to Deb. But now you’re a practitioner. Can it be chunked down into doable things?

Mel de Jager [00:27:12] I think it needs to be. If we have any hope of getting it done, quite frankly, I’ve been thinking a lot about home retrofits. Mostly is as a result of us coming home and being here and thinking about resilience starting at home. And also on the climate side, you know, our homes are one of the biggest carbon emitters in the country. I know this and this 15 million of them. And we really need to think about how we address that. We’re not going to be able to do that very, very quickly. And if we need to break it down into smaller pieces. I’ve been thinking about the recovery and the stimulus money, that if there is a way that we can really think about using it as seed financing in a way, you know, because we don’t have the skills and the straight of the trades and quite frankly, the army of labor, we will need yet to do this type of work. And so I think if we think about this recovery time now almost as a pilot really to test these ideas, to have a little bit of financial forgiveness, so to speak, to figure out what works and what doesn’t and try it and do some homes and do some buildings. And over the course of time, we will learn things will get cheaper. We will become much more efficient at doing that. And then it can become a big thing and we can scale.

Mary Rowe [00:28:28] I mean, the world is in one big honking pilot right this minute. It’s and it’s illustrated to us that you can actually have an effect on GHGs under extraordinary circumstance. Deb, let’s go to you because you started by suggesting that we need to work on co-benefits. Can’t can that be because co-benefits persuade people that it’s the right thing to do? Right.

Deb Harford [00:28:52] Yeah. And I don’t think we make those connections enough, so let’s say we we have a big move to electric vehicles. The reduced tailpipe emissions are reduced health impacts during extreme heat. So when we’re combining that with cities that are creating hundreds of miles of new bike lanes or pedestrian and streets like Seattle is right now, you’ve got a huge health benefit that goes along with that, not just an emissions benefit, because we know that there will be some climate change so that we’ll be increasing heat whether we even if we stopped all our emissions right now today. And so it’s making those connections. And I think that could be centralized national guidance for city investments that help people make those connections without being prescriptive. And that could be shared really widely. And it wouldn’t require everyone to go out and hire consultants to do risk and vulnerability assessments is just to help people think about those connections. And you know that the point about natural assets and natural spaces is is very much the same way, even though provincial parks have been closed. The natural sites that we have, the parks have been really crucial to people’s health whilst helping with stormwater management. So we’ve got to think about multi purpose use sites that can again, it’s that win win win co beneficial thinking. But I just want to add one other thing, which is that we’re all talking about recovery. I don’t think we’re out of COVID COVID yet. Like we’ve got small cities in British Columbia that have seen absolute disappearance of tourists. They’ve all small businesses going out of business. Some of the federal stimulus is helping, but it’s not. They are they there’s some of them may go, I’m really worried about going bankrupt. We’ve even got Vancouver massing. We’re going bankrupt. And then he got a hold over the coals for that. But nevertheless, you get the mayor of Vancouver saying that. What do you think’s going to happen to all our small. I know this is the Urban Institute, but I assume we can talk about rural communities as well where we let you.

Mary Rowe [00:30:59] You’re allowed to tell me.

Deb Harford [00:31:00] If they’re going to get they’re the ones that most at risk of wildfire and flood as well. So they’re then literally talking about how do we just start focusing on local survival? And so, you know that we’ve got to think about ways to help job stimulus. And, you know, those should be thought about in terms of getting people back to work while reducing environmental impacts again. So, you know, retrofitting buildings, is it is it really important when designing projects to prioritize walking and cycling, active transportation investments in parks and green spaces? You know, these are all things that could actually be job creation as well as a stimulus.

Mary Rowe [00:31:43] Can I interrupt you? I just ask a question about a piece for you. So job job creation, you know, the dilemma is that I think when they want to shovel ready projects, traditionally it’s because there’s a political window and they want it to happen within their mandate. I mean, I don’t want to generalize, but that’s often the case right now. Now we want it. We want things to happen quickly because the need is great. And of course, large scale infrastructure is a way to get a lot of people back working. It does do that in a way that smaller investments don’t necessarily. Is there a way to to combine this imperative for people to be back working with doing smaller projects? Shoshanna, do you want to come in? And then I’ll come back to Deb

Shoshanna Saxe [00:32:25] So it depends a little bit about what types of jobs have been lost. So we have this strange privilege of being able to look at a stimulus from just a decade ago, either the last time we had a lot of infrastructure or construction stimulus to get people back to work. And in that stimulus, a lot of people have lost jobs in small home construction. Those jobs are not transferable to heavy infrastructure. It’s a different skill set. So you can’t put people who work building homes back to work, building bridges, subway lines and bridges immediately. So, stimulus can be used to build things, but in many ways the smaller projects which require less. An extreme welding knowledge, less technical in scope, maybe less technical skill are are better set up to employ more people faster than really big projects, really big projects are important. I’m a big lover, big infrastructure. But for things that we need to do in two years, we’re getting a lot of people to work. Medium skill work can do a lot of smaller scale infrastructure and painting bike lanes is an important skill, but it’s a different skill than deep water welding.

Mary Rowe [00:33:41] Well, I’m wondering, Chandra, I’m wondering if this fits with what you’re suggesting. I mean, I know what you were saying. I know what I think what you were getting at is that we we generally have a scarcity of public space and green space. And you were steward of a significant tract. It’s been that you want to conserve, obviously. But do you see an opportunity for a kind of green jobs deployment that would that would pick up some of the amenity needs that we need to create more shared space? And it might, in fact, employ the kinds of the kinds of skill sets that Shoshanna’s referencing of your you guys. Are the conservation authorities thinking about that at all?

Chandra Sharma [00:34:16] Absolutely. All of the conservation authorities are thinking, how can we be part of this economic recovery? Because, you know, I would say this, the social economic value of protection of, you know, communities from flooding or green infrastructure has been severely underestimated. So many organizations, including Greenbelt, pollution probes and others, you know, have tried to and conservation authorities have tried to bring this to the forefront. I think a study, if I may recall on green jobs, estimated that the green green infrastructure type of jobs in Ontario, there were 120,000 jobs in 2018. So you could you can imagine the extent of what’s going on in communities in regards to these type of local activities and green infrastructure. I think I think if we start to link health outcomes to the environment and how our communities and neighborhoods are designed, we are going to achieve a lot. And this is the time to think about that, how we’re smaller projects in local communities. How can we enhance our local neighborhood because there’ll be a travel ban going forward, at least for an indefinite amount of time or people will reduce their travel.

Mary Rowe [00:35:54] So you’re you’re you’re echoing what Deb was just saying. I mean, you’ve got Niagara is it is a huge tourism district.

Chandra Sharma [00:36:00] Well, this is what I’m saying, right? Yeah. How do we how do they enhance all of that and keep people locally at the same time, providing them with mental health and social well-being benefits that they so badly need to avoid another mental health crisis? So I think linking health and health and environment outcomes is so important. Green infrastructure, there’s a lot to be enhanced. There’s lots to be promoted locally to keep people in. This is how it’s going to be. And I think there are if if people come together. Collaboration, I mention at different levels of governments as to what’s needed in those local communities from a health perspective, infrastructure perspective, green space perspective, we can bring a whole bunch of local projects together and enhance our local communities for better outcomes going forward. And the whole concept of complete communities has never been so critical as it is now, looking at how we are going to flood proof our homes and our communities saving them from another disaster if there is if there is flooding. How are we going to evenly and equally distribute green space, water, land use and fill form will look like transportation. I talked about working from home is working. Yes, but it doesn’t mean our homes have to be bigger and we have to consume more energy. It’s about avoiding unnecessary travel. If you work two days from home to go three days, no matter where you work, you are going to consume energy. It’s the question of how we produce that energy. Right and bring it.

Mary Rowe [00:37:54] But Chandra, you’re in a tight spot here because you’re advocating for a tourism region. And yet what you’re suggesting is that tourism ultimately is part of the problem that cause it’s not necessary travel. Right. We need to actually have a smaller footprint. So how do you how do you reconcile those two tensions.

Chandra Sharma [00:38:10] I think it’s about balance. It’s always about balance. It’s local tourism versus regional tourism versus international. There has to be the right balance of everything. And and we should be able to switch from one to another right now in times of crisis. We’re hurting economically. So what do you need to do locally to promote local tourism and bring that back up from an economical..

Mary Rowe [00:38:36] You mean not people traveling great distance, but actually locals? This is something that we’re interested in and I’m going to go to Deb to Mel and then to you Shoshanna. Mel, you talked earlier about how we need more time. We need more patience in term because doing green stuff actually requires plans. Right. And I think that if the federal infrastructure, the federal provincial municipal infrastructure program, that’s a thirty three billion dollar investment that’s been in place the last couple of years, that that the bucket that is least expanded is the green one, probably for the reasons you’re suggesting. It’s complicated. Right?

Mel de Jager [00:39:08] It’s complicated. And I think ironically, in climate, we’re running out of time. So we don’t have that much time to figure this out. I think perhaps it’s it’s more about in order to get a lot of this type of funding. There is an incredible amount of red tape and a lot of stuff that cities have to get through, that they basically have to show up with a complete feasibility study done – everything ready to go in order to get access to this funding. And I think that takes.

Mary Rowe [00:39:40] Who’s Red tape?

Mel de Jager [00:39:42] Federal funding packages. So the ones that are currently existing or potentially the ones that might be coming federal.

Mary Rowe [00:39:48] Federal red tape, I’m trying to figure out who’s red tape it is.

Mel de Jager [00:39:50] It is government level or this government. Right. And so you get to essentially meet the requirements of what they looking for. That does take time. Well, what I’m thinking and it’s time we don’t really have. So during this process, is there a way by which we can expedite that by loosening the reins a little bit and saying, look, we don’t have this perfectly figured out because we are in a pilot phase. We haven’t been doing green infrastructure for 35 years the way we’ve been doing. You know, if wastewater treatment plants, for example. So let’s give ourselves a little bit of room and freedom to figure that out. And to make mistakes and learn from it and adapt as we go, rather than expecting that we’re going to have it perfectly right right now.

Mary Rowe [00:40:29] Do you think the public will tolerate that? I mean, I’m noticing that people are ready to throw the constraints about vaccine development off the windows and say, just get us a vaccine. Do you think we could ever see the same kind of public support for. OK, we’re going to try to do this. We’re trying to move to a green investment plan.

Mel de Jager [00:40:45] I mean, I think if we can demonstrate the co-benefits of what the outcomes and the results of that would be, then absolutely yes. As a quick point, Canadians on an average annual basis, spend about 60 billion dollars a year renovating homes, you know, in the context of what we’re already doing. You know, why can’t we be spending that 6 billion doing it in a way that’s making our homes more resilient to climate and to things like this?

Mary Rowe [00:41:12] Okay Shoshanna, you can go for it

Shoshanna Saxe [00:41:17] We’ve done some research at U of T. On what what makes our projects we take on take a long time and we all have a sense that building new things takes interminably long. It’s very frustrating. And what we found was that it’s not the red tape thats the problem. I’m sure red tape is frustrating. Their projects held up by it, but it’s often an unwillingness to state and follow through on political priorities with funding that were offered very nervous to do new things. And there’s a lot of pushback against them both on the political level and at the community level. So some of the projects we studied there on the books for 40 years before they even really got started. And, you know, and then they have a year or two of red tape. But 40 years is a lot longer than two years. So one of the things that I’m hoping we can see coming out of COVID is an urgency from our leaders to take some risk. So I think, Mary, that goes to your question. Will the populace tolerate it? I don’t know. One advantage of we’ve been a little bit slow on climate change compared to the global leaders is that we can look at examples of other people doing things well. I don’t think we need very many new ideas anymore. We can look to Scandinavian countries, we can look to German countries, we can even look to Albania and we can copycat a lot of very good ideas and put them in place. And so that gives us hopefully some confidence that what we’re doing isn’t purely experimental and purely out there. But in Canada, we’ve generally been very resistant to do that in the past. We usually don’t want to do things unless there’s a local example. It’s like going for a job. Now do what local experience do you have? I’m hoping that the global defensive we’re all in this together. We’re all looking for a global vaccine, the pressures and the jealousy of looking across to other places that are doing better than us could help us give us some political cover, ambition, courage to try new things.

Mary Rowe [00:43:22] I mean, one of the things that we’ve seen during COVID is that local governments have been on the front lines. And so some of them have improvised in different kinds of ways. And there was no time for someone to tell them they couldn’t do it. So they just did. And I’m interested whether or not since bike lanes, new access to streets, you know, I think people saw that. And there seemed to be examples. We I think a lot of Canadians lament and say, well, why is it happening so much more quickly in other places? But this notion of slow streets, you know, could we could we, as you’re suggesting, cut ourselves some slack? If it were done to try some things, you know, a number of people here are in small work in smaller communities. Could some smaller communities try some things and then say work effectively? They then could get adopted by others. And I agree with you, Shoshanna. We tend to be a little jingoistic or what it is we want to see a Canadian example. Oh it wouldn’t work Scandinavias not Canada. You know, I have a question about dividends. You know, there was talk before COVID about the resilience dividend that there was going to be an opportunity to frame investment in the in the sense of this is what this will save you. There is a resilience dividend. Do you think we can imagine a situation where we’ll be able to make the case that there’s a COVID dividend? And that this this crisis has put us in a situation where we can legitimately spend money in a particular kind of way that is greener, more sustainable. Addressing is climate change. Where where can we. How do we move the money? Deb?

Deb Harford [00:44:56] Yeah. So I think one of the things that climate action was lagging on was reelection on social equity and injustice, and that that has come to the fore in such a blinding way right now and in the, you know, very clear low payment of essential workers, for instance. And then, you know, people are at risk and vulnerable people being disproportionately affected. And so one of the dividends that could come out of this is real focus on place based investment and community making for social resilience. You know, perhaps using if there is stimulus money that can be used for this, you know, building neighborhood networks out, reduce crime and increasing resilience of vulnerable people and a focus on affordable housing. And as an economic stimulus to create jobs, but also provide people with a better places to live and better health gap.

Mary Rowe [00:45:46] Deb, on that, what would that look like? Because I’m interested in that, too. I mean, this is part of what CUI is trying to work on is the granular. We have a whole campaign called Bring Back Main Street, which is really about the granular. How do you get how do you package up that investment in a way that the public sector has the capacity to make that smaller transaction as opposed to billions of. You know what I mean?

Deb Harford [00:46:09] Yeah. I mean, I I think that this goes back to this issue of criteria on funding partly. So I I’m just gonna go back to the infrastructure funding. I know it’s very large scale, but I don’t think it has to be used for large scale and it can be used for green. And we do have the infrastructure Canada climate lends. This might be seen as more red tape by some, but it does require that emissions and resilience projects are accounted for. I think the resilience is only required on projects over 10 million, which is too big in my opinion. I don’t see why we just wouldn’t have it forever more. But the fact is that is baked in as a sort of a gatekeeper on funding being given out. And I think we’re seeing that with some of the other messaging coming from the federal government on its stimulus. But another way to to bake that in, I think I don’t think we’ve talked very much yet about the value of partnerships in cities that we’re talking about. Yes, federal government can help the most. Provincial governments should be helping as well. But look at all the value being provided by non-governmental organizations like this one. Public private partnerships, private actors, community groups. There’s a huge amount going on that is, you know, at that community level that’s providing an enormous amount of actually very valuable services, an input that I don’t think is being counted. And that probably will come to the fore in some of this as well.

Mary Rowe [00:47:35] Chandra, what do you think? I mean, can we you’re advocating I think, you know, I’m old enough to remember that when I read about it, about the WPA in the US, which was a huge public investment program that created enormous public amenities, park systems and all sorts of walking trails and things. And then I am old enough to remember in 1967 and you’re still in communities across the country, we’ll see something that was a centennial project. Do you think Chandra that you can that your constituency can get the attention of the three levels of government to double down and investing in these kinds of green shared spaces. Can that be one of the COVID dividends is that we’re going to double down on investing those kind of spaces? What do you think?

Chandra Sharma [00:48:14] I think you just made a very good point and we are trying our best. I hope the government listens to us. Any any change in any recovery. I think we need to see some key transformational changes. And one of the easy one, it’s the low hanging fruit that pays big dividends, I think is investment in our green infrastructure and green space. And we are working with the government. We are trying to influence that conversation. And I hope that is well understood. There are examples out there. Others have done it, like Shashanna said, we don’t need to go very far and we can learn from those experiments and deploy some some large scale changes. The other learning or dividend. I would say is the most vulnerable people and most vulnerable communities in my understanding got impacted the most because there was no capacity to cope. So I think as we build this resilience lens is so important and resiliency is from all different aspect resiliency to cope, impacts of any future crises like flooding or extreme weather. Resilience to cope, you know, extreme heat. Resilience to cope with, you know, social vulnerabilities. And we need to see the cool co-benefits like Deb said and these need to come together. And yes, we need to go from just quick wins off investing in large scale projects to a more granular scale of understanding how we can build things and invest in those communities together. It could be a huge impact on the cumulative impact, right?

Mary Rowe [00:50:04] Yeah. Can I ask the general question of all of you? Would you put more money in local control to do this

Deb Harford [00:50:10] Can I speak to that? Yeah. Just so you know, local governments own about 60 percent of Canada’s infrastructure and they get about eight to twelve cents on the federal dollar and 80 percent of that money goes to services, operations and maintenance. So less than 20 percent in cities is available for infrastructure. And, you know, I think we need this is going to I’m going to go big here. But I think we need to hold the municipal financing meet that we need a new fiscal structure for municipalities. It’s totally not. This was already again, as I said at the beginning, a lot of the issues that are emerging through COVID had already been identified through climate change adaptation analysis. And I’m sure not just through that, but it’s really just highlighting the fact that the way that municipalities make money currently is all related to development and property tax and transit. And those things really seriously threatened. If COVID, as I said earlier, is not over. And we’re looking at 18 months or more of of of problems we’re going to need not to raise. And so then we get into a what? You know, we do want to raise municipal taxes on people who don’t have any money to pay them anymore. But we have to think about how municipalities are financed in a creative way. And I I think a lot of this conversation has been about what can we do right now? But I think that’s something this has to be a conversation that starts now and hopefully get somewhere.

Shoshanna Saxe [00:51:38] Can I say something controversial? So I agree, we shouldn’t be raising municipal taxes on people who can’t afford it anymore. But the last data I saw showed that less than 1 percent of white collar workers, high income workers have yet seen changes in their income and that may not be stable. I live in a city where it has been political kryptonite to raise taxes to a level of inflation for a very long time. I saw a number come around that said to plug Toronto’s hole. The average homeowner’s income tax would need to rise. Property tax would need to go up just over a thousand dollars. Please, Toronto, raise my property tax a thousand dollars. And why is that not on the table? Yes, we need a better transfer. Yes, we need other things. But we also need to move away from some of these ideas that paying taxes for the things we want is bad. Paying taxes through the things we want is a privilege is how do we build a society together. And I think if I go back to your question, Mary, about what are the dividends. I’m I’m really hoping that we’ll have more faith, more dedication to this civic contract. The idea that we can do things together and that there’s a reason to do them, any benefit to them, which we’ve seen in all of this coming together around COVID, I hope that we can come together for COVID and for other things. And yes, I agree, we should not be raising taxes on people who can’t afford it. But there really are people who can. And I know please, University of Toronto would like to stay in that group. But it should be on the table.

Mary Rowe [00:53:23] I think you know, I think what with the other you know, this is our all female panel. And we’ve got one other which was about municipal finance. We were joking about it. Oh, that’s where women are. They care about how households function. How do we pay for things? And then what’s the future? That’s the women. That’s the where the female lens. But I think one of the challenges, Shoshanna, with what you’re suggesting is also that a property taxes on an inelastic tax, it doesn’t grow. So the question is, can we sign a growth tax revenue streams so that as cities continue to grow, they have the capacity to cope with their growth? And Mel I think you were going to jump in on this.

Mel de Jager [00:53:57] Yeah, I just wanted to go back to something about the dividend as well. Not so much about taxes. I think, you know, we talked a lot about infrastructure stimulus. And to you’re point Mary yes, it’s going to create jobs. But I think we need to be very cognizant of the jobs that it’s going to create. As an all woman panel, woman have been significantly impacted by COVID. Infrastructure funding and infrastructure projects. The direct, immediate impact is going to be mostly jobs for men. In the long term, secondary, you know, we will all benefit from that as as citizens, from whatever infrastructure gets built. But thinking through how we use that so that we can benefit that the job recovery of both men and women equally in a way. And secondary to that, you know, we’ve we’ve also mostly spoken about infrastructure. But I’m really interested in our education system, in our health system. You know, all of our kids have been sent home and parents are strapped in with us. There hasn’t been a lot of discussion about that. And I think the long term resilience dividend of of our education system and our and our health systems in cities will pay themselves significantly over time. Arguably even more than infrastructure.

Mary Rowe [00:55:09] We haven’t got much, much time left. And I wonder if I could just go to each of you and just say if you were to pick one thing, that you are going you in your life now, your work life, you are going to double down on. As we continue, as was suggested by Deb, we’re not through it. You all want to be through it, but we’re probably not going to be through it. It’s a new normal that we’ll be living with for a long, long time. And you think of the one thing that you’re going to focus on over the next eight weeks, let’s say. Just tell us in 30 seconds what it is. Let’s go use it to you, Chandra. First, what’s the one thing that you’re going to focus on?

Chandra Sharma [00:55:43] Well, I think my biggest focus is going to be equitable recovery as we as we go forward. And I’m already starting to think in my local area how what what needs to be done in terms of the green space that’s available to people. So if you were to go another few months with social distancing, what innovations I can deploy right in in making people are making that green space available to people. We’ve already opened up our parks. My sister conservation authorities are being very innovative with their train systems to social distancing people trying technology. So I would focus on any technology that has come forward to make use of that, to make sure that people have access to green space and

Mary Rowe [00:56:34] In a safe way.

Chandra Sharma [00:56:35] Safe way. And that’s our contribution to the local economy and this whole COVID crisis. Thank you.

Mary Rowe [00:56:41] And thinking local, getting all those local tourists to be local.

Chandra Sharma [00:56:45] Yes. Niagara has lots to offer. And we’ll continue to boost that local economy. Local. All right.

Mary Rowe [00:56:53] Right. So, Shoshanna, what’s the one thing you’re going to focus on?

Shoshanna Saxe [00:56:56] Well, the moment I’m wondering if I’m local to Niagra. So I’m going to double down on we need simple good ideas and we shouldn’t be seduced by the sexy. There’s lots of jobs, a simple good things that we can be done quickly. I’ve been spending some research time over the last couple years and also Twitter time over the last couple of weeks on bike lanes and reusing of urban public space. And I envision I’m going to keep honking that horn is as much as I can.

Mary Rowe [00:57:36] Ringing that bell. We need to find you a non auto ring.

Shoshanna Saxe [00:57:40] Outstanding. My foot shaking my fist. We. There’s so much we can do with our street space, which makes up about 40 percent of our cities and North America, sometimes more. And that really doesn’t have to be a place for any one of the greatest quotes I’ve seen for cars are private mobility, comfort machines. It’s public space. We can use it for public things. We can use it for a place based. And part of the reason we had to shut down all of our parks in Ontario is because we were afraid people would have nowhere else to go if we let them out of the house. Other countries with like Germany, which had an epidemic worse than ours so far, did the opposite. They made more space. And that’s what I would like to work on,.

Mary Rowe [00:58:28] More space. All right. OK. Let’s go coast to coast. Let’s hear first from you Mel in Nova Scotia.

Mel de Jager [00:58:35] Yeah, I think certainly looking and trying to find those opportunities where we really can realize there’s multiple benefits coming out of those benefits that can address COVID climate and other health, socio economic equity issues at the same time. However, being very cautious to ensure we don’t lock ourselves into some bad decisions at the same time, you know, to the point that I earlier, if we escaped to the suburbs to deal with with COVID, what does that mean when the next thing comes around? You know, maybe the next pandemic requires us all to be in the same house together, you know, or for us to live in very close quarters. Right. So I’m being potentially a little bit facetious, but thinking through, you know, locking ourselves, not locking into decisions, but during them in a way that allows us some adaptability in the future, because we really, you know, we won’t know what’s coming and we need to be able to adapt.

Mary Rowe [00:59:26] Yeah, I mean, that’s part of resilience. We don’t know what the next curve. Right. OK. Last word to the West Coast to you, Deb, what are you going to focus on for a week next eight weeks

Deb Harford [00:59:35] I you’ve planted the idea of that COVID dividend in my head. And so I’m going to be going back a little bit till such as Shoshanna’s comment about perhaps a little bit behind in Canada. But that actually gives us that on climate action, that it gives us an opportunity to leap ahead in a you know, climate action was very silent between adaptation and mitigation. We don’t think it needs to be anymore. We’re going to have we’re working on this concept of low carbon resilience. And so we’re looking at leaping ahead with those smaller local governments with quite a strong focus on equity and how we proceed in a just way as people go back from COVID and try and plan how we kind of survive over the next year as the financial fallout takes place gradually. So, yeah, hopefully I think we’ll get some really good lessons out of this. And I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you guys today. Certainly learned a lot. Really interesting.

Mary Rowe [01:00:33] It’s great to have you. I just want to repeat my favorite hashtag, #nomoreexcuses. I think this is our moment. This is our moment to come out of this and really take seriously the challenges in urban environments that we weren’t able to address before effectively we now have to. And this has been a May Madness week for CUI for some reason we found ourselves hosting five of these this week, which is a couple more than we normally do we do three. So this is number four. Thank you very much, guys, for joining us. And you can see from the Chatbox where you can’t see it yet, but you will see it that there have been all sorts of interesting interactions there and resources and debate and all sorts of good ideas. And I also just want to acknowledge that we have people who come on to these are not just from Canada, but they’re from our neighbors to the south, lots of Americans and Europeans. And we always appreciate their perspectives and their interests because we are the Canadian Urban Institute. We obviously a favour having Canadians on the platform, but we also appreciate that we have neighbors across the world that are tuning as well. So tomorrow to finish off, May madness week at CUI. We’re going to have a one on one with Mayor Crombie, Bonnie Crombie from Mississauga. She’s going to talk to us about a lot of the issues that you guys touched on today, actually. What’s the jurisdictional challenge? How do you lead a city as part of a region? How do you deal with decisions that are being made by idealism of government that actually profoundly affect the way you deliver your service and your priorities and how your budget gets spent? As she’s been on the front lines of that, she’s now embarking on it in an intense way as Ontario starts to think about what its reopening is going to look like and once again is how these will be on the front lines holding all those responsibilities and not often the resources to do it. So we’ll hear from Mayor Crombie tomorrow and then we hope you all have a wonderful long weekend. It’s going to be a different kind of long weekend, but you’re going to hopefully go to your conservation authority that’s near you or your slow street that’s near you, or let’s hope you’re going to go in and pay a visit to some and safely engage with a local shop owner who’s struggled, who’s been struggling and who is now starting to reemerge. And we appreciate you joining us for this. And on Tuesday, we will be back at it city talks. We’re going to do a whole session on bring back Main Street. Watch your emails so that you get the notices of the three that are next week. Join us tomorrow with Mayor Crombie. Thanks again to WSP for sponsoring again and to Elliott for his support. Thanks, everybody. Was really great to have you with and I’m really happy that you were able to come on.

Full Audience
Chatroom Transcript

Note to reader: Chat comments have been edited for ease of readability. The text has not been edited for spelling or grammar. For questions or concerns, please contact with “Chat Comments” in the subject line.

12:02:11          From Christopher Hakes to All panelists: Hello Shoshanna – what a nice surprise to see you here – it’s been a long time!!

12:02:46          From Canadian Urban Institute: CUI is looking for volunteers to help us continue the great work of our COVID-19 initiatives. If you can help, please contact us at

12:02:54          From Irena Kohn to All panelists: Happy Belated Birthday, Mary!

12:03:27          From Canadian Urban Institute: Folks, please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.

12:05:33          From Canadian Urban Institute: Keep the conversation going #citytalk

12:06:58          From Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our webinars at

12:07:16          From Jenna Dutton: Happy Belated Birthday!

12:07:29          From Eva Chu: Happy Belated!!!! Hope you had a good one!!!!

12:07:33          From Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Today’s panel:

Deborah Harford –

Mel de Jager –

Shoshanna Saxe          –

Chandra Sharma –

12:13:59          From Jennifer Spence: Hello from Halton Hills

12:17:03          From Andrew Thomson: Remote working can reduce requirements for builldings, transportation infrastructure and have massive reductions in GHG emissions. Rather than shovel-ready megaprojects in the Phase I & II recovery goals, why do we not focus on ‘ephemeral’ infrastructure like high-speed mesh-networked community internet, better platforms and tech, as they are cheap, quickly executable, and currently, everywhere in use for the very first time? The greenest building is one that already exists, with better technology, retrofits & ephemeral infrastructure approaches? Would you agree?

12:19:53          From Steve Winkelman to All panelists: We need “shovel-worthy” projects that increase vulnerabilities and GHG emissions (not sandbag-ready projects).

12:20:02          From Brandy Burdeniuk to All panelists: Could we shift from shovel ready to “shovel worthy”

12:20:05          From Mike Mattos: How do we redistribute greenspace? How do we provide work to unskilled workers when we reduce overheads by working at home? We have unemployment in pockets where there is no green space and no likelihood of retraining. So how do we address revitalizing cities when we have increasing disparity?

12:20:29          From Steve Winkelman to All panelists: Correction: We need “shovel-worthy” projects that decrease vulnerabilities and GHG emissions (not sandbag-ready projects).

12:20:41          From Olga Semenovych: I’m curious how might thinking about COVID19 pandemic and any future pandemics as part of the climate change emergency, not as a separate issue, impact our approach to rebuilding.

12:20:42          From Canadian Urban Institute: Welcome new joiners! Just a reminder to please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.

12:21:47          From Anna Marandi: big infrastructure projects are so unlikely to be funded in the states, esp if fed funding to cities does not filter down to that level. Is it any better in Canada? How can we shift focus away from seawalls and invest in community driven projects (which save lives and build social cohesion)

12:23:33          From Douglas Hevenor: Recently I read this, “When our parks and green spaces become crowded we close them and discourage public use…when our roads become jam packed with cars and trucks we throw up our hands and yell from the roof tops we need to build more lanes, bigger highways, and more toll roads.”


Action is needed not trials, and pilots. We need to create cities, which encourage physical activity, reduce our reliance of fossil fuels, provide mobility options for people young and old, and support our recovering economy in a sustainable and responsible way.

12:23:47          From Catherine Soplet to All panelists: Suggest: Conjoin youth with elders in planting tree specimens for climate change research, a proposal called “Project Crossroads: PLanting for Change” developed by ACER-ACRE Canada. #ProjectCrossroads #Planting4Change on social media. Website under construction pending federal approval of funding to plant 6000 tree speciments in Peel Region.

12:24:02          From Jenna Dutton: How do we communicate and use “fact/ science” to convey climate change so that we take timely and sustained action at the same urgency that has happened with the pandemic? Curious on good examples on how co-benefits can be better reflected in policy that is able to be monitored and implemented more effectively.

12:25:32          From Scott Vokey: Recent polls on impact on transit and move away from density back up Shoshanna’s point.

12:25:55          From Laurian Farrell to All panelists: I believe Chandra said we need more green infrastructure, not that people needed to start living in bigger homes. Urban density is not the enemy to pandemic but cities need to provide green space and alternatives to outdoor experiences

12:26:30          From Margaret Prophet: Shoshanna is on fire! Totally agree.

12:27:06          From J. Scott: Any consideration of limits to growth and increased population numbers that drive land use, resource extraction (including concrete), and use of the earth to service humans as opposed to the rest of creation, plant and animal populations?

12:27:21          From Rebecca Aird: Shoshanna mentioned that the data does not support the perception that density has been dangerous. Can you share any links on relevant data/analyses?

12:27:39          From Mike Mattos: COVID is affecting crowded low income areas, typically not drivers of policy

12:27:52          From Mick Malowany: If someone can figure out how to build widespread public confidence in counter-intuitive but very true concepts/relationships, don’t keep it to yourself!:)

12:27:53          From Stephanie Bergman: Yes let’s talk about smaller communities… some of the most vulnerable communities are those smaller communities that don’t have the funding and capacity to implement real change.

12:27:56          From Niharika Bandaru to All panelists: How do municipal governments stress on communicating more funding and better climate mitigation and adaptation projects at a time of COVID recovery, when there is rhetoric to focus solely on COVID public health and economic recovery?

12:28:14          From Eva Chu: What are some ways environmental racism can be addressed during recovery?

12:28:15          From Jade Yehia to All panelists: Yes please! I am echoing Rebecca’s comment. Thank you for framing that as density vs crowding. That’s brilliant and incredibly insightful!

12:28:25          From Christine Furtado to All panelists: Thank you for bringing up the assumptions around Density Shoshanna. A very valuable and distinct difference between density and crowding.

12:29:00          From Anna Mathewson: I completely agree that residential retrofits are impactful – they can reduce GHG emissions in our cities and create well paying jobs in the post-COVID world. There was a suggestion that we take time now to plan for a retrofit strategy in cities; few of us have these in place yet. Some of the challenges in this include: (1) city staff are right now flat out providing essential services, (2) taking time to do a complex housing retrofit strategy may be on our agenda but difficult to do right now with staffing and priority challenges, (3) cities do not generally (with some exceptions like Vancouver or Toronto) have staffing to do these types of plans nor do they have budgets for hiring consultants to do these plans. We need more funding for embedded staff in our cities, to build our capacity to take on all this needed planning and project work.

12:29:07          From Douglas Hevenor: Certainly projects can be broken down into smaller $10K to $250K shovel ready and deliverable over the next 6 months to 12 months. Plans are already in place they just need to financed and green lighted.

12:29:09          From Allison Ashcroft to All panelists: must invest in people/capacity/connectivity of people. that will accelerate the planning, but more importantly ensure impactful and equitable investments in infrastructure, amenities, programs and services might actually occur

12:29:16          From Canadian Urban Institute: Reminding attendees to please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.

12:29:20          From Scott Vokey: Technology not an issue for home retrofits, it is more an issue of scale.

12:29:21          From Brandy Burdeniuk to All panelists: City of Toronto has “Energy Retrofit Loans”

12:29:21          From Steve Winkelman to All panelists: My recent blog Mobilizing Against COVID-19 (by staying put), includes a graph on COVID cases vs. density in NYC:

12:29:31          From Allison Ashcroft: must invest in people/capacity/connectivity of people. that will accelerate the planning, but more importantly ensure impactful and equitable investments in infrastructure, amenities, programs and services might actually occur

12:29:41          From Francis Wallace to All panelists: COVID has created a conversation where Canada may have been better off with a sparse density compared to cities around the world that have higher densities. Shoshanna Saxe is correct – over-crowding is the topic that better focuses on the problem and ongoing spread of COVID.

12:29:57          From Jade Yehia: (Take 2) Yes please! I am echoing Rebecca’s comment. Thank you for framing that as density vs crowding. That’s brilliant and incredibly insightful!

12:30:14          From Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Please help CUI improve its CityTalk programming with a short post-webinar survey –

12:30:38          From Steve Winkelman to All panelists: Also see Brent Toderian’s blog on crowding vs. density:

12:31:05          From Mike Mattos: Home retrofits is in the environmental racism bucket. Corporate retrofits for the CURRENT tenants is the needed, not tear down are rent to more affluent people

12:31:50          From Anna Marandi: agreed – small communities are going to be hit so hard as well

12:32:07          From Anna Mathewson: Deborah is correct that we’re still in the midst of this crisis…it’s about the survival of SMEs, jobs, our residents.

12:32:15          From Lukas Golka to All panelists: Today society is trying fight fight new world issues with last century technologies and it doesn’t work. There a new technologies able solve today’s issues like COVID19, CLIMAT CANGES, etc., but here in Canada it is very hard even start the discussion if it is not Canadian idea, technology.

12:33:05          From Lenore Swystun: new developments that can be placed on fringe lands that can hit climate change, post pandemic protocols and wellbeing targets will be so important. many municipalities have aspirational goals, some policies, but less tangible land use tools to accommodate. thinking covid may give permission to such.

12:33:21          From Margaret Prophet: let’s not forget that the loss of jobs is not equal amongst the genders. Women have lost more jobs and the service and restaurant industry has been hardest hit.

12:35:50          From Jenna Dutton: Especially connected green spaces that are safe and accessible and provided equitably across cities

12:36:27          From Douglas Hevenor: Do the projects collaboratively under larger umbrella Foundations could apply for funding then breakout the work. For example Conservation Authorities have projects ready. The challenge is $$$ to fund them.

12:37:20          From Jennifer Court: Chandra, that’s right—it’s actually 122,000! The Green Infrastructure Ontario Coalition (with financial support from the Greenbelt Foundation) just released a report: An Economic Impact Assessment of the Green Infrastructure Sector in Ontario.

12:37:24          From Kerri Klein: How might municipalities think about win-win-win that integrate climate, health, social agendas? Could municipal stimulus be used for social programs and services, not only capital projects (that will only create jobs for those that have technical skillset).

12:37:33          From Francis Wallace to All panelists: Going back to the conversation near the beginning of this conversation, I have worked from home for the past 4 years and have never been happier. It is a great way to increase morale and help the environment. For those people that have an office career, it is much better for the environment. In this day and age, commuting for an hour each way to work from an office tower is completely archaic. People need to trust that someone working from home is getting their work done. No different than monitoring people sitting at their desk’s in an office setting. At any rate, working from home could be an amazing opportunity to integrate using technology and help people feel networked, engaged and empowered to do their absolute best.

12:38:41          From Allison Ashcroft: mass deep retrofits require a national investment in access to finance, energy advisors and trade training and certification (GBA+), a software solution with digitial marketing and end-to-end CRM to help homeowners identify savings opportunities, to manage trade bids/quotes for consumer protection, process rebates, access financing and thereby reduce all the friction for retrofits. Meanwhile on the backend you can actually measure impact and evaluate and adjust programs and incentives. With these investments, we can leverage private capital because $300M in financing from Feds, translates to 15K-20K homes which is wholly insufficient (TO needs 420K alone in this decade). But credit unions, banks, impact investors need the impact measurement and evaluation, and to make access to low interest financing equitable, fed funding needs to provide a loan loss reserve to these private lenders.

12:39:15          From Jade Yehia: I couldn’t agree more! I work in Public Health (specific in the Healthy Built Environment arena) and this, in my mind, is the way forward. Collaboration and making those environmental linkages, co-benefits, we can multisolve these epic problem facing us all. In an era of COVID and climate change. In a crazy way… COVID is the hopeful opportunity to do better (fingers crossed).

12:39:23          From Christine Drimmie to All panelists: Chandra’s point may support the need for stimulus programming dollars to support planting and programming related to green space, environmental initiatives, making homes better for working, outdoor programs for school children

12:39:35          From Lenore Swystun: yes yes yes!

12:40:00          From Mark Palmer: agree

12:40:33          From J. Scott: Better public transportation would help deal with this. Where are the buses, trains and other methods to facilitate tourism without damage to the environment?

12:40:58          From Jennifer Cutbill to All panelists: Yes absolutely re holistic health. Recommend looking at great work being done by CAPE (Canadian physicians for the environment) and their focus on ‘planetary health’ (defined as interdependent health of society and ecology). Their president (Dr Courtney Howard) is also part of the global planetary health alliance. Need to realign investments in civic assets with intergenerational health equity. To do this, we need to shift current capital asset investment, procurement, and management …or rather locally-empowered stewardship.

12:41:29          From Mike Mattos: IF the colleges are closed, Tim Horton’s closed, how do we afford 10% unemployment going forward? And if the stock market triggers a financial crisis, even worse issues. DO we not need to talk about an employment strategy in our sector, how GREEN employs millions of unskilled people, and not talk about infrastructure which is essentially one time projects?

12:41:40          From Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Reminding attendees to please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.

12:41:46          From Mick Malowany: Is that another reason for smaller (pilot-type) projects vs bigger one — less red tape, faster approval?

12:41:48          From Felipe Canavera: I agree with Mel, there is need to find ways to allow for experimentation. Adaptation to climate change shouldn’t be a long-term only issue, there is a need to do it in smaller cycles

12:42:30          From Christine Drimmie: Chandra’s point may support the need for stimulus programming dollars to support planting and programming related to green space, environmental initiatives, making homes better for working, outdoor programs for school children


12:42:34          From Jenna Dutton: Resistance to change

12:42:35          From Jennifer Cutbill to All panelists: Re wastewater treatment plants, great regenerative example is Metro Van’s Iona Waatewater treatment plant. Mandate shifted from hiding secondary treatment plant in a park to being a catalyst for regenerating the health of the Salish Sea. (open houses next week – virtual )

12:43:31          From Allison Ashcroft: 1970s/80s MURB rentals in low vacancy, increasingly unaffordable cities, could not just be 0 interest financed for retrofit, they could be purchased by govt and then retrofitted en masse so we also maintain and secure low market affordable rentals in perpetuity. Could encourage through taxfree capital gains rollover, donation tax credits, etc.. If govt doesn’t buy these up, REITs will.

12:43:56          From Jennifer Cutbill: Re wastewater treatment plants, great regenerative example is Metro Van’s Iona Waatewater treatment plant. Mandate shifted from essentially hiding a secondary treatment plant in a park to being a catalyst for regenerating the health of the Salish Sea. (open houses next week – virtual )

12:44:34          From Eryn Beddoes to All panelists: J Scott:

12:44:45          From Jennifer Cutbill: (re copying to larger group)

12:44:49          From Susan Chin: Are there elected leaders and agency officials who would be open to testing co-beneficial projects?

12:44:59          From Canadian Urban Institute: CUI is looking for volunteers to help us continue the great work of our COVID-19 initiatives. If you can help, please contact us at

12:45:34          From Eryn Beddoes: J Scott:

12:46:06          From Brian Owen: Sorry, I thought I sent this earlier; Regarding whether and area is unsafe, if you consider the basis of CPTED, perception is greater than reality and when the public perceives that an area is unsafe, they believe it is unsafe and it becomes unsafe. I am coming from an area of involvement in BIAs, BIDs and downtowns, also as one who delivered the LED lighting education with Ontario’s CPTED program to Police Services. I was so fortunate to trade my lighting knowledge for that basic principle which holds true. Albeit ‘actual unsafe’ is terrible, perception is just as, if not harder to correct.

12:46:14          From Jennifer Cutbill: Yes absolutely re holistic health. Recommend looking at great work being done by CAPE (Canadian physicians for the environment) and their focus on ‘planetary health’ (defined as interdependent health of society and ecology). Their president (Dr Courtney Howard) is also part of the global planetary health alliance. Need to realign investments in civic assets with intergenerational health equity. To do this, we need to shift current capital asset investment, procurement, and management …or rather locally-empowered stewardship. RVDM + TFCD + planetary health equity cumulative co-benefits. Place-based investment – yes!

12:46:45          From Francis Wallace: Going back to the beginning of this conversation, I have worked from home for the past 4 years and have never been happier. It’s a great way to increase morale and help the environment. For those people that have an office career, it’s much better for the environment to simply work from home. In this day and age, commuting for an hour each way to work from an office tower is completely archaic. People need to trust that someone working from home is getting work done. No different than monitoring people sitting at a desk in an office setting. At any rate, working from home could be an amazing opportunity to integrate using technology and help people feel networked, engaged and empowered to do their absolute best.

12:46:54          From Mohamed Dhanani to All panelists: What role do you think universities need to play?

12:47:10          From Mike Mattos: Why do you think we can bring back main street if people are working at home?

12:47:47          From Mike Mattos: Working at home and shopping at Amazon!

12:48:06          From Donna Mayer:

12:48:28          From Jennifer Court: The Infrastructure Canada thresholds are very high across the board—lowering those thresholds for the Climate Lens as well as for project size in general would make a big difference in funding green infrastructure projects.

12:48:40          From Jennifer Cutbill: agreed

12:48:49          From Mick Malowany: @Jennifer spot on

12:49:21          From Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Please help CUI improve its CityTalk programming with a short post-webinar survey –

12:49:40          From Allison Ashcroft: Like 1960s-1980s MURB rentals, this same era of stratas are increasingly challenged at accessing affordable insurance due to history of claims and deferred rehab. Like MURB rentals, these have proven the hardest to retrofit. NRCan has amazing data on energy use/emissions and cost effective/most impactful measures for deep retrofits for 62 building archetypes across the country. Let’s invest in the manufacturing and supply chain including capacity/jobs to deliver these mass deep retrofits for these most carbon intensive, most vulnerable residential buildings which are home to some of our least climate and economically resilient households.

12:50:42          From Christine Drimmie: Sr. governments need to rely on municipalities to identify smaller projects that meet local needs and trust them to spend the funds on projects that meet the criteria of resilience/equity/social needs/climate change at the granular scale and report results.

12:51:19          From Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our webinars at


12:51:34          From Natalie Brown: To Chandra’s point, I work in urban parks engagement and advocacy and we have seen community park groups stepping up to do emergency food delivery and respond to other community needs because there was such a gap.

12:51:46          From Douglas Hevenor: Yes we need to work with Municipal partners

12:51:58          From Allison Ashcroft:

12:52:48          From Gordon Duff to All panelists: Hi Deb, as a municipal finance person, I totally support your comments about the burden on municipalities for infrastructure. That is why FCM and AMO have been arguing for a share of the HST – no political support from any party so far!

12:53:04          From Jennifer Court: @Allison – that link isn’t working

12:53:26          From Toby Greenbaum to All panelists: because politicians won’t get elected if they raise taxes!

12:53:34          From J. Scott: Thank you Shoshanna! Yea for taxes. It’s a responsibility to the common good.

12:53:46          From Andrew Thomson: They call this the ‘jaws of death’ in the US, ie. NY. Decreasing revenues and increasing costs

12:53:50          From Eva Chu: YES!!!

12:53:52          From Mike Mattos: $1000 sounds reasonable, but a small apartment is already unaffordable and a $100 a month increase is significant!

12:53:55          From Margaret Prophet: Yes! We need to remove the idea that municipal taxes can’t go more than 2-3%!

12:53:55          From Christine Drimmie: property tax needs to be rebranded as community investment but we also need the new municipal fiscal model.

12:54:00          From Eva Chu: Raise taxes to people who can afford it!!!

12:54:00          From Andrew Thomson: To close the jaws is political suicide, even if needed

12:54:12          From Anna Mathewson: Interesting idea to lower threshold for climate lens for smaller projects. We do want to link funding to climate impact, as well as identify those co-benefits. Keep in mind that cities (or others who might apply for funding and are required to complete a climate lens assessment) need SOMEONE (a staff person) to do this analysis to then apply for that funding. We end up hiring (often expensive) consultants to do this assessment. Ideally we’d want to have staff capacity so we can do this analysis in-house, so we build cross-departmental understanding of what the climate lens is, why it matters, and how it help us achieve our GHG, equity and resilience goals.

12:54:31          From Margaret Prophet: Agree @ Christine. Politicians see tax increase as political suicide. We need to adjust that lens.

12:54:33          From Allison Ashcroft:


12:54:36          From Mark Palmer: FYI for all and perhaps good fit with the conversation underway. Additional theme will include how COVID crisis warrants a fresh look at UN topic themes we were trying to abide to before COVID. Great discussion and thanks for letting me participate.

12:54:47          From Jennifer Cutbill: I’m just embarking on a PhD exploring how to realign civic assets with improving planetary health, resilience and intergenerational heath equity. Essentially co-developing a value case and place-based ‘innovation infrastructure’ to support local gov and practitioners alike. If anyone is interested, has recommendations (contacts, resources, etc) I would love to hear from / collaborate with you!

12:55:02          From Margaret Prophet: Yes Mel!

12:55:33          From Canadian Urban Institute: Keep the conversation going #citytalk

12:55:43          From Eva Chu: Thank you Mel!!!

12:55:46          From Christine Furtado to All panelists: Great points Mel, on gender equity!

12:56:04          From Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Please help CUI improve its CityTalk programming with a short post-webinar survey –

12:56:05          From Jennifer Cutbill: …whoops, and re PhD above – of course including foundationally local and indigenous communities

12:56:10          From Andrew Thomson: @Margaret, I can connect you with Jennifer:)

12:56:22          From Allison Ashcroft: The Federal Climate Lens is not currently structured as a decision-making lens. it is required to be completed in a certain way, and be submitted to Feds, eventually for public transparency of that project’s climate impact, BUT as it is currently structured, it is NOT a component of evaluation criteria for fed or provincial govt funding decisions, and OFTEN it is completed at the end of a project’s design so is not even informing the design of the project.

12:56:38          From Francis Wallace: @Anna Mathewson: Yes to in-house assessments vs hiring expensive consultants!

12:56:38          From Margaret Prophet: Great! Please do.:)

12:56:49          From Anna Mathewson: Jennifer, suggest you contact our Canadian Urban Sustainablity Practitioners (CUSP) network via Allison Ashcroft.

12:56:50          From Douglas Hevenor: Thank all of you for your time and the information you provided today. Keep the faith!

12:57:14          From Allison Ashcroft: Jennifer – that’s me

12:57:25          From Jennifer Cutbill: Thanks @Anna! yes I am overdue on doing that. Will do!

12:57:26          From Amber Lively: Not a question, just a statement: I have thoroughly enjoyed this panel and its diverse perspectives. Thank you for opening this discussion and thank you all for your time and efforts

12:58:00          From Jenna Dutton: Agreed, really great discussion, thanks to all!

12:58:20          From Aroni McCutcheon to All panelists: Investing in growing and buying food locally and seasonally will also have significant benefits.

12:58:23          From Anna Mathewson: Agree with Amber!

12:58:25          From Jennifer Roth: Really appreciated this conversation. I hadn’t even thought about the equity of jobs during recovery.

12:58:28          From Niharika Bandaru to All panelists: Great panel and refreshing, tangible perspectives. Thanks to all!

12:58:33          From Jennifer Cutbill: Yes thank you all, and thank you especially CUI for facilitating all these great convos!

12:58:35          From Mohamed Dhanani to All panelists: “We shouldn’t be seduced by the sexy” great quote Shoshanna!

12:58:47          From Eva Chu: Wonderful convo, thanks to everyone!!!

12:58:58          From Margaret Prophet: Thank you for these. Really enlightening and enjoyable. WTG ladies!

12:59:11          From Thierno Diallo to All panelists: Thanks to all !

12:59:26          From Mariyan Boychev: Thank you very much!

12:59:41          From Anna Marandi: this was AWESOME. thank you from a Canadian neighbor in DC:)

13:00:05          From Niharika Bandaru to All panelists: Great point, Mel!

13:00:07          From Toby Greenbaum to All panelists: Excellent session, again!

13:00:17          From Catherine Soplet to All panelists: Great seession – thank you so much for rich discussion. LOVE women plan for households and also for the future #oikonomia:-)

13:01:11          From Jennifer Cutbill: @deb @alison – I’ll follow up on previous related convos soon.

13:01:18          From Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Please help CUI improve its CityTalk programming with a short post-webinar survey –

13:01:30          From Allison Ashcroft: gender inequities of COVID

13:01:38          From Andrew Thomson: Thank you all!

13:01:39          From Francis Wallace: Thanks everyone.

13:01:41          From Susan Chin: you rock!

13:01:42          From Christina Lovitt to All panelists: Thank you!

13:01:49          From Lara B: Thank you everyone!

13:01:54          From Eva Chu: Thanks everyone!

13:01:58          From Jennifer Court: Thanks! This was a really excellent panel!

13:01:59          From Mick Malowany: Thank you all for a fantastic panel! (and hello Chandra, good to hear from you!)

13:02:04          From Catherine Wood to All panelists: Thank you all for the thoughtful discussion! Lots to think about/do going forward. Appreciate your perspective and dedication

13:02:09          From Andrew Thomson: Ending the #shecession 5 women at a time!

13:02:12          From Christina Lovitt to All panelists: Thank you

13:02:23          From Ryan Walker: Excellent panelists – another hit CUI

13:02:40          From Brian Owen: Premier’s back to business announcement soon.

13:02:40          From Dave Waldron: Thanks, Mary and CUI: excellent panel discussion!

13:02:52          From Patricia Lewis: Thank you! Excellent conversation and insight!

13:03:00          From Ann Lockhart to All panelists: Thanks so much! great discussion and insights!

13:03:08          From Caroline North to All panelists: Thank-you panel! Excellent

13:03:10          From Jade Yehia: Fabulous conversation! Thank you

13:03:16          From Daniela Bodden: Thank you! Excellent panel!

13:03:26          From Allison Ashcroft: Vancouver and montreal have signed on to this c40 principles for recovery

13:04:46          From J. Scott: Thanks all of you!

13:08:25          From Canadian Urban Institute: Great comments in the chat! Please post your final comments, links and resources now as we will close the chat in two minutes.