A candid conversation with Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark, on how his city is dealing with the challenges of COVID-19 and what the short, medium and long-term impacts on the city could look like.
Live City Check-In—One-on-one with Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark
A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation
1. Stepping up to the plate
Mayor Charlie Clark said one of the most incredible things that he’s seen through COVID-19 is the quick action of City of Saskatoon staff to reorganize city operations in a way unimaginable under normal circumstances. “I am so proud of our staff for that ability to adapt. We were able to go out to our citizens and say, ‘No matter what, we’ll be able to provide services,’” he said.
2. Rethinking partnerships for a new urbanism
While COVID-19 has been top-of-mind for Saskatoon over the last two months, Mayor Clark was quick to acknowledge that a continuing priority is how to evolve the city’s relationship with First Nations and Metis partners – and how to apply their teachings to city building. “The elders here have shared with me, that the treaty (six) is about living in right relationship on this land. And with that idea, we can change in our cities and our communities and become much more diverse and rethink our relationship with the land,” he said. “This is becoming a foundational teaching that will tie in many ways to what New Urbanism is about and what city building should be about in this next century.”
3. Creating space for new conversations
Mayor Clark posed a fundamental question about city building during the discussion: How can we create the conditions for conversations to think bigger and broader about what the future of a city will look like? “What are the risks if we do not understand what the next generation is going to be looking for in cities? What conditions do we need to be creating for what the realities of tomorrow are going to be?” he asked. “We are not trying to force any solution, but want to try new things, and we are looking for latitude to try and fail.”
4. Four-Corner Table
The Big City Mayors Caucus and the Federation of Canadians Municipalities have been talking more and more about a “four-corner table” – bringing together municipalities, provincial governments, the federal government and First Nations’ governments, “In recent years, when there is a misalignment between the federal and provincial governments, municipalities end up stuck in between,” Mayor Clark said. “Canada is an urban country now. And if we are going to successfully rebuild the economy . . . we must recognize that without cities, the country’s rebuild is going to be much more difficult.”
5. Marriage between expert opinion and local knowledge
Mayor Clark said that collaboration has been important to the city’s success. “Saskatoon wants to make some very big, bold moves that in many cases can be completely divisive within a city and can completely turn into ‘us versus them,’” he said. He added that the way the city approaches decisions is by balancing thoughtful expert opinion with the important local knowledge that people have. “People are so aware of their street, their block, their sidewalk . . . in city building, we see the importance of relationships, importance of trust, and importance of communication.”