Cities in the Time of COVID-19: What are the Impacts on Urban Architecture and Design?

Featuring Alex Bozikovic, Globe and Mail architecture critic; Franc D’Ambrosio, Principal at D’Ambrosio Architecture and Urbanism; Janna Levitt, Partner at LGA Architectural Partners; and Adam Lubinsky, Managing Principal at WXY Studio

5 Key
Takeaways

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

1. Rethinking building design

During the chat, panelists listed some of the elements of the built form that will need to be reconsidered using a new “COVID lens”:

  • The size of office spaces may need to be reduced due to the now proven effectiveness of remote working.
  • The size and format of residential units may need to be reconsidered in order to accommodate living and work.
  • Residential lobby sizes and gathering places may need to be reevaluated to accommodate for physical distancing.
  • The nature of social spaces in office complexes may need a rethink in light of social distancing requirements during outbreaks

2. A time for innovation with “tactical urbanism” – low-cost, temporary changes to the built environment

Pilot projects have always been a clever way to ease change, and right now, cities are just one big pilot project. Concepts that have not gained any traction in the past, are now being expedited to solve problems in the immediate. Some of these innovations may very well stick – and cities will be better for it.

3. Mass transit needs a big re-think

The role transit systems play in a city is, of course, critical. But the business model is going to have to undergo a thorough reevaluation – both in terms of how systems are paid for, and how they are designed. The topic of multi-centre cities was also debated, both among the panelists and in the chat feed by participants. One panelist suggested there was value in exploring the popular concept of “15 minute or 20 minute cities” in order to reduce the number of vehicle trips and to spur small, local businesses.

4. Density and the demonization of cities

This pandemic has sparked a renewed discourse on the very nature of cities and the potential to reignite the cultural meme that insists cities are places where disease transmission is rampant. But “most North American cities are not actually very dense at all,” as one panelist noted. Some Asian cities, with exponentially greater density, have managed to actually curb the outbreak. Designers and architects, in partnership with health scientists, will be charged with the task of broad intensification in a post-COVID world.

5. Public realm and the commons

COVID-19 has illustrated, very plainly, that there’s a dearth of public spaces at a community scale. Many cities across North America have given up or sold off their publicly owned lands. The urban planning and design profession must promote the reclamation of the commons – by demanding the integration of public spaces into developments and creatively working with the untapped resource of a city’s streets and roadways – which up until now, have been reserved exclusively to the domain of the private automobile.

Full Panel
Transcript

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 events@canurb.org with “transcription” in the subject line.  

Mary Rowe [00:00:59] Good afternoon! This is the first of a series of conversations called City Talk that Canadian Urban Institute has initiated. I’m Mary Rowe, President of CUI. And we’ve been focused for the last couple of weeks on creating platforms to allow people to learn from one another – peer to peer learning. We’re in the connective tissue business. So we created three initiatives: City Watch, City Share and CityTalk – all of which are focused on sharing information across the country in terms of what municipal governments are doing, but also what the community response is and what are the smart ways that people are improvising and trying to respond as imaginatively as they can.

 Mary Rowe [00:01:37] This is a volunteer effort that we’ve been working on with our partners. We have a small staff compliment, and then we rely on our partners across the country and the many, many, many volunteers that have been committing their time and working through the night often. So thank you very much. It’s really an all-hands-on-deck moment and we continue to need support on this. And so if you’ve got bandwidth, you’ve got an hour a day where you can help us populate those sites and help us track what’s going on in the urban environment across the country – please get in touch: covidresponse@canurb.org.

[00:02:14] I want to acknowledge that this is an unusual time, obviously,  and we are connecting people across the country, and in this case, we have someone from New York,  and I want to acknowledge appropriately what our relationship is to the First Nations community. So I’m going to indicate the ones here in Toronto. But I just want to be clear that we have people across, as I suggested, a continent who have different relationships, but ours are that we are the traditional territory of many nations, including the Mississauga’s of the Credit, the Annishnabec,  the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples and are now home  here in Toronto to many diverse First Nations, the Inuit, Metis  peoples from across Turtle Island. We also acknowledge that in Toronto in particular is covered by Treaty 13, signed with the Mississauga’s of the Credit and the Williams Treaty signed with multiple Annishnabec Nations.  We are very conscious of this. Could we be more –  in terms of the continuity of challenge that First Nations experienced for generations and that we now collectively across the world seem to be confronted with.

Mary Rowe [00:03:11] I also just want to add another caveat that we appreciate that there are thousands and thousands of Canadians, particularly public servants and civil servants, who are completely engaged in emergency response work, and that this conversation is no replacement for that. And that we have been very careful to make sure that whatever we’ve been trying to put together does not overly tax the time of people that are on the front lines and that we’re trying to create companion processes and ways to engage more folks in responding in a collective way. So we just want to make sure that we’re clear about that. And we’ve been also very careful about not spreading misinformation. So I’m going to suggest that in these sessions, these city talk sessions, we’re asking our participants to really be focused on very practical things. What are they actually observing? What are they actually seeing in their work and in their communities. And for us to not indulge in a lot of prognosticating work is sort of artificial kind of theoretical chat. We really want to be grounded in what we’re seeing is happening and focusing on specifics.  At CUI we’ve been thinking about what’s working, what’s not and what’s next. And we want to help our time horizons align – so there are immediate things, there are maybe shorter and the intermediate term things maybe through the summer and then there are longer term things. But we’re going to see if we can hold that tension and have that multi-layered conversation as we go. So, we are going to record this session and then we will extract from it all the smart things that my colleagues say, and we’ll get it up in it for posterity up on a blog. We may be pulling some of the audio content and we’re keen to be able to have an archive for this and for us to be able to refer to it and for other people who can’t be on today to learn. So that’s important, we think, and that’s why we’re adding all the other technology. If you have a question that you want to post for this gang or a comment, you can put it into the chat box and I will try to refer to it and my colleagues will catch it and we will see if we can get an address. But we only have an hour. We’re doing at least two a week of these. And so, if you have suggestions for other topics, other folks you want to hear from other burning issues that you think we should be addressing, just e-mail us at covidresponse@CANURB.org.   or put it in the chat box and we will try to respond. So, focus today: architecture, urban planning, urban design. I appreciate there’s a lot of talk within those disciplines about which discipline is who’s, who does it, who doesn’t do it, and we realized we weren’t going to get it perfect. But we’ve got a smattering of folks here who do some planning, some design and some architecture. And we’re obviously not fully representative here. We don’t have as much diversity as we need to, obviously. And we’re going to try to make sure that we are from as many communities and as many diverse voices as we possibly can as the series rolls out. So, none of these sessions is going to be exhaustive or comprehensive or perfect. It’s just to get us going. So, joining us today, Franc D’Ambrosio from Victoria. Just wave, Franc, so we know who you are. Janna Levitt, architect from Toronto,  Adam Lubinsky from New York and Alex Bozikovic who is the architecture critic for The Globe and Mail. And we have been describing COVID as a kind of particle accelerator. It basically pushed a whole bunch of things that may have been percolating in the urban environment suddenly to the front. And now we’re being confronted, too, with it in what we’re calling COVID Time .

Mary Rowe [00:06:43] So I want to start by posing a question. I’m going to ask Adam. He’s our visitor, Adam Lubinsky from New York City. And if you’ll start by just talking to us a little bit about what are the immediate impacts that you’re seeing on your practice and your work on the projects that you’re working on in New York or other parts, because I know that Adam is with WXY Studio in New York City and they do projects all over the place. So, Adam, can you start us off?

Adam Lubinsky [00:07:08] Sure, absolutely. Mary, thank you for having me on board. And I just want to echo what you’re saying that, you know, this is an unbelievable time in New York City. And there are a lot of people under a tremendous amount of stress and pressure. And I just want to acknowledge that. And, you know, when I speak about the work that our office is doing now, we’re obviously able to be working remotely in a way that a lot of people who are in New York City are not. And so, it’s a difficult, incredible time that way. And so just as a starting point, I think it is useful to describe what happens to a practice before talking about our work and our projects themselves. And so, we began to go remote about three plus weeks ago, March 9th. And, you know, it was a whole process of setting up infrastructure to do that. And one of the things that has been interesting about it is, of course, the kind of social infrastructure that we had at our office, lunch space, social time are things that we’re essentially replicating now through virtual office means. And that’s one of the aspects of this crisis, is figuring out how to build those internal capacities so that we can do our work. And so, we’ve been using Microsoft teams. We have different teams and channels set up through that, including a virtual office that has a virtual cooking class and virtual music, virtual entertainment and so virtual book recommendations. And so, you know, part of what we’ve needed to do is really step up these pieces of social infrastructure. The means of communication have changed. We talk to each other every day now and we have cohorts that talk to each other. And so that in of itself has been an incredible process to figure out.  In terms of our work itself, there are many projects that are going on hold, and that’s something that, you know, we simply must accept. And, you know, our projects that have been under construction that are no longer  able to stand construction. We recognize that those need to be on hold. We have a project with New York public libraries that clearly had to be put on hold. We do have a couple of construction projects that are in affordable housing that, at least as far as I’m aware, up to date, have been allowed to continue because they’re seen as essential work. But I think part of what we’re trying to do is open up those conversations with our clients, which tend to be public agencies or institutions or in some case, private sector folks and say, you know, are there ways that we can pivot in the work that we’re doing to address current challenges and current concerns?

Mary Rowe [00:10:17] Are you talking about repurposing work that you’ve already been engaged to do? And give me an example.

Adam Lubinsky [00:10:22] Yes that’s right. And those are well, you know, on many levels. You know, whether it is a planning project or working in an area of Brooklyn where we’re undertaking a planning exercise to look at economic development and the group that we’re working with – they are simply dealing with companies that are furloughing workers and they’re trying to figure out how they might get their workers back in five months. And so, you know, we haven’t figured it out with them yet because it’s complicated, because funding comes from this stream and that stream. But how can we lend capacity in those situations? So that’s a real challenge, is to figure out if and how we can do those pivots to provide immediate assistance.

Mary Rowe [00:11:10] Great let’s stop with that and then we’ll come back to it. Franc, let’s go to the other end of the country. Let’s go to Victoria. Tell us what’s going on and what are you observing?

Franc D’Ambrosio [00:11:20] I think what I’m seeing is three kinds of impacts that I can identify right now. Two apply to public sector and private sector. The more personal ones echo Adam’s completely. We started over a month ago because I have an auto immune condition, so I had to isolate from my office before we all dispersed. But in that, I spend a lot of time alone. I ride a bike and so I’m watching what’s happening to the city as everybody else self isolates. Looking at examples like New York and other places. So I see impacts on policies and projects that were planned and are ongoing. They were planned in the past –  both their development strategies, their funding, their political and policy relationships, approval agencies. So we’re dealing with those in a certain way. Then we’re dealing with impacts on policies and planning processes during the pandemic, which we foresee happening right now, but also in the future, it’s in the near future. And those have to do with live applications for development permits or building permits, ongoing construction, all those,  so there are significant impacts on those spheres. And then we’re foreseeing policy and planning impacts in the future. How will we do planning differently? How will we adapt projects that were only already in process? And how will that impact what we do? And we’re already starting to feel it. In a meeting this morning, we’re designing a new complex for the electrification of transit buses. So it’s a new service facility for electronic buses. Our team consists of people across B.C. and one in Alberta. And we have to discuss the implications of doing that for the future needs of transit. So it’s really kind of interesting how it’s finding its way into everything. But really those three areas are what I feel, because you have to look backwards, look at your current condition, and then how the heck are we going to deal with these same things in the future?

Mary Rowe [00:13:51] Right. I mean, that the whole nature of the way that business is being done is going to be completely upturned.

Franc D’Ambrosio [00:13:56] The nature of the projects like  social spaces, in office complexes. The actual numbers of people that may or may not because of this condition of working remotely, a lot of people realize that part of what they do, could be done remotely. So the size of rental spaces is already being discussed by the office buildings that we’re planning.

Mary Rowe  [00:14:20] Do you mean commercial or rental, Franc? Or do you mean apartments need to be bigger because we will be working?

 [00:14:25] Well, I was coming to that, but no. So far, the conversations I’ve had have to do with our office workspace because we’re in the process of designing a couple office buildings.

Mary Rowe [00:14:39] Right. OK. I’m Jana. Let’s go to Toronto.

Janna Levitt [00:14:43] And so I would echo what Adam and Franc said about working remotely and some of the challenges with that, although I would add that for me, one of the things that’s been really striking is because of the rapidity with which we went from being huddled together in an office to all of us kind of atomizing over almost 40 different locations, there’s been a lot of anxiety and that anxiety is compounded by the uncertainty that every day brings in terms of the wave of news.  So even as this current as last Friday, when they announced that there would be a further reduction in the amount of construction that could happen. You could feel it was palpable within all the conversations in the office. People were worried –  do I still have a job? Am I going to lose some of my time at work? What does this mean going forward? And so it’s actually meant a lot more, non, sort of work related work for us to help people actually just cope with the stresses because outside of work, their hearing all of their friends are losing their jobs and  people are, you know, one paycheck away from losing their house or losing many things, losing their health. And so it’s really the first time, in my experience of working where, you know, I’ve lived through many recessions, but none have struck this deeply in terms of how people feel about themselves. It’s really at their core. And then I think the other thing that I really noticed, we’re very fortunate in that most of our public sector work has not been stopped yet. It’s all, so far, anything not for profit housing is continuing. Libraries are continuing. University work is continuing. So in that sense, we’ve been fortunate our private houses have, except one, all stopped. Totally understandable. But what I find actually really interesting is how it’s made me actually understand that in our journeys from work to home, home to work, walking out at lunch to get lunch, all those breaks in the day where everybody goes out to get nourished by the culture, by civic life is absolutely cut off. And that has really reduced the quality of our collective lives in a way that I haven’t been able to articulate until this went on.  That has,  I think, made a significant impact on all of us.

Mary Rowe [00:17:35] In terms of your capacity to work or just your general sense of life in urban…

Janna Levitt [00:17:41] Both!  Yeah, because you’re not making your…. the lack of stimulation. What happened on the streetcar?  I work near Kensington Markets;  Every day there was always something I could talk about, about some place going out of business or a new place starting or somebody doing a little pop up something. All those little, you know, collateral that feeds into your work, which you don’t really appreciate until it’s withdrawn. And it was withdrawn so quickly that I think its people are feeling the absence of it in a way that you wouldn’t feel if it was a little bit of a reduction, a gradual reduction.

Mary Rowe [00:18:25] Yeah. I mean, it’s been so sudden, as you say.  I’m watching the chat box, and we’re going to come to you, Alex, next. Just for the others, just to keep in mind this. First, I would be interested to hear from Jana and Franc, whether the federal supports –  the 80 percent wage subsidy – is that working for people in the urban development professions?

Janna Levitt [00:18:46] No, we’re hoping that that gets corrected, but it absolutely doesn’t work for anyone like us who’s a service provider. It works for people who are wage earners, cash businesses that kind of thing. And I you know, I get it. You have to go by the biggest bundle that you, you know, narrow your focus. But it doesn’t help us at all. Sadly.

Franc D’Ambrosio [00:19:10] And I echo that. In fact, quite the opposite. We’re finding ourselves being asked for deferrals and contributions to the agencies that are associated with our client groups, the nonprofits we work for and so on. They’re reaching out because there are a lot of disadvantaged people that are suffering the most in terms of employment.

Mary Rowe [00:19:35] Right. OK, so Alex, I’m going to come to you, but just for everyone’s benefit,  we’re being asked a couple of general questions in the chat. One is, what’s the ultimate impact that we’re anticipating in terms of urbanism? What’s going to happen to density? What do we think the impacts are going to be on the future of intensification? All those things. And that’s one. The second thing is, what about the impact on the public realm? Because we’re seeing more demands on the public realm, obviously, and does that need to change? Local retail – what do we see there? What do you anticipate? And then I think there is a whole question about digital and whether these smart cities digital movement that we’ve been witnessing is up to the task to respond. Alex, why don’t you give us a sense of what you’re observing, what you’re writing about this and watching across the country, and then we’ll dig in a bit more on some of these other specific questions.

Alex Bozikovic [00:20:28] Right. I think those first couple of points that you just brought up really echo what I have been focusing on, you know, as a journalist rather than a practitioner. I’ve just been trying to figure out what this means. And I think those, you know, are a couple of the most critical issues. One is going to be how the sort of how the politics of development and the politics around planning change as a result, whether we’re going to take the lesson from this pandemic that somehow essentially that cities are bad, that cities are a site for disease or disease transmission. And certainly, there’s a history of that. I don’t think in this case that that is scientifically accurate.

Mary Rowe [00:21:10] History of what, Alex? A history that that there is a popular cultural meme out there that wants to demonize cities.

Alex Bozikovic [00:21:15] Well, certainly exactly right. And, you know, there is also, you know, if you look at how cities evolve through the 20th century,  disease was certainly an important factor in how architecture and the discipline of urban planning came together, right? You know, disease literally or disease metaphorically, you know, blight –  both literally and figuratively was an important factor in how, our current cities as they are today taking shape. So, I mean, I think there’s certainly the potential for that to happen again, for people to latch on to the idea  that we need to put everyone in a house with lots of space in between them in order to keep people healthy. I’ve seen hints of that already, and I wonder whether that will continue. I think it will. And I think, you know, the other point which you also mentioned, Mary, is about public space. I think many certainly for those of us who live in cities that are and in parts of cities that are walkable, you know, this change, you know, the lack of public life that Janna was talking about, this change is very acute.  I mean, we can really see it and feel it. But I think that we’re not alone in that. I think that almost everyone at this point understands public space differently. I think this has shaken up people’s experience of what it is to be outside in an urban environment. And on the one hand, it’s become clear almost everywhere that the amount of space we have for people to walk around, to cycle, to be outside, not in a car, that space is inadequate. And I wonder whether the lesson of that is going to be that we need more of it, more that we need to allocate.

Mary Rowe [00:22:59] Can  I just follow you on this?  You mean the space is inadequate in that it’s not wide enough to have more than… I mean, the sidewalks aren’t  wide enough, they are too narrow. And some of our ravines here, for instance, too narrow. You can’t enjoy it with social distancing. Right? Is that what you mean?

Alex Bozikovic [00:23:14] Exactly right. That is what I mean. And I think that, you know, when you look at the street, right of ways anywhere in North America, you see a lot of space that is now used for vehicular traffic and for parking and not a lot of space used for walking, much less for cycling, for bike lanes. And I think, you know, at least temporarily, I think there have  been a lot of calls to change that, to rebalance that. I think that makes a lot of sense as a temporary measure, some sort of rebalancing. And I wonder whether that is going to stick.

Franc D’Ambrosio [00:23:50]  I think a pandemic is shining a light on all these things. And I think efforts that have been either marginal or fraught with controversy like in Victoria, for instance, the proliferation, the  purposeful proliferation of segregated bicycle paths through the city has been a battle – a  block by block battle. Reduction of parking spaces and so on. When I cycle around now, when there’s hardly a vehicle around comparatively, I was out at rush hour cycling down the middle of the street looking at the proportions of the segregated bike paths that have been built versus the three travel lanes in some cases four travel lanes and the parking lanes that have been allocated for us when we drive. There is an imbalance there that people have recognized, and some people are struggling to rectify it. This is shining a light on it. I believe that after all this isolation, if it was to end, but during it, a lane was closed on every three and four lane road in the city, no one would miss it, when you come back, then that would be an interesting experiment. It would almost be a guerilla, a guerilla urban design thing to do.  Because I think that will be an impact if we can take that and turn it into momentum. Look at the silver lining of this.  Same goes with sidewalk width, with mobility devices and so on. There are sidewalks that barely have a foot and a half to get around them when they are there – get around a telephone pole. So I think these things are going to be magnified. And that comes to the other one about our urban space. The idea of a rhythm throughout of green spaces and public open spaces. Victoria sold off a lot of its public land, so there’s a dearth of public spaces at a community scale. And we’re  thought of as a green place. But still, we have issues. And I know that’s typical of cities across North America. A lot of them gave up their public space. So I think the idea of reclaiming the Commons in terms of urban design, urban planning is going to flourish if our professions promote it. And I think that’s going to be one of the things that we can offer up. Take the momentum caused by this pandemic, and this difficulty and stretch it. And I just want to say one last thing about the density. There is going to be the new kind of NIMBY. It’s going to be the rallying cry for NIMBYism. And I think that that’s a mistake because science doesn’t bear that out. Suburban environments are as prone, if not more prone. It’s something I read recently they are more prone to transmittal of viruses and different kinds of bacteria. So I think that it’s going to be our role, if we are going to do anything, to think about it, figure it out. Get to our politicians and our policy makers and have an impact that foresees having to have a better urban life because we do miss it. Janna is so right. We tried to have our third happy hour on Friday because our office has a very strong culture of interacting. We bring in guests and so on. And there is a marked sense of kind of absence. And we’re lucky to have these media and digital formats that we can at least look at each other and in the face and say clever things about our lives now. But when you put this over a series of months, and it could get very grim very quickly. So I think it’s important that we carry on the lessons learned into the future.

Mary Rowe [00:28:02] Alex, you wrote last week about NIMBY and you are questioning about whether we’re going to see a real resurgence of anti-density. What’s your take on this now? I mean, it’s a week since. What do you think?

Alex Bozikovic [00:28:17] Well, you know, I wrote about it in the context of California. I was responding to a book by The New York Times journalist, Conor Dougherty, Golden Gates, which is about the housing politics of the San Francisco Bay Area, which has some of the most sort of baroque NIMBYism anywhere. But, you know, I think we’re going to have to see. But fundamentally, I think there’s a confusion between density and crowdedness. Brent Toderian wrote about this. Adam, maybe you could talk about this a little bit. Your mayor has been apparently a little bit confused about the difference between density and bringing people together.  I’m curious to hear how that’s playing out for you professionally and in New Y

Adam Lubinsky [00:29:07] I don’t know which pronouncement you’re referring to, but the mayor did initially open several streets for pedestrians and cyclists and turned away cars and then he reversed himself. And, you know, I think we still have an enormous amount to learn about the impacts of different kinds of spaces and densities. You know, certainly we see other dense cities around the world like Singapore, like Hong Kong and Seoul, Korea, that haven’t suffered the way New York has. San Francisco’s the second densest city in the US, and it hasn’t had the same impacts as New York City. And New York has been through other instances of not knowing what to do after a tragic moment.    9/11,  there were many pronouncements against the building of tall buildings and that clearly… some things remained in place in New York City, building lobbies and security really transformed, but other things like pronouncements against tall buildings did not hold. And I think we’re going to need to learn again what some of the causes are and separate those from what some of the fears are. Now, if density continues, there still may be potential to look at land-use changes. So we can be dense, but we could also be multi centered, so we’re not as dependent on transit. So essential workers don’t have to travel the distances they’re traveling today so that workers are closer to home. And so, you know, the mixing of uses, the creation of more of a multi centered city in New York or places like Toronto. There is longer term potential to change the structure of our city in response to these things.

Mary Rowe [00:31:04] Adam, do you have impediments to that now? I’m interested in Janna to weigh in on this in terms of multi-centre, I mean, is that are there actual policies that are inhibiting you from doing that now?

Adam Lubinsky [00:31:15] No. I mean, those things have been in sort of slow development over the last 15, 20 years. Downtown Brooklyn, Long Island City, Queens, or even Jamaica, Queens. Those are places that have started to become more live-work, 21st century, CBDs in a way that lower Manhattan has not become because of the way it’s been shaped. So but those things can be accelerated and there should be pressure to accelerate those kinds of moves. So, you know, density can still hold.  After Superstorm Sandy, where an area in far Queens called the Rockaways was hit severely, and there is a huge outcry to improve transit from the Rockaways into midtown Manhattan and lower Manhattan. And while some of that was valid, it was also equally valid to say, let’s build up Jamaica, Queens, as a real commercial center and which has, to a degree been happening. So we need to look at how we shape our cities, not just in terms of density, but

Janna Levitt [00:32:34] I think there’s an interesting discussion about density and to take an example of what’s working now and a kind of hyper local, to use your expression, Mary. There’s been a lot of really neighbourhood activities that are taking over streets, they’re using the street to get together and still maintain social distancing. And so I think the street is a missed opportunity in terms of thinking about public space. And there have been really great examples of pop ups that are done in a hyper local way. And I think the resistance to close down streets is one that I find a real mystery, because there are so few cars on the street that if you just took over half the width of the street, we would have a way more public life that insured social distancing appropriately, but allow people to experience some sense of a real civic life as opposed to the synthetic life that we all live  now, talking through zoom and computers. And so I think that if  there is an argument for density, I think it’s what we need to do is cull and ferret out all those places that are part of cities, like the Highland is an example  of infrastructure that is now a part of our experience of amenity space or the Bentway is another example of found space that was considered redundant. And I think in cities there are a whole lot of opportunities to find those spaces that would support really good quality of life now and moving forward without having to spend or take over more land. To have creative re-imagining  about the nature of streets are.

Mary Rowe [00:34:38] Can I thread back to  what Frank was going on and what you’ve just touched on? I know, Alex, you want to get in, but the notion of pilots, you know, New York is the king of pilots. You started it and then Toronto started to copy and then the pilots as a way of easing its change. And then when all hell does not break loose, you can make it more permanent. I’m curious about hardening of bike lanes and how and this notion that you might be able to appropriate  a portion of a street under certain conditions. So if over the next year we have times when we need to go into social distancing and locking down and we must come out of it. Are there ways that we could introduce things that could be done overnight? All of a sudden, everybody knows this street and that street goes to one lane, just like in New Orleans.  When New Orleans needs to evacuate, they invoke counter flow and all the roads, all the traffic goes out. Could we have our own versions of counterflow that we could snap in and snap out? And I’m not suggesting that it wouldn’t be…actually, you like having that roadway only one lane, thanks very much. And then you could you could gradually work into it. But I’m just wondering if there’s opportunity, as you suggested, Franc, for us to let’s try some things that may, in fact, prove to be useful in the longer term?

Franc D’Ambrosio [00:35:53] Vancouver did that. That’s how they solved the conversion of a lane of the Burrard Street bridge. They said, OK, we’re going to do a pilot project for a year or two, whatever it was. And they put temporary barriers up and they tried it. And now it’s permanent, but not without a lot of machinations  in Victoria and across Vancouver Island, I think on the mainland as well, the idea of pocket parks. So they take two parking spaces, parallel parking spaces, construct a sitting area. And some of them had survived. They were initial experiments that are, you know, for a weekend or for this or for that. But that works. I think the attribution of uses in the public right of way is the way to go. It is the biggest publicly owned property in any city. So the way we use it has been dominated by people who wanted convenience when they were in their private automobile. Simple as that. And the servicing. So really, as an electorate, our civic leaders respond to our desires. So we’re going to have to use the democratic means at our disposal and the different governments, municipal government acts and charters for cities that have charters to enact that. But we’re going to have to get popular support for it. And therefore, I think it’s up to the design profession to demonstrate through pilot projects and through analysis of precedent and in preparing visual material communication materials to translate it. There are people chalking out traffic calming strategies on the streets during block parties. We know how to do it and it can be virtually grassroots guided by the related professions. And I think that kind of move – if  we come back with guns blazing, we should be able to make some progress in that regard. I don’t think we’ll have as much problem from here on in or in the future, planning and executing the segregated bike systems. When people realize how many people are out there on bikes when they are there.

Alex Bozikovic [00:38:18] I would like to believe that you’re right, Franc, but I think there’s a real potential that the politics are going to go the other way. You know, people who are defensive about driving, people who are defensive about their need to live, you know, in a suburban environment aren’t going to be less so after this. You know, I think there’s going to be for some people at least, you know, a real rush to the house, rush to the suburbs. And I think that public transit, I think, is going to be vulnerable after this. I think there are a lot of people who are going to be more reluctant. People who have the choice are going to be reluctant to use public transit. You know, maybe that makes a little bit more sense scientifically than, you know, than sprawl does. But, you know, in a nutshell, I think that the substance of what Franc is bringing up is right. But, you know, it may be tough to make that argument. So, you know, staking things out now… tactical urbanism right now that establishes a new and better reality, is going to be very valuable in as much as we can make that happen.

Franc D’Ambrosio [00:39:25] I’m hopeful that the move towards a work life balance will create a philosophical shift and then those things happen very slowly. But I think in terms of value systems being modified by spending more time with your family or with a close friend or with a caregiver, cared for relationships is going to cause a shift in priorities, I think, in the population,  if it’s nurture after. Because we have a supreme capacity to forget the past as humans.

Mary Rowe [00:40:03] Can we pick up and talk about transit for a minute? Then I want to get into retail because I think  people are asking about retail right now.  You know, one question I have is , I mean, the fear we’re all going to have now is that people will be afraid to take transit. They will get into their cars. We want to shift them onto bikes. Are we going to have the public will to invest in transit? And should we be investing in different kinds of transit, more flexible transit? Right now in Toronto, the transit infrastructure is heavy into areas that don’t need people going to. So the if we had a BRT system would we be better? Do you guys want to just comment a little bit about what you see the future for transit and even in the shorter term, what do we need to be thinking about for transit?

Franc D’Ambrosio [00:40:46] Education, I think the transfer of germs and viruses and so on is not understood. I think the communication of scientists I have a very good friend who is a climate change scientist and I say you guys are a failure at communicating the urgency of climate change and that is a public relations and a communication problem. And I think educating on how things work will go a long way with anti-densification and anti-transit sentiments that will emerge. I totally agree. That will be the reaction until it is explained convincingly and accurately by government and by the science community.

Mary Rowe [00:41:32] Janna and then Adam

Janna Levitt [00:41:35] I think we need extremely affordable transit that offers a very good system so that people from all over the greater metropolitan area and even perhaps the suburbs with a different form of transit can move around for a reasonable cost. And I think without that people are going to take their cars because they have to.

Mary Rowe [00:42:02] And somehow, Janna, it’s got to be safe. I mean, I know now that there are transit systems operating now where the doors shut once they get 15 people on a streetcar so that they can social distance on the TTC here. Do we need to have that kind of thing as Franc has suggested, that we’ve got to communicate that it’s safe, that it’s being managed properly, that it’s nimble and flexible and. Adam, do you want to jump in?

Adam Lubinsky [00:42:24] I’m not a public health expert, but you will see webcams of people in Seoul, Korea, getting onto buses. And the thing is, they clearly are finding ways to track the virus and infected people that are allowing us to deal with these issues. So there is a question of science. There are questions of privacy. And there are going to be ways that we’re going to be able to get back on mass transit with less fear. So this is to echo some of Franc’s points. Just in terms of the cars, there was a very powerful article in The New York Times today about the impact of air quality on fatality rates tied to COVID. And so there really needs to be a much, much stronger action taken against congestion that relates to both truck emissions and car emissions. And so there really should be a lot of people wielding a lot of these statistics  showing that we need to reduce congestion. And so that points to mass transit. And it points to the bike paths and also electrification of vehicles. All these things really need to be  you know, it’s part of our climate change action, it’s part of our baseline improvement of urban conditions. But we’ve got more urgency now around making those improvements.

Alex Bozikovic [00:44:01] I agree. And I think going to the idea of a multi centered city were to adopt a slightly different concept, that is popular these days, the 15-minute city or the 20-minute city.  I think those ideas are valuable –  by reducing the number, the length of people’s trips and the number of vehicle trips that people need to take. Even in terms of disease transmission, you know, a suburban Wal-Mart or Costco is not any better than an urban corner store or a small grocery store in terms of transmission, they might be worse. And I think there are a number of dimensions that are parallel. You know, even in infrastructure. I mean, in most cities in North America and most governments in North America have gone towards fewer and larger public institutions. You know, hospitals are being centralized, schools are being consolidated and centralized. You know, and there are you know, there’s a clear economic case for those things. But, you know, along the way, we have been losing redundancy, you know, specific local capacity. And I think these things are linked. I think having cities that do not rely on, you know, a single place to buy groceries or so few places to buy groceries or so few places to be treated, you know, the more variety and the more redundancy we have both in, you know, in commerce and the public sector, I think the better off we are in every sense.

Mary Rowe [00:45:29] Alex, can we talk a little bit back to circle back on something you talked about earlier, which was this idea of multi centered development, and I think there’s obviously, you know, we’ve got to emergency’s happening at once. I appreciate the chat box is full of smart comments and ideas and we’re trying to pick up as much as we can. There are two emergencies, climate and COVID altogether. And if, as you suggest and as have others reinforced, if we’re going to now have people working from home and we can now have more amenities locally and maybe we don’t have to trek too far – what’s the risk of sprawl? What’s the risk that actually we’re going to lose our commitment to the more environmentally responsible way of building.

Franc D’Ambrosio [00:46:10] I think the risk is high.  We have to curtail that by exerting priorities. And priorities should be to feed ourselves. And I think the production and the food security issues are, again, one of those issues that is going to be under the magnifying glass because of this. So I think from an urban planning point of view, in B.C. we use the agricultural land reserve as a no-go zone  to contain urbanization. I think those regulations and policies have to be reinforced, re-examined and in fact, strengthened to withstand the onslaught of the temptation to go out and spread.

Mary Rowe [00:47:03] What other people think? Alex?

Alex Bozikovic [00:47:08] Yeah. I just I think there’s a lot of potential there. I think, you know, I’m reluctant to bring out my hobby horses at this time. But I think, you know, getting to one of them now, which is that most North American cities are not actually very dense at all. Certainly the postwar parts of any city in North America are for the most part, not at all dense.  And there’s a lot of room for intensification, broad intensification, which would serve both climate resilience and would serve a number of other agendas. You know, there’s a lot of room to, you know, if every North American city had a Brooklyn in it in terms of size and population density, we would be a lot better off. And they don’t.

Mary Rowe [00:47:56] You mean like a similarly dense, already in place…yeah? I mean, Vancouver does. Vancouver is quite dense.

Alex Bozikovic [00:48:07] Well it does, and it doesn’t though. I mean, downtown Vancouver is quite dense. And as soon as you leave downtown Vancouver, you know, Metro Vancouver turns into a pretty sprawling place and a not very dense place.  Even most of the City of Vancouver it doesn’t really have a lot to do with, you know, the vision that shaped downtown Vancouver. So and I think the planning profession has a responsibility here to really acknowledge that, you know, the planning profession likes to focus on its victories and on the points where, you know, the stuff is happening. You know, this idea of a node and spoke intensification and on, you know, getting new communities or rebuilt communities right. But I think the real challenge is broad intensification of the postwar city, which can be done at a modest scale in a broad way in which could serve a whole bunch of bulls all at once. And I don’t really see that’s. I mean, that’s not a particularly sexy or particularly obvious kind of agenda. But I think that’s really where we should be focusing no less in the wake of this pandemic than we were before.

Mary Rowe [00:49:12] I’m hoping we can have something on our neighborhood retail gang. Jana, have you got any thoughts on this? I mean, you shop in Kensington Market. I know this. I know you rely on your local vendors. Maybe this is all connected – where people shop, where they’re going to live. Do you have a thought on this about what’s going to happen to street retail?

Janna Levitt [00:49:28] I think it’s actually quite frightening. But again, I don’t think density is the enemy going forward. And I would agree with Alex 100 percent that we’re not dense enough. We just need to do it differently. We can’t have this bifurcation of single-family houses and 60 storey condos. It’s got to be a middle ground. The missing middle, which we could introduce all over all every city in Canada. You could increase in density without any impact on the quality of life, and you would actually provide the demographics to support very substantial small-scale retail and commercial activities.  I don’t actually believe that this experience is going to empty out cities, because that presupposes that you have the choice to leave. And most people don’t. So I think cities are here to stay. People need cities. And what there needs to be is appropriate leadership and science to figure out, as Adam was saying, how do people in Seoul take the subway every day and not get sick? It’s possible. I think those are the things we have to grapple with. And at the same time, what we may need to do from a government perspective and a funding perspective is to reevaluate the allocation of money to infrastructure because it may decide in the end that we  need to add five more subway cars on every line to allow for that social distancing. So, for instance, now in many cities in Canada, that have introduced public transit between the downtown and the airports for example, they’ve introduced  the absolute minimum number of cars, in the private public developed way to get people from one place to another. And it’s always like, what’s the minimum we can get away with? The metrics is always financial investment. Maybe one of the things that happens now is we have to develop some other standards to put into the mix whenever you’re doing transit. To say, sure, it’s this many people, but they have to be three feet apart.  Whatever your design criteria is per person, if it was three meters diameter, maybe it needs to be four. And that’s going to cost something. And I think governments have to come on board to not only accept it, but get the information out, that that’s  why we need to do it.

 Mary Rowe [00:52:02] You know, one of the things that I’m aware of and again, there’s a whole robust chat going on in the by the participants with each other, which we’re very appreciative of. It’s like parallel worlds, which is great. And we’ll try to track them and follow up as best we can. There are going to be more of these and we’re going to harvest whatever ideas people have for what the discussions need to be. It seems to me one of them is going to have to be on money. How are we going to finance these things? Canadian cities are laying staff off. There are huge, huge debts that are accumulating on transit systems. So there’s going to be a reconfiguring of how money is going to be, how cities are going to be financed going forward. And I think this works right down to the granular, as Alex hinted at. You know, is it any safer, really, to go to a Costco or a Wal-Mart than it is actually to go to your corner store. Probably it’s safer to go to your corner store. Franc, you mentioned food security. We know that that you can track more closely. So is it possible that if we get the zoning right, we get the incentives right, we can actually see a resurgence of local street level business serving neighbourhoods,  if more of us are working in those communities. We’re a couple of minutes yet to finish. So I’m going to ask everybody for a little rounding up comment. One general thing that’s coming out is whether it speaks to money. What’s the future of big development projects, big redevelopment projects? Should they go on hold? Why don’t you just each of you take a chance and saying what you think. If you were the czar of urbanism and you were looking for the next six months, what would you be prioritizing? Let’s go to you first Adam.

Adam Lubinsky [00:53:35] Well, I’ll start kind of on a personal note, which is, you know, what my parents and what my children are dealing with in New York City. And they both can link back to the question. You know, my parents, more than anything, they’re trying to find a way to get out every day. And they live in Manhattan. And getting to a significant wide-open space is not easy. And so on a basic level, you know, starting to think about systems of continuous open space would be amazing. So, you know, let’s find a way to do that. New York City’s talked about that in terms of really having continuous waterfront freeways. And then there’s my children who are doing digital learning. And we haven’t talked too much about the digital side of things. And to a degree, it’s working, OK. They’re doing remote learning, but it’s not working for many, many, many children in New York City. And these idea that digital and smart cities can overcome everything is just not the case. We have a situation where, you know, these kinds of digital infrastructures need to overlap with social infrastructures and physical infrastructures. The Department of Education is distributing Internet ready devices that people don’t have room in their apartments to suddenly create classrooms.

 Mary Rowe [00:55:03] You know what? I’m going to stop you there – and go to the others for a minute each. Franc.

 Franc D’Ambrosio [00:55:09] I’ll link to the retail and the arts and culture.  On the retail side, I think that the kind of progressive instinct that is permeated through urban planning of having retail, we’ve gotten over the hump of condominium luxury apartments over retail. But now we have too much retail that’s too expensive for the entrepreneurs. It’s perfectly fine for Starbucks and large chains. So I think retail space at a micro level needs to be incentivized by not demanding any taxes for it and incentivizing landlords to basically give away the ground floor to energetic entrepreneurship and retail. The arts and culture sectors have a role to play. In fact, they should be leading the charge and they are  – having spontaneous concerts held on Zoom by musicians. They are watching Broadway musicals being enacted on 20 screens, the same people singing together. Last night there was a trombonist going up and down the street, for the 7 o’clock evening cheer. We were cheering for frontline workers. So I think we cannot give that up and we won’t give it up. So we’re going to be coming back together sooner rather than later. And we’ll have to come together in public spaces.

 Mary Rowe [00:56:38] OK. A minute to Janna, a minute to Alex, and then we’re out.

Janna Levitt [00:56:42] I don’t know why we have to stop the developments that are instream now. What I think we need to do, it’s been really refreshing to me to see all levels, municipal, provincial and federal take a leadership role leading the way forward and taking really big risks financially and philosophically to say this is what we need to do to get through it. And what I would hope is that they continue to take a leadership role as we move forward and say, what do we need to do now. Let’s convene the scientists and designers to say, what do we need to do now to ensure that our public spaces or our transit, our gathering places, our shops, are safe moving forward. And it may need a greater investment in the public realm and a greater investment by the private sector. But that’s where the government can’t back down at all levels. They have to say. Mr. or Ms. private developer – sure built your thing, but you know what? You’re going to have to build XYZ or give 10% of the land to public space, right?

Mary Rowe [00:57:59] Or you’re going to have to adjust your lobby space, so there’s more space  when we go into lockdown, we need to have more pickup space. I think there needs to be modifications quickly. Right. OK. Alex, last comment to you and then I’m gonna wrap this up.

Alex Bozikovic [00:58:12] I’d agree with what Jenna said. I think that, you know, there’s no question that government is going to have to get bigger in the wake of this pandemic. I mean, it’s clear even in Canada, certainly in the United States that government doesn’t have the capacity to do all of what we needed to do in a time of crisis. And I think,  I hope, and I expect that’s how our politics are going to turn. And I think that has a lot of implications for urbanism as well. I think you professionals, you know, really need to focus on basic things that might have forgotten about like  public health, about public education, about a strong and robust public realm that has a little bit of extra capacity and can actually serve everyone well. I think those arguments and those fundamentals of an equitable and just city may be, you know, it’s been hard to talk in those terms for the last couple of decades, but I think we need to now. And I don’t think there’s any way to escape, you know, the need  to create a bigger and more just city that has more capacity and that serves everybody.

Mary Rowe [00:59:25] You know, we always say we’re trying to promote that urbanism is for everyone and that  we’re the ones we’ve been waiting for here. We have the opportunity to figure out what the collective future of urban Canada is going to be. Adam, thank you for joining us from New York. Franc from Victoria, Janna from Toronto and Alex, who covers the country. This is the first city talk that we’ve done today. We will do one in two days from now, Thursday. It’s on the future of public engagement and citizen participation, resident participation. And we’re going to be doing a couple a week. Stay on our mailing lists, to make sure that we send you out stuff to tell you when this gets posted online. And if I could just thank you four being brave, the first responders for us to make this platform work. Thank you very much. And we’ll be back soon with more from city talk at the Canadian Urban Institute.

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 events@canurb.org with “Chat Comments” in the subject line.

16:03:20          From Lisa Cavicchia: Feel free also to use the chat function to ask questions, make comments, etc.

16:06:12          From Ronni Rosenberg to All panelists: At Sheridan College, we have dozens of students required to log internship hours. Might they participate in some way

16:12:26          From Abdallah Darwish to All panelists: hope you all safe Adam, what software you are using for virtual activities

16:12:35          From Janet Lo: RBC is re-training and re-deploying their staff to work on credit to help business clients stay afloat.

16:13:39          From Adam Lubinsky to All panelists: Emily and Lisa, Let me know if I should respond directly too attendees. One question asked what platform we are using internally and externally. Internally we are using MS Teams and externally Zoom

16:15:18          From Adam Lubinsky: Abdallah, Thanks for your wishes. Internally we are using MS Teams and externally Zoom.

16:15:52          From Sasha Tsenkova to All panelists: Cities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Higher density, transit oriented developments, mixed used environments did not really fare well. What does this mean for the future planning and design of cities? Sasha Tsenkova

16:17:43          From kendall christiansen to All panelists: will local retail be lost forever, or will it rebound as a reaction to on-line shopping

16:17:49          From Scott Butler: Do you feel that this pandemic presents a meaningful opportunity for society to reclaim/reprioritize the public realm (i.e. redemocratize streets, value parks/libraries)?

16:18:29          From Jenna Dutton to All panelists: For all: should large policy projects be put on hold (in your opinion) or continue with innovative digital means? There is possibility that engagement might not be as meaningful as priorities are (understandably) elsewhere etc.

16:18:40          From Dena Farsad to All panelists: What does this pandemic mean for intensification goals?

16:20:27          From Marion Cabral: ^Agreed with Scott. I’m curious to see if there is appetite from developers, urbanists, designers etc. to rethink the public and private realm, and if see behaviours changing where the public seeks more (small) private spaces opposed to large, public spaces.

16:20:50          From John Jung to All panelists: What will be the true legacy of COVID19 on our urban design strategies after its over? Will we need to be cognizant of social distancing designs in the future? Human centric design, etc

16:23:31          From John Jung to All panelists: One of the interesting revelations is the importance of the enabling infrastructure of broadband as an essential utility, yet we have paid lip service to it for over two decades, especially for our rural communities. Will this now change?

16:24:13          From Douglas Leighton: The discussion so far has (understandably) been about personal and business impacts. Looking ahead – what about potential to direct massive Federal infrastructure funding into urban projects that will help economic recovery, deal with housing issues and reposition / retool cities for the new economy?

16:25:53          From Sonja Vangjeli to All panelists: Very good point on design of public spaces (esp. ROWs) in North America. The proportion of vehicular vs. pedestrian/cycle space is very imbalanced, and not the same everywhere in the world.

16:26:09          From Susan Pekilis to All panelists: Will more people want to use private cars to avoid mass transit?

16:26:17          From Lisa Mactaggart to All panelists: I would love to see the “street diet” experiment.

16:26:19          From Andres Assmus to All panelists: 1. What is your point of view regarding Side Walk Labs distraction (debate)? Don’t you think that Canada has the culture to shift Urban Planning as we know?

2. Do we know that Urban Planning is very weak in Cities where the disease is affecting the most? Example: Guayaquil, Ecuador and more than 100 in the world. What type of Tech/Tools can we apply to change this?

16:26:24          From Anne Huizinga to All panelists: do you see this as a challenge for additional mass transit/density moving forward?

16:27:48          From Louis Conway: How can we continue to move forward with responding to climate change during this pandemic?

16:27:54          From Grant Duckworth to All panelists: Building on the question raised by Douglas, how do you see (repurposed) urban development projects (ie., Vancouver Plan, Broadway Plan) contributing to Canada’s long economic recovery?

16:28:38          From Evgeny Voutchkov to All panelists: As urban designer I cannot disagree with the fact that North American sidewalks are rather narrow (compared to Europe), but I can imagine how the opposite camp might reason that perhaps the ample public realm spaces in Europe had led to such a wide spread of infections in European cities.

16:30:15          From Nasim Bozorgmehr to All panelists: I think one of other impacts of the this pandemic on Architecture would be on amenity areas. For example a need for a by-law provision requiring minimum space in the condominums for storage of on-line shopping parcels. Our building is brand-new but I see the concierge is struggling storing and distributing the Amazon parcels. They are using the lobby space to store parcels for residents to pick up as the storage room is too small.

16:30:28          From Janet Lo: as a layperson, who lives in the core of Toronto, I am displeased with having 70 to 90 storey buildings and inadequate public space; where large swaths of the City is protected for single detached housing or low rise housing.

16:31:01          From Michelle Charkow to All panelists: Another key aspect of ensuring public health and safety is proper hand washing. Will this pandemic finally be the kick that municipalities need to provide proper public washroom facilities in the public realm, specifically in more dense areas of cities?

16:31:57          From Ronald Macfarlane to All panelists: if internet shopping and meal delivery take hold as the new way to do things, how will this impact our multi-use walkable streetscapes

16:33:18          From Jeff Lang-Weir: I’m interested in the discussion about a multi-centred approach in a GTA context. As somewhere that’s becoming so reliant on work in Toronto and bedrooms outside the city, is that something we expect to change going forward?

16:33:25          From Karen Wirsig: How do you make mult-centred cities affordable for workers to live close to their jobs?

16:34:07          From Scott Butler: “Multicentred” planning when adopted in 2nd-tier urban centres is a recipe for sprawl and gutting the core.

16:35:31          From Sierra Buehler to All panelists: I think we need to learn how to change/redesign hospitals and public structures to better support a future response

16:35:34          From Magdalena Milosz to All panelists: I recently read somewhere that “closing” or “shutting down” streets to drivers is really “opening” them up to everyone else.

16:35:44          From Sierra Buehler: I think we need to learn how to change/redesign hospitals and public structures to better support a future response

16:35:56          From Magdalena Milosz: I recently read somewhere that “closing” or “shutting down” streets to drivers is really “opening” them up to everyone else.

16:36:21          From Janet Lo: cost of King Street pilot needs to be considered…. requires significant resources to implement.

16:36:31          From Amy Calder to All panelists: Although this talk may be focused on the public realm and physical environments, I don’t think we should discredit the real connections that people have digitally and the potential of digital technologies to support community building. This isn’t necessarily a “synthetic life” for all audience members

16:36:48          From Shwaan Hutton to All panelists: Alex, your Globe column yesterday commended Mayor Tory for prioritizing the provision of quick, ‘affordable’ housing through a modular approach. A lot of the questions we’re asking ourselves during this time about how urbanism should change are currently being researched by Sidewalk Labs: modular housing, flex living space, an emphasis on public space in our communities, the relationship between technology and cities and even smaller details like delivery logistics. The media has been focusing on the data safety element of their concept, which is only a small part of what they’re researching. Do you think this is a good opportunity for governments to piggyback on and learn from the innovative research/pilots Sidewalk Labs is already doing?

16:36:52          From Milton Friesen to All panelists: I like the idea of being opportunistic for good / experimental ideas and how those could be blended back into whatever post-COVID looks like.

16:37:00          From Amy Calder: Although this talk may be focused on the public realm and physical environments, I don’t think we should discredit the real connections that people have digitally and the potential of digital technologies to support community building. This isn’t necessarily a “synthetic life” for all audience members.

16:37:09          From Jeff Lang-Weir: Scott, what do you mean by “2nd-tier” urban centres? In a region like the GTA, that sounds like Hamilton and Mississauga. In both of those series, a decision to stick with only one urban centre would result in a definitive sprawl-focused direction.

16:37:24          From Paul Arkilander: @Magdalena, I love that way of reframing it

16:37:28          From Janet Lo: would be great if buildings could be set back where downtown right of ways are constrained in allowing delivery zones, parklets, and bike lanes… so sidewalks can be adequately wide

16:37:45          From Amy Calder: crisis like COVID are forcing us to reconsider how we engage in and celebrate community both in person and online

16:37:51          From Milton Friesen to All panelists: I think the challenge will be to honour public trust in that process. Sometimes opportunism gets away with things but if people feel like they were manipulated into it, that can have a negative backlash in the long term.

16:38:32          From Janet Lo: I wonder if Montreal’s retail will fare better than Toronto’s…

16:38:46          From clare miflin: One easy way to make the sidewalks wider in NYC is take the bags of trash off them and accomodate containerized waste in the parking lane!

16:39:03          From Susan Pekilis: Although more bike lanes and public space would be wonderful, are we more likely to push a lot of people into private cars rather than mass transit?

16:39:54          From Deborah Jensen to All panelists: Franc touched on it earlier. What about the suburban context? What do we do with these neighbourhoods moving forward?

16:40:07          From Janet Lo: Masks and ability to open windows on transit vehicles…

16:40:08          From Shauna Kuiper to All panelists: How will the reluctance of public transit impact future/longer term transit planning?

16:40:29          From Abigail Slater: Will people be reluctant to use or will public transit have to change to recognize new realities around transmission of disease?

16:40:35          From Janet Lo: The biggest question for daily mobility is what will happen to schools and pick up /drop off for kids.

16:40:54          From Abigail Slater: Again…the most vulnerable are hit by any reductions in transit

16:41:18          From Abigail Slater: Are bikes accessible to all communities?

16:41:34          From Sierra Buehler: And do we need to invest in transit now so its more attractive when things come back to normal

16:42:28          From Janet Lo: Could it be possible to have improved customer standards to reduce crowding on the busiest transit routes, and to then have on-demand transit for the poorly used routes, so we can deploy resources to busy routes to reduce crowding.

16:42:38          From Mojan Jianfar: RE: the design and architecture of our spaces: Many of the North American examples I’ve seen of people using streets for unique ways to come together while keeping some distance, tend to be in areas that are favour low rise residential and not necessarily in dense areas where people are living in high rises. However, looking at the design and spacing of apartments in Italy, Spain and France shows that ensuring there are balconies, building court yards or more closely spaced mid-rise buildings is leading to more unique interactions for people *across/or above the streetscape*. Balcony musicals, balcony operas, balcony exercise workouts… This could be an interesting push in architecture and design of our living spaces that can support more human interactions with our neighbourhoods that we may be lacking in our current high-rise design.,

16:43:25          From Abigail Slater: lol

16:43:48          From Abigail Slater: masks when out…

16:44:00          From Alan McNair to All panelists: With the present policy focus on more compact and complete communities in Ontario, we have a serious obligation to create better public open spaces, “Places with Spaces for People”, which can work better for people in their daily lives. I don’t think our present planning regime has done a very good job of this. The challenge now is to also figure out how to design these spaces so that people can use them in the context of the present (and future) pandemic environment.

16:44:06          From Abigail Slater: It is actually a case for more transit rather than cutting back.

16:44:32          From Olusola Olufemi to All panelists: Reduction in the number of people in the bus, train coaches, removing every other seat perhaps?, using face masks; generally reconfiguring the number of people in the public transit at a particular point in time. It’s ridiculous how the Go-train ( easy transmission of bacteria or virus) is crowded/congested especially during peak times

16:44:44          From Lisa Mactaggart to All panelists: I think that we need to properly fund maintenance on public transit. If the vehicles don’t appear clean, then I am uncomfortable using them.

16:44:49          From Jeff Lang-Weir: The recent Ontario Liberal leadership race recently included calls from a candidate for a province-wide basic income and from another candidate for free transit. Neither seemed like inevitabilities before this. Do you think the need for government intervention here to ensure people have access to key needs changes the way those kinds of ideas are talked about going forward?

16:45:11          From Milton Friesen: I think the challenge will be to honour public trust in that process. Sometimes opportunism gets away with things but if people feel like they were manipulated into it, that can have a negative backlash in the long term.

16:45:36          From Michal Kuzniar: TTC concerns of overcrowding amid Covid has identified 9 busy routes on March 31st, asking commuters to shift commute times. This shows that we need funding on these routes to improve frequency or build better transit.

16:45:48          From Gil Penalosa to All panelists: Today we have big roads, few cars, ideal time to create citywide corridors, maybe 4 E-W and 8 N-S. Just take away a lane of car storage (parking) and make a safe grid for all ages and abilities. Now for essential workers, and over the next 3 months for the transition. Who knows, if lots of people using by July, it could be permanent. How to get our extremely timid mayor, council and staff to try new options? It seems like they are eager to return to how we were 3 months ago, wasting an opportunity to change, be better, more people friendly city. Any suggestions?

16:46:22          From Amy Norris to All panelists: I think a lot of people are noticing how nice the city is without the intense traffic congestion. if we can find ways to improve transit people will be able to understand the advantages in ways they couldn’t before.

16:46:25          From Evgeny Voutchkov to All panelists: How about we focus our thinking on how to improve people’s natural resilience to illness? Healthy eating, clean air, fresh and locally produced food (urban farming?) non-GMO food, restrictions on fertilizers and antibiotics in agriculture and farming. Because the truth is people’s immune systems are getting weaker and more prone to virus infections.

16:46:31          From Abigail Slater: Perhaps as we all learn to work from home and employers allow more flex time…we will be able to stagger trasit

16:46:35          From Abigail Slater: transit

16:46:39          From Jacqueline Rhee to All panelists: In Seoul, the cost of gas for your private car is near $4/L while the cost to access transit is close to $2 per trip anywhere – they do use fair zones for really distant travel, but even the most expensive trip is less than TTC

16:46:48          From Janet Lo to All panelists: think we need to shine a light on counterfeit capitalism/corporate welfare – e.g. Airbnb and impacts on housing affordability and bail outs… not to corporations that evade tax… but to those who need it – workers, small business.

16:47:40          From Janet Lo to All panelists: We wont have enough money unless we start printing it to fund all the transit, all the new infrastructure, and all the needs for helping people who can’t pay rent.

16:47:46          From Brodie Johnson: I think there’s going to be some serious questions about currently planned transit projects. A lot of money is being shelled out at all levels of government to combat the crisis that I question what transit projects are at risk of being cut due to prioritizing an even more finite pool of resources now.

16:48:20          From Abigail Slater: to prevent urban sprawl, we cannot let the cities die and the need to rebuild all those small businesses that make communities vibrant…need to be reinforced and supported.

16:48:56          From Aren Castro to All panelists: Transit conversations are extremely important, what are the opinions on how green space, or lack of, play into a future network defined by the post-coronavirus policies?

16:49:21          From Janet Lo to All panelists: Agreed. Prioritization is critical for getting investments that achieve city building goals.

16:49:54          From Lisa Cavicchia: LOVING the discussion in the chat!

16:49:54          From Janet Lo to All panelists: Ontario only spent about 10% of infrastructure investments to align with smart growth…

16:50:11          From Janet Lo to All panelists: The rest was for more rural areas…. paving cottage roads etc..

16:50:25          From Sara Udow to All panelists: There are increasing conversations about the need for affordable and supportive housing right now (Alex just wrote an article about this). With those who have experience building affordable housing/writing about it, what are the opportunities right now? Perhaps in the yellow belt in Toronto?

16:50:38          From Janet Lo to All panelists: Didn’t go to intensifying transit nodes or main streets or bike lanes etc..

16:50:49          From Michal Kuzniar: Does not work for those jobs on set schedules whether they are in manufacturing, service industry, where flex time may not be an option

16:50:53          From Amy Norris to All panelists: I think the reaction against our density is appropriate, not against densification itself, but in the form it has taken (at least speaking from the context of TORONTO).

16:51:43.          From Janet Lo to All panelists: Drones are spraying people to disinfect them.. (sorry a bit dark)

16:51:46 From Kristina Leach to All panelists: How might zoning change to accommodate more local manufacturing as people sought to help with supply chain issues, particularly around PPE, but realized there was little capacity for that?

16:51:48          From Gil Penalosa: Today we have big roads, few cars, ideal time to create citywide corridors, maybe 4 E-W and 8 N-S. Just take away a lane of car storage (parking) and make a safe grid for all ages and abilities. Now for essential workers, and over the next 3 months for the transition. Who knows, if lots of people using by July, it could be permanent. How to get our extremely timid mayor, council and staff to try new options? It seems like they are eager to return to how we were 3 months ago, wasting an opportunity to change, be better, more people friendly city. Any suggestions?

16:51:56          From John Jung to All panelists: We need to focus on both key disruptors of climate change and pandemics. Will the planning and urban design profession undertake a new look at “Good Density”. What will that look like in terms of solving the challenges of climate change and pandemic impacts in the future?

16:51:56          From Abigail Slater: True not for everyone, but the more it is allowed, the less the pressure…one would hope anyway…and

16:51:56          From Dena Farsad to All panelists: Could you recommend some resources (journal or magazine articles, podcasts etc) on the how/why density/intensification is not the issue in light of the pandemic (I’d like to share with students). Thank you

16:52:01          From Denisse Cerda to All panelists: we need to create incentives for regeneration and renovation of strategic areas, so more mixed building can be build up and provide services

16:52:04          From LA Girvan: Both Toronto and NYC have a significant number of residents in high rise public housing, many with higher risk from serious health impacts from a pandemic. I worry the pandemic will further stigmatize both the residents and the communities. How can COVID-19 turn open up how we put this essential housing infrastructure at the centre of new ‘centres’/ 15 minute cities?

16:53:12          From Abigail Slater: GREAT discussion!

16:53:30          From Amy Calder: Now that things are hyper-local, we may not see a huge resurgence of sprawl. These areas are inherently inaccessible to the necessities of life like food shops, parkland, etc. For instance, as cities close off access to parking lots at large parks, anyone who needs to drive to access these spaces is disadvantaged and cut off from major green spaces. The rationale is to cut down crowds and encourage social distancing, but the effect is that denser communities with access to green space will be better served and isolated sprawling primarily residential areas will not.

16:53:37          From Thomas Dishlevoy: Has the pandemic exposed the fact that we may have an overabundance of infrastructure to serve our essential needs? Look at all of Janna’s now un-needed meeting room chairs, or the vehicle lanes that Franc mentioned. Mixed use development may take on a whole new meaning, with a lot less realestate used on a part time basis only (our 9-5 offices for example).

16:53:53          From Mohsin Kamal to All panelists: Well we already seeing NIMBYism translate during this pandemic with local neighbourhoods resisting the relocation of homeless shelters and COVID19 health assessment centres

16:53:55          From Mark Sterling to All panelists: Absolutely safer to go to the corner store!

16:53:58          From Janet Lo to All panelists: I personally think we need to sacrifice “coverage” in public transit, to save the main routes to have it less crowded and thereby more attractive to riders, to increase ridership and manage congestion.

16:54:23          From Mark Sterling to All panelists: Why put them on hold?

16:54:37          From Janet Lo to All panelists: On-demand transit can be used to deal with “coverage” for public transit service…

16:55:00          From Milton Friesen: On the transit and spacing side, we need to be careful not to bake single solution/mode ideas into the infrastructure, including spacing on subway cars. Adaptive capacity is critical – this mode during a pandemic, this one during mass evacuation, and this one for average days, etc. There are ways to determine which aspects of the system contribute to it reaching a state of criticality, the point at which the system becomes brittle, liable to significant (and perhaps unwanted) change.

16:55:00          From Sierra Buehler: Need to invest in public infrastructure now more than ever, to push us out of a possible recession

16:55:04          From Gil Penalosa: The positive tests for COVID19 in Peel, Vaughan, York is same or a bit higher than Toronto per 1000 people. Not an issue of density, huge mistake, even by very good NY governor. In NYC, also highest positive is not highest density.

16:55:27          From Abigail Slater: localism, food sovereignty, return of certain supply chain necessities (medical for example) …maybe the return of urban factories /urban farms,,.

16:55:38          From Eniber Cabrera: Affordability of housing and transit will be still one of the key reasons why cities will remain as the centre of growth. the GTA needs to implement more policies to allow more “missing middle”

16:56:11          From Mohsin Kamal to All panelists: Great point about the need for overlapping digital infrastructure with social infrastructure

16:56:12          From joanne sawatzky to All panelists: Great conversation. Glad to be able to listen in and the impact on people living in cities now. Looking forward to what this will entail for future design.

16:56:45          From Abigail Slater: YES…return to independent stores.

16:57:07          From Birgit Siber: Further to Janet Lo’s comment, Toronto has been inexplicably slow to invest in the creation of adequate new urban park space in our densifying downtown core. Those who live and work in the core need greater access to local urban parks and wild areas. These areas could be strung together to support pedestrians and bike lanes as well as biophilic corridors.

16:57:20          From Nicole Zambri to All panelists: I think the opposite might happen. If more people are able to work from home, we may crave better community building. We may want to be closer to amenities and walk to them to take a break or have something more stimulating. The burbs might be too boring to escape from work life at home.

16:57:29          From Caron von Zeil: Will there be a record of tonight’s conversation afterwards? Been listening so intently, but didn’t make notes and there were quite a few I wish I had.

16:57:34          From Michal Kuzniar: Google trends have shown more researches for growing your own food. This may give urban agriculture a kick star. In the case of NYC, hopefully a healthcare system similar to Canadas.

16:57:49          From Milton Friesen: On the digital side, let’s be careful to differentiate between virtual as OK for short term and bridging seasons but insufficient on building the kind of capacity that geography, proximity, and human in-person interactions generate. Remember the old email / cell studies that show we still communicate most with people we are most often close to (or have been for an extended period of time in the past).

16:57:50          From LATOYA WILSON to All panelists: We definitely need to look into saving our arts and parks. Many parks and museums are closing temporarily and many may not sustain

16:58:01          From Abigail Slater: @milton Friesen…you are an optimist

16:58:03          From Sue Hallatt to All panelists: yes – we’ll be posting this on Canurb.org on the Citytalks page.

16:58:03          From Lisa Cavicchia: We are recording this session and will do a little write up too

16:58:17          From Caron von Zeil: Thanks

16:58:21          From Sara Udow to All panelists: Love the discussion about arts and culture. But those in the arts are amongst the worst hit. As a cultural planner, thinking about opportunities for artists and cultural producers right now…

16:58:31          From John Jung: Thanks CUI. Well done

16:58:34          From Mojan Jianfar: Thanks for organizing Mary and CUI; thanks to the panelists and attendees for the lively discussion!

16:58:45          From Oriana Nanoa to All panelists: Thank you!

16:58:45          From Lorne Cappe to All panelists: Fabulous discussion, thanks!

16:58:47          From Janet Lo to All panelists: I really wish urban designer and planners would get developers to set bac buildings for better public realm space…

16:58:47          From Thomas Dishlevoy: Is the pandemic steering us towards a nightmarish dystopia, or saving us from our current one?

16:58:52          From Jo-Anne Rzadki: Thanks great discussion via panel and chat!

16:58:56          From Thomas Keenan to All panelists: Yes, thanks for organizing and do more of them please!

16:59:01          From Aren Castro to All panelists: Awesome news that this will be recorded!

16:59:09          From Janet Lo to All panelists: Instead, we have to remove planting after the fact in the street furnishing zone… at who’s expense…

16:59:20          From Ryan Walker: Thank you CUI and panelists. I really enjoyed this.

16:59:23          From Peter Turner to All panelists: thank you, CUI.

16:59:31          From Lisa Mactaggart to All panelists: Thank you panelists. Great discussion.

16:59:42          From Shannon Baker to All panelists: Would love to see different professionals involved in these discussions. We need to hear the voice of a *Landscape Architect* when talking about public realm!

16:59:45          From Alan McNair to All panelists: Excellent!

16:59:49          From Mina Hanna to All panelists: Thank you for this great discussion!

16:59:54          From Janet Lo to All panelists: Weirdly – not much is new…. needing complete communities with urban growth centres connected by good quality transit.

17:00:00          From Anni Buelles to All panelists: Thank you, great discussion!

17:00:04          From Sara Udow to All panelists: Thank you for organizing!

17:00:06          From Abigail Slater: I meant @michal is the optimist re NY healthcare!

17:00:11          From Yvette Jancso: Thank you for a great discussion!

17:00:12          From LATOYA WILSON to All panelists: I look forward to continue this conversation. I live in Jersey, but would love to partner with Canada,.

17:00:22          From Marco Zanetti to All panelists: We will need to move from the good philosophy to practicable practices..

17:00:25          From LA Girvan: Thanks for the conversation, CUI!

17:00:25          From Michal Kuzniar: We won’t all suddenly be working from home. We need flexibility and freedom to go outside of the house. Mental Health is another topic of discussion as people are having difficulty being at home, uncertain about their finances, and who are not able to occupy their time with work, hobbies, or online learning.

17:00:25          From Catherine Nasmith: One of the pluses has been being able to hear the birds

17:00:30          From Peter Turner: Thank you, CUI.

17:00:30          From Mario mammone to All panelists: In Quebec, buying local movement is growing, the return of smaller grocery stores, will be returning ! and community gardens in the urban life! Yes leadership role in city planning ….In the 90’s I worked in Japan, met with Toyota homes, 25 years later they will build a whole city! lets work smart!

17:00:31          From Pam Cooper to All panelists: thank you!

17:00:35          From Abigail Slater: THANK YOU Mary & CUI

17:00:38          From Teresa Kerr to All panelists: Great discussion…thank you!

17:00:39          From Jordan Lambie: Thanks CUI!

17:00:43          From Denisse Cerda to All panelists: Many thanks to all! Here, in the south of Chile, we need references to take the appropriate measures, especially in terms of urban planning (we almost don’t have it)

17:00:43          From Augusto Mathias to All panelists: Thanks CUI

17:00:43          From Sierra Buehler: Thanks

17:00:43          From Mary K McIntyre to All panelists: Great discussion — thanks, everyone!

17:00:44          From Kristina Leach to All panelists: thank you!! great discussion

17:00:45          From v n: 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻

17:00:46          From Jason Niles to All panelists: Thank you/Merci !

17:00:47          From Mohsin Kamal to All panelists: Great talk, thanks for a cycling advocate!

17:00:48          From Dianne Himbeault: Thank you

17:00:48          From Amy Calder: thanks

17:00:49          From Vivian Gomes to All panelists: Thank YOU! Amazing discussion!

17:00:51          From Abdallah Darwish to All panelists: Thanks

17:00:53          From Nahid Ahmadi to All panelists: Thanks! This is great !

17:00:54          From Monika Rau to All panelists: THANK YOU! This was awesome!

17:00:54          From Mark Emery to All panelists: Thanks everyone!

17:00:54          From richard LIBRACH to All panelists: thanks to all panelists

17:00:55          From LATOYA WILSON to All panelists: Thanks

17:00:55          From Megan Wallingford to All panelists: Thank you for an excellent conversation!

17:00:55          From David Premi to All panelists: Great discussion!

17:00:55          From Cynthia Woods: Thank you very much!

17:00:57          From Olusola Olufemi to All panelists: Thank you

17:00:58          From Sanchari Quader to All panelists: Thanks to all panelists!

17:00:59          From Hesam Rostami to All panelists: Thanks everyone!

17:01:00          From Ronald Macfarlane to All panelists: thanks

17:01:01          From Allan Kean to All panelists: Thanks CUI and Panelists!

17:01:01          From Isabelle Janton to All panelists: Thank you

17:01:01          From Brittany Livingston: Thank you!!! Fantastic panel!!

17:01:02          From Amina Lalor to All panelists: Great discussion – thanks!

17:01:02          From Caron von Zeil: Thank you!

17:01:03          From Aren Castro to All panelists: 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻

17:01:04          From James McCallan to All panelists: Thanks, looking forward to the next talk.

17:01:04          From Kathy Suggitt: Thanks! Great discussion

17:01:06          From Sonja Vangjeli to All panelists: This was great! Thanks.

17:01:07          From Marion Cabral: thanks!!

17:01:07          From Jane Farrow to All panelists: Thanks CUI and panelists. Very thoguhtful