COVID Signpost 200 Days: What is the State of Our Cities at Day 200?

Joining CUI host Mary W. Rowe for our second series of COVID Signpost, 200 Days: What is the State of Our Cities at Day 200? – are Sadhu Johnston, the City Manager at the City of Vancouver; Jay Pitter, an Equity-Based Place-maker in Toronto; Andre Cote, the Acting Director of Research at the Canadian Urban Institute; and Ken Bautista, Partner Makespace Group and Co-Founder of Startup Edmonton.

5 Key

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

1. “Resilience is as much a process as an outcome. It must be built locally, block by block “

In the first 200 days of Covid-19, we have seen threats to local economies, main streets, and downtowns, as well as the continued deepening of systematic urban inequalities, and the failing long-term finance and governance arrangements for cities. A major threat looming over urban Canada is the pandemic’s second wave, which risks public health and safety, and amplifies these economic, social, and governmental pressures. As these conditions persist now and in the future we need resilience at a local level because that’s where urban Canada’s strength is.

2. COVID-19 has changed our connections to each other in our downtowns.

Ken points out that downtown retail and real estate business models were built around foot traffic and people physically working, shopping, and interacting with each other in their downtowns. Through COVID-19 businesses and organizations are evolving how they engage with customers—the question is not whether people are coming back to downtowns, but how. For example, restaurant owners are transitioning to create delivery options and packaged products. Innovation is often happening one project at a time, with the goal to connect to the local community as much as possible.

3. While finding quick solutions, we also need to slow down for deep restoration and social cohesion.

Accountability, moving in service of the public and learning during the pandemic are critical as we go forward. While we are rushing to solutions, the response needs to be mindful, which requires slower conversations to build trust with communities as people deal with mental health challenges. We should center healing and mental health and intersectionality in the practice of urbanism for deep restoration. The increased awareness of social equity and richness of conversations we have had in response to the Black Lives Matter civil uprising needs to turn next to the important work of relationship building.

4. Our cities are built on a colonial structure.

From laws to land tenure, colonialism is at the root of how our cities are built and how they still function. Cities have limited powers and revenue tools to handle urban crises like housing, poverty, and opioids, despite being on the frontlines of the response. Sadhu points out that partnerships between city governments, NGO’s, the private sector, and other orders of government governments is essential to eradicate these intersectional systemic challenges.

5. ‘Ethical rule-breaking’ as a way forward.

Jay points out that the rules and by-laws that govern our cities are often inequitable and move too slowly to support those most urgently in need of help. She urges that city builders should celebrate, highlight, and participate in ethical rulebreaking to address the profoundly inequitable challenges facing our cities and communities.

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 lin

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

12:02:25 From Canadian Urban Institute: Welcome! Folks, please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.
12:03:18 From Maisha Barnett to All panelists: Greetings from Seattle
12:03:22 From Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our webinars at
12:04:30 From Canadian Urban Institute: CUI is very proud of our COVID Signpost 200 Days report! You can read it at
12:04:59 From Canadian Urban Institute: Sadhu Johnston @sadhuajohnston Jay Pitter @Jay_Pitter Ken Bautista @kenbautista Andre Coteé-côté-8935659 @andcote
12:10:12 From STEVEN MASTORAS to All panelists: Looking forward to some ideas on mainstreets/avenues & broader planning efforts provincially, that can allow for owners to invest in higher densities, more easily. Municipal restrictions a constant obstacle.
12:10:52 From Canadian Urban Institute: Reminding attendees to please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.
12:18:19 From Canadian Urban Institute: See our data here:
12:20:22 From Canadian Urban Institute: You can read it at
12:21:08 From Canadian Urban Institute: Also find Bring back Main Street here:
12:23:01 From Andre Cote: I’d mention, that quote was Mary’s(!) from her letter to open the report
12:24:42 From Katarina Savic: what will COVID sign post day 300 look like? In the dead of winter…
12:25:46 From Canadian Urban Institute: Katarina, check out our session tomorrow: COVID Signpost 200 Days: How Should Our Cities Prepare for Winter?
12:25:55 From Katarina Savic: Yay!
12:27:42 From Christina Sisson: Very well said, Jay, as well the use of Compassion!
12:28:05 From Lisa Mactaggart: thank you so much Jay
12:28:22 From Daniella Fergusson: Thank you Jay. This needs to be said. It is vulgar.
12:28:36 From Eva Chu to All panelists: Yes!!! Thank you so much, Jay!!!
12:28:54 From allison ashcroft: agreed, not opportunities, and need to call out opportunists
12:29:22 From Marisa Creatore to All panelists: Thoughts on how this pandemic has impacted gender equity and particular perspective of cities ?
12:29:55 From Canadian Urban Institute: Reminding attendees to please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.
12:30:20 From Marisa Creatore: Thoughts on how this pandemic has impacted gender equity and particular perspective of cities ?
12:30:47 From Olusola Olufemi to All panelists: Healing and therapeutic planning!
12:32:35 From Mark Venning: add to the great comments from Jay.. also looking through an “age -inclusive lens”
12:32:44 From Catherine Soplet to All panelists: This is a moment of moral imperative
12:32:51 From Catherine Soplet to All panelists: Imperative, not opportunity
12:33:12 From Catherine Soplet: This is a moment of moral imperative Imperative, not opportunity
12:33:53 From Olusola Olufemi: Healing and therapeutic planning
12:34:06 From Katie O’Callaghan: Thank you Jay, I always look forward to hearing you speak and continue to bring forth the most important topics of the day. I will continue to work in service and learning.
12:34:18 From Laura Tate: These are some wonderful points. thank you. I also feel that on the whole, as urbanists we have not done enough to understand different perspectives when we provide services. Jay Pitter has raised an important point. A good example of where we might go is linking service decisions to distinct needs, by gender, by race, by income. This report from Los Angeles is a great example:
12:34:41 From Laura Tate: And Mary Rowe, obligation is critical, thank you
12:35:47 From Katie O’Callaghan:
12:35:59 From allison ashcroft: and soon to be missed ;(
12:36:09 From Olusola Olufemi: Obligation makes everyone responsible while opportunity limits responsibility to a few people
12:37:23 From Mary W. Rowe to Olusola Olufemi and all panelists: got it points well made
12:37:29 From Julie Wright: follow twitter conversation #COVIDSignpost
12:38:37 From Erica Lay to All panelists: Thank you for that (and hello!) Katie!
12:39:16 From Daniella Fergusson: QUESTION FOR SADHU as he’s talking about colonialism, structural racism, partnership and addressing systemic challenges:

As was reported in multiple news outlets in early July of this year, 26 organizations penned a letter calling for the City to cancel the virtual town hall with members of Vancouver’s Black/African diaspora communities and called on city manager Sadhu Johnston to accept responsibility for structural and systemic racism in City of Vancouver as an institution. In light of over two months’ advance warning that the Town Hall was not appropriate, how is it that the City allowed Black people to be swarmed by white supremacists at the town hall held last week?
12:39:25 From Diego Almaraz: I think more than exacerbated, COVID has made visible/evident a lot of weaknesses and injustices in our systems, that like Jay said have been going on for hundreds of years.
12:41:23 From Catherine Soplet: Garner wisdom of people with lived experience – don’t need privilege and credentials to bring about innovation – only to get paid for doing so
12:42:10 From Eva Chu: The harsh thing is, these injustices only seem more visible than they were because they are affecting people who are used to not needing to think about these things, to the extent they can be convinced they don’t exist. Marginalized communities have always known.
12:46:42 From Catherine Soplet: In GTA, the rat infestation coupled with Bill 184 tsunami of tenant evictions heading into winter…. a horrific and terrifying situation for those who are now losing CERB, trying to keep kids in school, seeking employment, feeling unwell…. this issue going to Peel Region Council on October 10 – a framework to curb rodent infestation and to keep people housed.
12:48:45 From Canadian Urban Institute: CUI is very proud of our COVID Signpost 200 Days report! You can read it at
12:49:06 From Gwendal Castellan: One challenge area highlighted by COVID is the disappearance of access to private washrooms (Coffee shops, fast food etc…) How might we mobilize all communities to create lasting and appropriately distributed washroom
12:49:22 From Gwendal Castellan: with an equity lens.
12:49:38 From allison ashcroft: Sadhu – how can we leverage this ill-timed provincial election to get our unhoused folks in Victoria, Vancouver and elsewhere in the Province into housing. Acquisitions yes, but appropriations too. e.g. Oak Bay Lodge sits empty with 235 units of assisted living because BC Housing isn’t willing to put pressure on other regional municipalities who want housing for all ideologically but won’t make space for it. Can election be used to get people housed asap?
12:50:00 From Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our webinars at
12:50:51 From Mark Venning: This conversation has been of great value and can serve as a tool for all city leaders and community groups to ignite a dialogue for change. Bravo CUI.
12:51:04 From Canadian Urban Institute: Keep the conversation going #COVIDSignpost #citytalk @canurb
12:51:05 From Catherine Soplet: Signposts are coming to Peel Region, In Brampton.
12:51:32 From Catherine Soplet: In October, enviro research charity ACER Canada ( will host three community tree planting events for climate change research in Bramalea SNAP areas urban revitalization areas in collaboration with Toronto and Region Conservation Area and City of Brampton. October 7, 17 or 24? Project Crossroads is an initiative launched by ACER Canada with Building up Our Neighbourhods to bring urban reforestation to areas most in need of cooling shade. In 2019, geospatial overlay of low tree canopy and social data place “heat islands” where racialized, marginalized and lowest income. In 2020, COVID caseload by postal code had highest impact in these areas. Findings were presented September 15 to Dufferin-Peel Cathollic District School Board . Since 1987, ACER has undertaken climate change research – and noted how ABCD approach to prepare community tree planting teams leads to narrative of strengthened community ties,
12:51:35 From Catherine Soplet: strong academic skills for students and broader choices for STEM pathways in secondary school. ACER needs expertise to test the impact of success in planting trees for climate change research upon the people who learn new skills. Update reports to develop Project Crossroads have been made at Peel Poverty Reduction Strategy Committee. Please contact me 416-275-9463 or e-mail Thank you. Catherine Soplet
12:52:21 From Canadian Urban Institute: To support CityTalk and the Canadian Urban Institute’s other city building initiatives, please donate at
12:53:04 From Susan Fletcher: Please, please, please, let’s stop referring to “citizens” and talk about residents instead. Citizens is based on a legal status, but so many people in cities don’t have that legal status.
12:54:09 From Eva Chu: Agree, Susan!!!
12:54:23 From Mary W. Rowe to Susan Fletcher and all panelists: yup
12:54:47 From Catherine Soplet: Project Crossroads – Bramalea locations comprise a public park, public housing towers, and privately-owned purpose built ‘affordable housing’ towers. Area is a hot spot per Peel Region health data map – click thrugh to Peel Health map from area map of schools to compare Peel Health to planting sites in #BramaleaSNAP, one in an overlay series presented in September 15, 2020 Slides:
12:55:16 From Canadian Urban Institute: What did you think of today’s conversation? Help us improve our programming with a short post-webinar survey –
12:56:38 From Catherine Soplet: Growing tree canopy creates carbon capture, and carbon credits can generate revenue for municipalities.
12:56:43 From allison ashcroft: Sadhu – how are we housing folks?
12:58:57 From allison ashcroft: focus on the basics exactly, dignity and safety for all first.
12:59:42 From Canadian Urban Institute: Sadhu Johnston @sadhuajohnston Jay Pitter @Jay_Pitter Ken Bautista @kenbautista Andre Coteé-côté-8935659 @andcote
13:00:50 From allison ashcroft: thanks buddy!
13:00:52 From Catherine Soplet: Recommend Michelle Bilek, Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness
13:01:07 From Laura Tate: Thank you so much for this.
13:01:23 From allison ashcroft: a great session today, thank you so much for all you do to make these happen, and for all your service Sadhu, we will miss you.
13:01:26 From Catherine Soplet: Very compelling discussion
13:01:37 From Eva Chu: Thanks everyone!!!
13:01:38 From Katie O’Callaghan: Please use street involved, unhoused…homeless is a label….thanks so much speakers, great talk!
13:01:54 From Alice Casselman: thank you for great perspectives based on fact!
13:01:56 From Lisa Mactaggart: Thank you for this conversation. Really got me thinking.
13:02:00 From Gwendal Castellan: Merci beaucoup a tout les intervenant.
13:02:01 From Ralph Cipolla to All panelists: thank you from orillia Ontario (Ralph Cipolla)